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  Memories Are Dim of Accused Priest
A Long-Ago Molestation Prompted the Pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort to Urge His Parish to Speak up If Other Cases Exist

By Joel Bewley
Philadelphia Inquirer [Pennsylvania]
June 6, 2005

On the first Sunday since learning one of their former priests had been accused of molesting a teenage boy more than a decade ago, parishioners at St. Raymond of Penafort in Germantown were urged to report any other cases that might have occurred.

"Anyone who has ever been sexually abused by a priest, or has even heard rumors, please, do something about it today," the Rev. John F. O'Brien, St. Raymond's pastor, told congregants during Mass yesterday. "Does everybody understand? Is that clear to everybody?"

The former priest, Martin J. Satchell, 39, was at the church for four months in 1993. He was removed from active ministry following a credible accusation of sexual abuse, Archdiocese of Philadelphia officials said last week when they announced he had been defrocked.

"This has been very sad and very painful for us," O'Brien said between Masses. "We pray there were no more victims."

The arrival of Satchell, who is African American, was considered a blessing to the St. Raymond congregation, which has few members of any other race.

The church has about 550 families and runs a school for 295 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Satchell's role as assistant pastor at the church has faded in the 12 years since he left. Several parishioners said yesterday they did not remember him being there.

"When we heard about it, we were thinking 'Who was that?' " said Lincoln Kerr, 30, a former altar boy who has attended the church since he was a toddler. "I've never had any problems with any priest. A lot of my friends were altar boys, too. If there was a lot of abuse, I'm sure I would have heard about it."

Tom Bryant, 57, a parishioner for 25 years, said Satchell "seemed like a good Christian man."

"I was shocked to learn about it," he said. "I never knew him to do anything negative."

O'Brien, who has led St. Raymond since 1987, said he does not know the identity of the victim, or whether it was someone from his parish.

O'Brien said Satchell came to him in September 1993 and said he was taking a leave of absence, but he did not say why.

Soon after, O'Brien learned of the accusation against Satchell from archdiocese officials but did not tell anyone, he said.

A statement attributed to an archdiocese official in an Inquirer article on Saturday indicated that O'Brien told his congregation about the allegation, but that was not the case, O'Brien said yesterday.

"At that point, it was just an accusation," O'Brien said. "His reputation was very important to me. The African American community was very proud of this young priest. There was a great sense of joy and a great desire for him to be successful."

After leaving St. Raymond, Satchell went to the St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, which is run by the church for priests who receive psychological counseling.

O'Brien said he called Satchell twice, but did not hear back from him. Satchell went on to teach history to middle school boys at the prestigious Haverford School from 1997 to 2000. School officials said last week they were unaware of the abuse allegations when he was hired, and knew of no complaints of misconduct against him while he taught there.

O'Brien said he did not know until this week that the accusation against Satchell was credible. No parishioners have come to him to report any abuse since Satchell left, he said.

While some parishes have been forced to close their schools, St. Raymond's has a waiting list. It's a point of pride for the church.

"My concern has always been to give the children a quality education and to keep them safe," O'Brien, 72, said while preparing for Mass. "When a priest does something wrong like this, it is very, very upsetting."

In a flyer distributed at Mass, anyone with concerns was encouraged to call the Archdiocese victims assistance coordinator at 215-587-3880.

 
 

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