"Archbishop Charles Chaput speaks at a May 4 press conference announcing the rulings on 8 of 26 priests suspended for sexual misconduct accusations. (Screen capture, Archdiocese of Philadelphia)
Five of the 26 Philadelphia priests suspended in the wake of sexual abuse allegations revealed in last year's grand jury report will be removed from public ministry, Archbishop Charles Chaput announced Friday at a press conference.
Three of the 26 will be returned to ministry, while 17 cases are still pending in various stages of the investigation process, Chaput announced.
Chaput said the fate of the five priests determined "unfit for ministry" is still unknown. Each has the option to appeal the decision to the Vatican. If they decline or fail in their appeal, they could face laicization, life under supervision or a life of prayer and penance...Abuse victims advocacy groups expressed dissatisfaction with Chaput's announcements.We are shocked that 14 months after a grand jury raised concerns over 37 accused priests, only eight of these cases are resolved. Catholics, citizens, children and the accused priests deserve better," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests...
History shows us and common sense tells us that no institution can effectively investigate or police itself, certainly not an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male one with a horrific track record on children's safety," he said.In a statement released after the press conference, Terence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said, "Archbishop Chaput has missed a crucial opportunity to deal with allegations of sexual violence against children in a transparent way."He has given us absolutely no information about the alleged crimes or about how they were investigated. It is not enough to say that Gina Smith and her colleagues are trustworthy. The same claim was made about the Review Board, and look where that got us," he said in the release.
Chaput's invoking of the gag order related to Lynn's abuse trial and the need to protect victims' confidentiality is "the oldest excuse in the church's playbook," McKiernan said...The suspensions of the 27 priests came under former Philadelphia archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali, following a February 2011 grand jury report -- the second in six years -- that criticized the archdiocese for allowing dozens of priests to remain in ministry, despite having standing charges of sexual abuse and misconduct against them.When asked why it took two grand jury reports to get to a point of taking action on the suspended priests, Chaput declined to evaluate the past, saying he only arrived in Philadelphia eight months ago.The same 2011 report recommended charges against former secretary of clergy Msgr. William Lynn, Fr. James J. Brennan, Fr. Charles Engelhardt, defrocked priest Edward Avery and schoolteacher Bernard Shero. Lynn and Brennan are currently co-defendants in a trial about to enter its seventh week."We would have assumed, by the year 2011, after all the revelations both here and around the world, that the church would not risk its youth by leaving them in the presence of priests subject to substantial evidence of abuse. That is not the case," states the grand jury report.
The 2011 report found 41 priests with allegations of abuse against them that remained in assignments exposing them to children. Of the 41, four had died, were transferred to another diocese or had been removed, bringing the number at the time to 37 active priests in the archdiocese with allegations against them.
"We understand that accusations are not proof; but we just cannot understand the Archdiocese's apparent absence of any sense of urgency," the report states, adding, "These are simply not the actions of an institution that is serious about ending sexual abuse of its children. There is no other conclusion."