Archbishop Charles Chaput announced May 4 his decisions on eight priests who had been suspended due to past allegations of clerical misconduct or child sexual abuse. Of the priests, five were “unsuitable for ministry.”
They include Msgr. Francis Feret, 75, and Fathers George Cadwallader, 58; Robert Povish, 47; John Reardon, 65; and Thomas Rooney, 61.
The three priests deemed suitable for ministry are Msgr. Michael Flood, 72, and Fathers Philip Barr, 92; and Michael Chapman, 56.
It is unclear in what capacity they will to return to active ministry, or what next steps will taken against the five who remain on administrative leave, though the Archbishop pledged they will continue to be monitored by Church authorities.
One priest who had been suspended, Father Daniel Hoy, died last July before a thorough investigation could be completed and no conclusion on his case was reached.
The eight priests were part of a group of 26 placed on administrative leave last March in response to a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report that revealed the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s failure to address allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse of minors by some priests.
That report followed a 2005 grand jury report that first shed light on the crisis, which continues today in the form of two archdiocesan priests facing criminal charges in a landmark trial in Philadelphia.
Never before had so many priests in one diocese in the United States been placed on administrative leave in conjunction with questions of sexual misconduct. Intense speculation about the fates of 27 priests swirled throughout the Catholic community in the Archdiocese for approximately 14 months.
With the announcement at a press conference at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, the decisions on the first of those cases are now public. Most of the investigations on the remaining cases are complete, Archbishop Chaput said, and he hoped they would be made public soon.
Law enforcement authorities continue to review six of the cases, he added.
“The process of reviewing these cases was designed to ensure that the decisions announced today reflect our commitment to protect children, assist victims, restore the integrity of the priesthood and provide evidence to the broader community that they can have confidence in these outcomes,” Archbishop Chaput said.
Speakers at the press conference described the thorough process that investigated each of the priest’s cases, as well as a new initiative to help all of the parishioners and priests in 266 parishes of the Archdiocese to rebuild trust and come to grips with sexual violence in the community.
Gina Maisto Smith, a former prosecutor of child sex crimes, described her work leading a team of experts from fields including law enforcement, psychology and child abuse services. She said she and her team of seven investigators gathered 400,000 documents, interviewed 227 witnesses in the U.S. and abroad, visited parishes and schools where incidents where alleged to have occurred and combed parish and public records, some stretching back 40 years ago.
“We took care to develop a process that is thorough, impartial and fair,” Smith said. “We recognize that allegations of child sexual abuse can be incendiary in nature.”
Most child sexual abuse cases, Smith said, “turn on credibility – the evaluation of word against word. Accordingly, the process must be painstakingly detailed.”
Her team did an “exhaustive search for corroboration,” she said, “a synthesis of witness interviews, documents and any additional available evidence.”
“The process could not be rushed,” she said, referring to a criticism by many Catholics in the Archdiocese over the past year concerned by the lengthy delay in the investigation process.
Once her team completed probing a priest’s case, the archdiocesan Review Board examined the case and made a recommendation for action to Archbishop Chaput.
After coming to his decisions he called each priest for discussions that he termed “very difficult – for them, less difficult for me.” Those priests informed they would be permitted to return to active ministry he said expressed their “relief and joy to serve the Church as priests.”
Also speaking at the press conference was Mary Achilles, a former victims advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who led creation of a plan to help parishioners deal with the decisions on priests either returning to ministry r not, and more broadly to address the issue of sexual violence with parishioners.
Termed a “parish restoration initiative,” its intention is to help parishes deal with a widespread issue in society that has had a particularly devastating impact on the Church: child sexual abuse.
Achilles cited statistics that showed one in 6 boys and one in four girls will be sexually assaulted by age 18 in the United States. Therefore, she added, the decisions on priests accused of misconduct – either questionable behavior or a credible allegation of sexual abuse – will stir emotions that need a pastoral response.
“The Archdiocese is painfully aware of the destruction of trust experienced by Catholics in the pews. It mirrors that of adult victims of abuse,” she said, citing “past failures” of the Church to respond appropriately to the problem.
The plan, to be implemented in parishes in phases over six months, is intended to restore trust and to “empower people to recognize the pain of people, especially the pain of victims,” Achilles said.
As Archbishop Chaput said, “I’ve been in Philadelphia for less than a year, and I’ve tried as quickly as possible to understand all of the issues facing our local church. During that time, dealing with sexual abuse and protecting children has been – and will remain – a top priority for me and for the Archdiocese.
“Our actions, including these outcomes and the steps we have taken to improve our policies and procedures, show that we have learned from the past. No lesson from the abuse scandal is more important that the understanding that the people who suffer most are the victims.”
