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  Priests Axed to 'Protect' the Young
Rigali Acts on Old Sex-Abuse Claims against 4 Clerics

By Ron Goldwyn goldwyr@phillynews.com and William Bunch
Philadelphia Daily News [Philadelphia PA]
December 19, 2003

THEY WERE "cold cases" - unproven allegations of sexual abuse against priests that gathered dust in files of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for as long as four decades.

The priests were rotated into new parishes, and the young alleged victims grew up. The archdiocese investigated, found the allegations not substantiated, but kept the files.

All that was before the sexual- abuse scandal that started in Boston two years ago and that has rocked the American Catholic Church ever since.

Over the past six weeks, the old, festering allegations ended the long careers of four Philadelphia-area priests, now barred from their duties by new Cardinal Justin Rigali and tossed from their church residences.

"This decision is a necessary one for the protection of young people and the welfare of the church," Rigali said in a statement yesterday.

"My prayers are offered for the victims, their families, those faith communities that are affected and our priests."

The cases were reopened as part of a review of all old allegations, archdiocese spokeswoman Catherine Rossi said yesterday. Rigali, she said, acted on recommendations by the Archdiocesan Review Board appointed by his predecessor, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

The dismissals:

? The Rev. Edward Avery, 61, had a colorful career ministering to the city's Hmong community and became legal guardian to six Hmong young people in the 1980s. He was removed Dec. 5 as chaplain at Nazareth Hospital, in Northeast Philadelphia, and told to leave his residence at nearby St. Jerome Church.

? The Rev. John A. Cannon, 81, was a Catholic educator, teaching at then-Bishop Neumann, Roman Catholic and Cardinal O'Hara high schools between 1958 and 1985. He was told to leave St. Joseph's Home for the Aged, Holland, Bucks County, where he had been chaplain and resident since 1985, on Nov. 20.

? Msgr. Leonard Furmanski, 72, was pastor to two Polish ethnic parishes, most recently at St. Josephat in Manayunk, 1994 to 1998, among other churches. He was removed Oct. 23 from his residence and work at Nazareth Hospital, where he had been chaplain since 1999.

? The Rev. Francis X. Trauger, 58, was reassigned six times in the '80s after allegations against him in 1981. He was assistant pastor at parishes in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Delaware counties.

The four priests all denied the allegations when they were first investigated, Rossi said. They could not be reached for comment yesterday.

James Amato, chairman of the review board, said he was "not free to get into the details" of cases. He said the board had a retired law-enforcement official as investigator, and medical and clinical professionals to re-examine the priests.

The seven-member panel will keep examining cases and meet regularly, Amato said. He said Rigali had accepted all the panel's recommendations.

Bud Bretschneider, local leader of the reform-minded Voice of the Faithful, formed in response to the sex scandal in Boston, said he was glad Philadelphia was finally taking action but was troubled by the repeated movements of the priests after the initial allegations.

"That is a known pattern for dealing with problem priests - to shift them from place to place," he said. He added that Voice of the Faithful believes "we're dealing with the little guys while the bishops themselves have not acknowledged their responsibility and culpability in transferring problem priests from place to place."

Rossi said all the allegations against the priests had been for alleged misconduct with teenagers - she wouldn't say male or female - from the late 1950s to the early 1980s.

Rossi would not identify any victim-complainants. She said she knew of no lawsuits filed by those who made charges against the four priests.

Church authorities "took all appropriate measures" to investigate the allegations when they were first made, including having the priests examined by "clinical experts," she said. The allegations, she said, were "never substantiated."

That meant the priests were eligible for reassignment with a clean record.

Numerous short assignments for priests are not rare. But the pattern in Boston and several other dioceses was for problem priests to be shuffled.

There have been no proven cases of such cover-ups in Philadelphia, however.

Rossi said all four priests' files would be sent to the Vatican, which has the final call before any priest is laicized - totally removed from the priesthood.

But none will function publicly as priests again beyond saying Mass privately. Rigali controls all clerical assignments for the 1.5- million member, five-county archdiocese.

The archdiocese acknowledged in February 2002 it had uncovered "credible allegations" of abuse against 35 priests over the previous half-century. It said at the time that all had been removed from active ministry.

Rossi said statements about their removal would be read from the pulpit at St. Jerome, where Avery had lived, and at St. Michael the Archangel, in Levittown, where Trauger had been assigned.

School and church officials chased a reporter off the property at St. Michael yesterday, referring all questions about the priest to the archdiocese.

The dismissals came as a Philadelphia grand jury investigating priest sexual abuse continues for its 20th month with no word of outcome or results.

John Salveson, Philadelphia chapter spokesman for SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sees a link.

"I think [the archdiocese is] trying to figure out who said what to the grand jury to try to get out ahead of wave" and save further embarrassment, he said.

Salveson said he had spoken with two of the victims recently but would not identify them, and added that they did not want to speak with the media.

But he added, "Every person I've spoken to who ever went to the archdiocese for help feels they were offered a Band-aid for a gaping chest wound."

SNAP got a "heads-up" call from a church official yesterday but "has been completely shut out of this process," Salveson said. He said a letter to Rigali requesting that he meet with local SNAP survivors had gone unanswered.

Avery's last parish assignment was as pastor of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in East Mount Airy. The Rev. Joseph McLoone, current pastor, said he informed worshipers at Mass yesterday.

"I told them the good thing is it shows the fact the archdiocese really is making sure as best they can, following through with what they are doing," McLoone said. "The bad sign is my heart is broken not only for people who might have been victimized, but for the good people of the parish."

Willamae Orange, president of the PTA at St. Therese while Avery was pastor there, recalled him as a colorful figure.

"When the kids had a school dance, he would act as the disc jockey, and he had a dozen different hats, and all during the playing of the music he would change these hats," she said.

She also recalled asking a teacher at the school about Avery's sudden departure. "She said, 'Oh, it's a long story.' "

The Daily News could not reach Avery yesterday, but he told the Inquirer Wednesday that there had been only one incident and that he was blameless.

Rossi said, however, that in 1992, "allegations of misconduct... were brought to us against Father Avery for alleged activities with a teenager in the late 1970s and early 1980s."

Sources said Avery had been removed from St. Therese after the allegation surfaced, although it was not substantiated. They said that after Avery underwent treatment, he was reassigned to the chaplaincy.

A Philadelphia-area man who asked to remain anonymous said that he had been a child attending St. Monica Church in South Philadelphia in the mid-1960s when Cannon was supervising a boys' summer camp. He said that there had been gossip about Cannon's seemingly abrupt departure from the camp but that the priest generally had been well-liked.

"He was very friendly," said the former parishioner. "We were used to strict Irish priests, but Father Cannon was likable and an everyday person, and that was appealing."

Allegations of "misconduct involving teenagers" first were brought to the archdiocese about Cannon in 1964, Rossi said, then one allegation resurfaced in 1992.

She said that allegations against Trauger "of misconduct involving teenagers" had been reported in 1981 but that they were "never substantiated" after he denied them.

Rossi said that in 2002, allegations against Furmanski "of misconduct involving a teenager" in the mid-1970s had been reported to the archdiocese.

 
 

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