|Locals React to Priest Allegations
By Jenny Dehuff
March 11, 2011
A grand jury’s investigation into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which this week saw 21 area priests suspended amid abuse or misconduct allegations has left untold numbers of parishioners in shock and disbelief.
While the Archdiocese reviews these cases, Cardinal Justin Rigali said there is no presumption of guilt, and that allegations ranged from child sexual abuse to inappropriate behavior.
Locally, the Rev. Andrew D. McCormick of Sacred Heart Rectory in Swedesburg was identified as one of the 21 priests put on administrative leave. But despite the allegations, some parishioners of Sacred Heart Rectory are eager to see their clergyman resume his role.
“My gut reaction is one of disbelief. We were very shocked. This seems very out of character,” said Bernie Gutkowski, owner of Bernard S. Gutkowski Funeral Home in Bridgeport. As a member of the church, Gutkowski said he knew McCormick well and was stunned by the news.
“The (grand jury) is making accusations that I don’t think they can back up. Has anybody come up with any proof, or is it all word of mouth? Knowing him and seeing the way he acts around children, this is just something he wouldn’t do.
“I don’t think he is being accused of child molestation and abuse,” Gutkowski continued.
“This stems from being accused seven years ago, of something he was exonerated from, which was computer pornography. He had nothing to do with children. We’re waiting and praying and I’d like to see him back.
“Ninety-nine percent of our parishioners want him back.”
A 128-page grand jury report gives graphic detail of the nature of the alleged abuses, which ranged from boys as young as 10 years old to their late teens and span several years.
The following is an excerpt from the grand jury report:
“In a move of nationally unprecedented scope and swiftness, the Archdiocese announced Tuesday that it had suspended the priests in response to last month’s Philadelphia grand jury report, which questioned why they were still in ministry despite the accusations.
The present grand jury ... is frustrated to report that much has not changed. The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again. The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese, itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers – dozens of them, we believe – remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey.”
On the Archdiocese website, Rigali issued a press release addressing the matter.
“These have been difficult weeks since the release of the grand jury report,” Rigali wrote.
“(This is) difficult most of all for victims of sexual abuse, but also for all Catholics and for everyone in our community.”
Members of the organization SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) stood outside the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul in downtown Philadelphia on Ash Wednesday handing out flyers. SNAP claims to be the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims.
Judy Jones, associate director for SNAP, said she wants to raise awareness of child sexual abuse in the church and let victims know they can come forward.
“This is huge for us because the Philadelphia Archdiocese is not unique to this type of thing,” said Jones.
“We are hoping this is an opening for other diocese to be investigated. Victims are finally feeling like there’s hope. They want to be believed and they are sick and tired of not being believed.
“Since the grand jury report, there have been several suits filed. We beg anyone who has been harmed to please contact the police or the district attorney. We are so happy these names got released and this makes them expose the truth. Protecting those predators keeps victims from coming forward.”
Repeated calls to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia seeking additional comment went unanswered at press time.
Jenny DeHuff can be reached at email@example.com or 610-272-2500 ext. 207.
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