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Why is nothing more being done to address the concerns and mistrust that the Church has caused the faithful by their horrific cover-up? Nothing is said in Church about it. It’s almost like the Archdiocese thinks we can be fooled again. I went through Catholic School all the way to Graduate School, and taught at two different Catholic Schools. The destruction done to the victims, first and foremost, in incalculable. To see the Archdiocese lawyers at work in the Msgr. Lynn case, discrediting victims, instead of taking responsibility was just sickening and incredibly disheartening. I think the Church has no clue about how devastating the effects of this scandal truly are to the faith of its members. My Husband, who has a Catholic School background and comes from a devout family has recently stopped attending Mass, disheartened by the talk from the pulpit. How can I explain to my children about the actions of the Church? There will always be pedophiles around. This I can explain. What I can’t explain is how men who are supposed to embody Christian values allowed these mentally ill individuals to victimize the most innocent of society for so many years. In my mind, this is true evil at work – to confuse protection of the Church with protection of abusers and to turn a blind eye to the moral and physical destruction of children. I can never trust a priest in authority again. There will always be the question, what are they hiding? Are they lying?
The only attempted direct apology I have heard from the Archdiocese is after Msgr. Lynn got convicted. Did it really take the threat of jail time to get the Archdiocese’s attention? How genuine is an apology that comes after a penalty is delivered and a decision of guilty from a civil authority is rendered? God Bless Seth Williams! Is that really what it took for the Archdiocese to come clean?
Now you’d think the Church would be working double time on repentance and humility – reaching out to victims of course, but also to the extended victims – all those who sat by and saw all they believed about their institutional church destroyed. I keep thinking about the quote from Jesus about it being better to ‘go down with a millstone around your neck then to lead the least of His children astray.’ But no. Not a word from the pulpit to help us deal with this devastating time, just pretending that it never happened and it’s all better now. Even worse, we see the self righteous clergy criticizing health care and spending more millions to bring a suit against the affordable care act, talking about religious liberty. How about the liberty of the children who were molested for all those years? How about the poor who so desperately need healthcare? If you want to object to abortion or contraception, make that your objection. Speak up for the healthcare rights of the poor, and don’t play conservative politics with all the attendant hate speech. And to criticize the nuns for caring too much about the poor??? Really?? The world seems upside down. I still believe in Jesus, but not so much in the Magisterium of the Church right now. I feel like true evil, disguised as righteous indignation, is blinding our leaders right now. I’m praying for the Church. I will give money directly to the Charities working with the poor, but not in the collection plate. I don’t want a penny of my money to go to the defense funds of pedophiles or people who protect them – something has to make our leaders care. Unfortunately, the threat of prison and financial loss seem to be the only things that get their notice. I have talked with so many people who feel the same. We all keep asking, when will the Church talk about this, so the parishes can heal. These websites with facts are only a very small beginning.
I grew up in a home with horrific child abuse and one of the priests mentioned above was allowed unfettered access to my father when he was a child via Scouts. I have a hard time believing that kind of evil comes from nowhere and when this report first came out it really answered a lot of questions for me. Sadly the priest in question died before the investigation could be completed. I really hope other families get the answers they are looking for because child abuse can be generational. I believe we were 100% the second generation victims of Catholic priest child abuse. It is so heartbreaking.
Where are the facts and information that were uncovered as a result of the investigations of the suspended priests? Why aren’t these details being shared with archdiocesan parishioners and parents who have a responsibility to keep their children safe?
how about an apology? years and years of lies and cover ups have made me a very angry and more importantly embarrassed (to be catholic) by the whole cover up. remember the cover up takes a whole lot of people. we deserve an apology!! by just ignoring the facts that pastorial abuse has been going on for decades you are only delaying the regaining of trust by the people of the church. like it or not we have been failed and failed big time!! so please consider doing the right thing and make things right and admit that these horrible acts are real and have destroyed lives, and masses of the faithful.
…. I just wish that our leaders would be straightforward with us and speak with us about everything as families should…..
That has not happened until now in 2012 and there is no reason or hope to expect that this wish of yours (and many other Philadelphia-area Catholics) will happen anytime in the future. If our leadership were to be straightforward with us, then they would tell us all of the details, evidence, facts, documents, interviews, etc. relative to their investigations of the suspended priests so the parishioners would know about the dangers that may still exist within the larger Philadelphia community.
Your are in our prayers! Please take care of yourself. We cannot even begin to imagine the spritual, emotional and physical stamina it is taking for you and your team to address the lawsuits, the preistly review,the closing of schools and mergers of parishes in addition to getting acclamated to a very large archdiocese.Please take a break! We need you to keep your sense of humor and stay healthy and strong! Our gratitude is great for your heroic efforts.
May the angels and saints surround you and protect you!
I am glad that these matters are being resolved. I was hoping to hear the names of the priests announced by the Archbishop at his press conference. It is his job, as our shepherd, to keep us informed. We should not have to read about it. Some people do not have computers to find out information. When the priests were being placed on leave their names were announced. Maybe this info should have been included in this weeks Pastoral letter, instead of being told to check the website for questions and concerns.
I love the Church and my faith. I just wish that our leaders would be straightforward with us and speak with us about everything as families should.
Theresa A. Weldie
Thank you for facing these difficult issues.
The main question is this:
It has been over 6 and 1/2 years since the release of the first Grand Jury Report by the District Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia. Does the average archdiocesan parishioner believe that their children and loved ones are SAFER now in May 2012 then they were back in September 2005? Why, at this late date, are there still unresolved cases, suspended priests and uncertainty a part of the landscape of the Catholic Church here in Philadelphia?