Three weeks ago, a grand jury said that, more than five years after a report documenting abuse by more than 50 priests, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had failed to stop the sexual abuse of children. According to the February 10th New York Times, the 124-page report said that Msgr. William Lynn, secretary of clergy in the archdiocese under former Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, had allowed as many as 37 priests to remain in their posts—where they still had access to children—even after the charges had been made public.
Msgr. Lynn, an exceptionally powerful figure in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, had been responsible for investigating abuse allegations from 1992 to 2004. He has now himself been charged with endangering the welfare of minors.
While Cardinal Justin Rigali initially said ‘there were no active priests with substantiated allegations against them,’ he placed three of the priests on administrative leave six days later. He has also hired Gina Maisto Smith, a former assistant district attorney who prosecuted child sexual assault cases for 15 years, to conduct an investigation of all the cases in which priests who had been charged with abuse remained in active ministry, and to review the procedures the archdiocese followed.
From the March 5th New York Times:
The possibility that even one predatory priest, not to mention three dozen, might still be serving in parishes — “on duty in the archdiocese today, with open access to new young prey,” as the grand jury put it — has unnerved many Roman Catholics here and sent the church reeling in the latest and one of the most damning episodes in the American church since it became engulfed in the sexual abuse scandal nearly a decade ago.
The situation in Philadelphia is “Boston reborn,” said David J. O’Brien, who teaches Catholic history at the University of Dayton. The Boston Archdiocese was engulfed in a scandal starting in 2002 involving widespread sexual abuse by priests and an extensive cover-up that reached as high as the cardinal.
Some parishioners say they feel discouraged and are caught in a wave of anxiety, even as they continue to attend Mass.
The Philadelphia Inquirer says that, on Monday, lawyers representing those abused by the priests will file a lawsuit charging the archdiocese of Philadelphia, its leaders and employees with conspiracy and fraud for ‘failing to help a young sacristan who claimed he was abused by a priest.’ Said Marci Hamilton, one of the lawyers for the plaintiff:
‘This is yet another case in which the victim’s assistance program didn’t really do what it was supposed to do.’
Indeed, the Philadelphia Inquirer also states that
‘Among other things, the panel concluded the church’s victim assistance program has at times appeared to be less interested in helping victims than in protecting priests and church leaders.’
In recent years, the scandal of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests has deeply, maybe even irremediably, shaken the Church and its members. While Church officials say they have instituted measures to prevent ‘predatory priests’ from abusing children, the findings of the grand jury in Philadelphia—the revelation that abusive priests have remained in active ministry and have had contact with children— suggest that these have not been enough, not at all.
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