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  Priests Accused of Abuse Removed

By Mark Fazlollah and David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia PA]
December 18, 2003

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has dismissed four priests accused of sexually abusing teenagers years ago and is preparing to identify them publicly today.

The Rev. Edward V. Avery, a former pastor of St. Therese of the Child Jesus parish in East Mount Airy; the Rev. John A. Cannon, a former chaplain at St. Joseph Home for Aged; the Rev. Leonard A. Furmanski, a former pastor of St. Titus parish in Norristown; and the Rev. Francis X. Trauger, an assistant at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Levittown, have been removed from those assignments.

Their cases have been referred to the Vatican for review, a step that could lead to their being defrocked.

The dismissals will be made public in today's edition of the Catholic Standard and Times, the archdiocesan newspaper.

The article indicates that the dismissals occurred over the "past several weeks." The article, however, does not give details of the abuse or say how many alleged victims were involved.

In an interview yesterday, Avery, a chaplain at Nazareth Hospital at the time of his dismissal, denied any wrongdoing and said he was "devastated" by his removal

Furmanski, who also was a chaplain at the hospital, was not at his Bensalem home last night.

Cannon no longer lives at St. Joseph's, a home in Holland, Bucks County, for retired priests, a woman who answered the phone there said yesterday.

Efforts to reach Trauger last night were unsuccessful.

Catherine L. Rossi, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, yesterday declined to comment on the article. The Inquirer obtained a draft of the article in advance of publication.

The article quotes Cardinal Justin Rigali as saying he was saddened by the removals.

"This decision is a necessary one for the protection of young people and the welfare of the Church. My prayers are offered for the victims, their families, those faith communities that are affected, and our priests."

The cardinal offered "deep apologies" to the victims and said the archdiocese was committed to removing from ministry any cleric found to have sexually abused a child. That policy is in keeping with a mandate adopted last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The dismissals of Avery, Cannon, Furmanski and Trauger mark the third time since the Catholic Church was beset by scandal in 2002 that the Philadelphia Archdiocese has acknowledged that "credible accusations" exist against diocesan priests.

Last February, following reports of widespread abuse in the Boston Archdiocese, the Philadelphia Archdiocese said it knew of "credible allegations" against 35 priests.

At the time, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, then archbishop, said he had dismissed six of the priests. Bevilacqua, who retired in June, refused to identify the priests.

Months later, another priest was dismissed for sexual misconduct with a teenage boy. Bevilacqua refused to identify this priest as well, but The Inquirer later learned that the priest, the Rev. Craig Brugger, had been assigned to St. Helena's parish in Olney. Afterward, Bevilacqua said in an interview that as far as he knew the archdiocese did not have any more priests who had been credibly accused of misconduct.

In a departure from Bevilacqua's practice, Rigali is to identify the four priests most recently dismissed.

Their dismissals stem from an investigation by an Archdiocesan Review Board empaneled by Bevilacqua to look into allegations of sexual abuse.

The board hired a private investigator to interview alleged victims. Among those interviewed by the investigator, a former FBI agent, were people who said they had been abused by Avery, Cannon, Furmanski and Trauger. The findings were forwarded to the review board, which included a lawyer, a doctor, a nurse and a child-abuse expert in addition to clergy. The board concluded that the allegations against the four were credible.

Angelo P. Giardino, a pediatrician and member of the review board, said last night that the article in today's Catholic Standard and Times was part of an effort "to restore confidence in the church hierarchy."

"There should be some element of communication so that it [how the church deals with allegations of sexual abuse] wouldn't be shrouded in secrecy," Giardino said. "The process needs to be somewhat open so that the laity understands what is happening."

A Philadelphia grand jury has been investigating sexual abuse by archdiocesan priests since April 2002. District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham has vowed to conduct a thorough criminal probe of accused priests whether "dead, dismissed or retired."

The only priest reached last night, Avery, denied the accusations.

"My whole life has been geared toward priesthood. Then, all of the sudden, you're told you're finished," he said in a telephone interview. "I have no resources. I didn't have something like a married person being prepared to retire. I am totally devastated by the situation."

Avery, 61, said his dismissal stems from an incident that occurred on a winter's night in 1978. Avery said on that night he took a 16-year-old boy whose family he knew to a party, where the boy was surreptitiously served alcohol. The priest said he later found the boy passed out in the cold, and took him into the rectory. He left him on a couch. He said he had no sexual contact with the boy, who was asleep when Avery left the next morning.

"I never knew about the allegation until 1992, 14 years later," he said. "Why wasn't something said at the time?"

 
 

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