Archdiocese Told Police of 6 Abuse Cases
Two of Those Six Priests Were Arrested. Other Cases Were Too Old or Involved People Who Refused to Come Forward
By David O'Reilly and Larry King
March 3, 2002
Over the years, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia alerted authorities to only six of the 35 priests whom it says it identified as having sexually abused children since 1950.
In most of the other 29 cases, the archdiocese said, it chose not to tell police or prosecutors because the victims came forward years after the assaults and the attacks were too old to prosecute.
In other cases, the victims or their parents asked the archdiocese not to report the attacks because they wanted no part of any investigation or trial, Catherine Rossi, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said this week.
Of the six whose names were given to police, Rossi said, two were arrested. She said she did not know why the other four cases did not lead to arrests.
In early February, the archdiocese dismissed about six priests known to have abused minors over the years, including the two who were arrested.
Those dismissals were in direct response to a scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, where Cardinal Bernard Law has been roundly criticized for protecting a priest known to be a longtime sexual predator of young boys.
The Boston Archdiocese gave prosecutors last month the names of 80 priests it knew had sexually abused minors; on Friday it also agreed to turn over the names of victims and detailed information about how they were abused.
The Philadelphia Archdiocese has refused to identify any of the other dismissed priests or provide the names of victims to civil authorities. It said it was withholding the information in order to protect the confidentiality of victims and the accused in cases in which the statute of limitations has expired.
On Feb. 22 it revealed it knew of about 50 victims of sexual abuse from diocesan priests since 1950, and "four or five" abuse cases committed locally by priests belonging to religious communities, such as the Franciscans or Dominicans.
According to Rossi, the two priests of the Philadelphia Archdiocese who were arrested were the Rev. Thomas Kohler, 61, accused of participating in taking pornographic photos of a teenage boy, and the Rev. Michael Swierzy, 53, accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting an altar boy.
Father Kohler was arrested and charged with a single count of child obscenity in 1994, the same year authorities said he joined an ex-priest, William O'Connell, in a pornographic photo session with an underage boy in 1994 in Cape May County, N.J.
A lawyer familiar with Father Kohler's case said he believed Father Kohler had been neither acquitted nor convicted but had accepted pre-trial intervention, an option available to some first-time offenders in New Jersey courts. Under such interventions, defendants' arrest records are expunged if they complete probation without incident.
Cape May County court officials said Friday that their records did not contain any information about Father Kohler.
The detective who handled the investigation declined to be interviewed Friday; the prosecutor could not be reached.
Father Kohler could not be found. "He's no longer in any active ministry, but we don't know exactly where he is," Rossi said this week.
O'Connell, who had been defrocked by his former diocese in Rhode Island before the episode, pleaded guilty to sexual-assault charges and was given a 10-year prison sentence. He was 72 at his sentencing.
In an interview last week, a woman who claimed that her son was victimized by Father Kohler years ago said she was "still furious" that his arrest apparently had not led to a jail term.
Father Kohler was also named as a defendant in a 1995 civil lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania by a man who said Father Kohler had abused him between 1973 and 1978, when he was an altar boy. The suit ended in an undisclosed settlement.
In 1998, Father Swierzy pleaded guilty to corrupting a minor and was sentenced to five years of probation.
Father Swierzy, a former principal of Cardinal Dougherty High School, admitted to prosecutors that over three years he had supplied an adolescent altar boy with beer, shared a bed with him, hugged him, and kissed him. He acknow-
ledged the abuse after the boy's parents notified the Bucks County District Attorney's Office in 1997.
The archdiocese removed Father Swierzy from his assignment as a vicar at St. John the Evangelist Church in Lower Makefield and placed him in a mental-health facility. In court, Father Swierzy said he would seek treatment for a "sex addiction."
Father Swierzy's victim is now suing him and the archdiocese in Bucks County Court. The suit claims, among other things, that the church was negligent in its hiring, supervising and retaining Father Swierzy.
The archdiocese has advised Fathers Kohler and Swierzy, as well as four of the other dismissed priests, to seek lay status, which strips priests of the titles Reverend and Father, along with the right to perform sacramental duties.
If the priests do not seek lay status, the archdiocese can petition the Vatican in Rome to impose it, a lengthy process.
When the archdiocese announced the dismissals on Feb. 22, it said that the 35 priests had abused about 50 victims, almost all of whom were teenagers.
Of the 1,200 priests in Philadelphia and its four suburban Pennsylvania counties, about 800 are affiliated with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The other 400 belong to various religious orders. Rossi said the archdiocese knew of only four or five abuse cases committed within the region by members of such orders.
One such accused offender was the Rev. Richard J. Cochrane, now 57, an Augustinian priest and former teacher at Malvern Preparatory School in Chester County.
He awaits trial in Monroe County on charges of raping a 14-year-old male student during a weekend trip to the Poconos in 1991.
Father Cochrane, who has been suspended from his teaching job, was arrested in 1999; police opened their investigation many years after the date of the alleged attack because Father Cochrane's accuser delayed coming forward.
Sherri A. Stephan, a Monroe County assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case, said this week that the Augustinians had been uncooperative.
According to Stephan, her investigators had tried to talk with priests who have contact with Father Cochrane.
"When we have done so, we have received a call back from an attorney, who tells us that we are not entitled to interview them," she said.
Attempts to reach the lawyer for Malvern Prep were unsuccessful this week.
Earlier this month, state Superior Court ruled that another boy who has alleged that Father Cochrane abused him in 1990 could testify when the case goes to trial.
Superior Court said that boy, though not the named victim in the case, should testify because his testimony might establish that Father Cochrane had engaged in a pattern of abuse.
In recent interviews, prosecutors in Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery Counties said they knew of no prosecutions of Catholic clergy in recent years. They also said they were unaware of any contacts from archdiocesan officials about allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
Efforts to reach Chester County prosecutors were unsuccessful.
This week, the archdiocese rejected The Inquirer's written requests for the names of all 35 diocesan priests whom it says have abused children.
It also declined to characterize the victims by gender, identify the nature of the sex acts, or reveal the duration of the abuse, such as whether the assault was a single incident or carried out over several years.
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