By Matthew Gambino

Hundreds of diocesan and religious order priests met privately with Cardinal Justin Rigali this week to discuss the ongoing fallout from the clergy sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

At three meetings held in the city and suburban locations, the Cardinal and all four auxiliary bishops plus Msgr. Daniel Sullivan, vicar for clergy, responded to written questions previously submitted by priests.

According to participants, 17 pages of questions were compiled then organized into five topic areas, which formed the basis of information shared with the priests. Jesuit Father Gerald McGlone served as facilitator.{{more}}

Following those presentations, the Cardinal and bishops answered more questions and listened to priests’ comments from the floor.

“I thought it was informative,” said Msgr. Joseph P. Garvin, pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, who was among approximately 150 priests meeting at St. Timothy Parish in Philadelphia Monday, March 14. “Actually I’ve never seen an Archbishop put himself out there like that, that he would open himself and listen to people’s honest opinions, and expose himself to tough questions and opinions.”

Msgr. Garvin appreciated the information shared with the priests on topics such as detailed steps taken to address the crisis that broke after the Feb. 10 release of the Philadelphia grand jury report on sexual abuse of minors in the Church.

“It is good we had it, it was helpful,” he said. “I give extremely high marks for the Cardinal being as open as he was. There were really tough things said to him.”

Father Michael J. Davis, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Croydon and a participant at the Monday meeting, agreed. Neither priest told details of comments at the meeting.

“I liked the open mic format,” he said, even if it enabled some priests to express “dissatisfaction with what has not happened.”

“It’s a start,” he said. “I hope there would be more opportunities for that, without the tensions, for mutually respectful discussion.”

Father Davis also noted Cardinal Rigali’s participation at the meetings.

“I appreciate the fact that the Cardinal was speaking from his heart,” Father Davis said. “I was impressed by the fact he’s dealing with a difficult situation that is so complex. I believe he’s honest. He’s balancing the needs of everybody involved – the victims, the people in the pews” as well as priests.

A second meeting with the bishops and priests was held Tuesday, March 15 at St. Anastasia Parish in Newtown Square and a final meeting is set for March 17 at St. Helena Parish, Blue Bell.

While a convocation of priests of the Archdiocese was held last spring and priests gather for small group workshops for pastoral formation and training throughout the year, it is rare for large groups of priests to meet with the Archbishop of Philadelphia and his auxiliary bishops on a single topic.

The Office for Clergy estimates as many as 400 priests will have attended the three meetings.

They underscored the serious nature of the current crisis, especially as 21 archdiocesan priests were placed on administrative leave last week. That action announced by Cardinal Rigali means the priests may not celebrate the sacraments publicly.

Cardinal Rigali emphasized the step is not a final determination but an interim one until a fuller investigation into the details of each case is completed as soon as possible. The action was a point of discussion at the meetings, according to priests.

Father Davis called the meeting “satisfying, but only a start. It’s healthy for the Archbishop and (the auxiliary bishops) to make themselves available to speak from their heart, to show their humanness, that they struggle with the complexities.”

“If people can see their humanness,” he said, “that can only lead to healing.”

Participants also said after the meetings that parishioners are supportive of their parish priests.

“They love the Church, and we’re in their prayers,” Msgr. Garvin said. “They say we will get through this as a Church. I do believe we’ll get through it.”