Priests' Dismissals Confirmed
The Archdiocese Removed Them for Allegedly
By David O'Reilly
December 19, 2003
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia yesterday confirmed reports that it had dismissed four priests for sexually abusing teenagers and said its actions were proof that it was "living up to its promise" of zero tolerance of sex abuse.
"We do not like making this announcement at this time of year," archdiocesan spokeswoman Catherine L. Rossi said in an interview yesterday, "but it was a necessary part of the process of disclosure."
Rossi said all four priests - who, combined, have been associated with more than two dozen local parishes - denied the allegations.
The archdiocese has not ruled out the possibility of future dismissals, Rossi said. Cardinal Justin Rigali, she said, "has asked that all old cases be reviewed, including those not considered credible."
Following revelations last year that many bishops for decades shielded abusive priests, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted rules requiring every diocese to remove priests and deacons found to have abused a minor.
In April, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, then archbishop of Philadelphia, appointed a seven-member review board to advise the archdiocese on sex-abuse matters.
Jim Amato, the review board's chairman, said yesterday that the panel immediately began to review all abuse charges against its clergy. Those reviews led to the four recent dismissals.
Msgr. Leonard A. Furmanski and the Revs. Edward V. Avery, John A. Cannon, and Francis X. Trauger were removed from ministry between Oct. 23 and Dec. 12, according to the archdiocese, which announced the dismissals in yesterday's edition of the archdiocesan newspaper.
After examining an accused priest's files, "we would have conversations, basically around the core issue of the credibility of the allegations," Amato said in a phone interview.
If the allegations appeared credible, he said, the board arranged with a private investigator to conduct new interviews for possible corroboration of the claims. The panel then gave their recommendations to Rigali.
Furmanski, 72; Cannon, 81; and Avery, 61, were hospital or nursing-home chaplains at the time of their dismissals. Trauger, 58, was an assistant priest at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Levittown. All had worked in parish ministry during their careers.
None of the four priests could be reached for comment yesterday.
The newspaper, the Catholic Standard and Times, did not give details of the alleged abuses, but a statement by Rigali accompanying the article sheds some light on the priests' alleged actions.
"In these four cases, it has been determined that there are credible allegations of sexual misconduct with minors that took place many years ago," Rigali said in a statement yesterday.
Rigali also extended "deep apologies" to all victims of abuse.
The four priests will no longer be permitted to dress in clerical garb; be addressed as "Father" or "Monsignor"; or say Mass in public. The archdiocese has sent their cases to the Vatican for review, which may lead to the priests' being formally laicized, or defrocked.
Furmanski, ordained in 1959, was principal of Archbishop Kennedy High School in the 1960s and on the faculty of Cardinal O'Hara High School form 1964 to 1975. He was made a monsignor in 1998 and attended Rigali's installation ceremony in October. The allegations against him date to the 1970s, Rossi said.
Cannon, ordained in 1948, served in the 1950s and '60s on the faculties of St. John Neumann High School and Roman Catholic High School. The allegations against him date to the late 1950s and involve more than one accuser, Rossi said.
Trauger has been an assistant parish priest for most of his career. The charges against him involve more than one teenager and date to 1981, Rossi said.
Avery was ordained in 1970 and was in parish ministry for most of his career, until being appointed chaplain at Nazareth Hospital in 1993. Rossi said that the charges against Avery involve allegations that began in the late 1970s and lasted into the early 1980s.
Reached at his home in Haverford on Wednesday, Avery said he was "devastated" by the charges against him, which he said were false.
Avery said his only impropriety with a minor consisted of once taking a drunken teenage boy - whom he found lying in the cold - to his rectory. The boy slept untouched on a couch, Avery said.
In many ways, Avery was not a traditional Roman Catholic priest. Aside from his duties in the church, Avery moonlighted as a disc jockey at weddings, parties and dances. And in the early 1980s, he became the legal guardian of six Hmong children whose father had been killed in a truck accident. They lived with him in a house in West Philadelphia.
He was best known for his work with Philadelphia's Hmong community. He dedicated years to helping these Southeast Asian immigrants find jobs and transportation to work. They nicknamed him Txiv Plig Vam Nyiaj, which he once said roughly translates to "good as gold" or "priceless."
Amato declined to say whether the accused priests appeared before the review board, but Rossi said all were given the opportunity to be interviewed by the investigator.
In addition to Amato, who is deputy secretary for the archdiocese's Office of Social Services, the review board includes a lawyer, a priest, a pediatric nurse, a psychologist and a social worker. Several are not Catholic.
Rossi acknowledged that the news would "reopen a wound for many Catholics" and upset parishioners where the priests had worked. But she said "removing [abuser] priests is the right thing to do."
Rossi said the archdiocese would provide transitional assistance for the priests who will be living on their own.
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this report.
Partial list of posts of four priests recently removed from ministry.
The Rev. Edward V. Avery
St. Bernadette's, Drexel Hill.
June 1970 to June 1971. Assistant pastor.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, Chester.
June 1972 to Feb. 1976. Assistant pastor.
St. Philip Neri, Pennsburg.
Feb. 1976 to Sept. 1978. Assistant pastor.
St. Agatha-St. James', Philadelphia.
Sept. 1978 to June 1984. Assistant pastor.
St. Ignatius, Philadelphia.
June 1984 to Sept. 1986. Assistant pastor.
St. Dominic's, Philadelphia.
Sept. 1986 to Sept. 1990. Assistant priest.
Nazareth Hospital, Philadelphia.
December 1993 until his removal this year. Chaplain.
The Rev. John A. Cannon
St. Cosmas and Damian, Conshohocken. June 1948-Sept. 1958.
St. John Neumann High School, Philadelphia.
Sept. 1948 to Sept. 1958. Faculty.
Roman Catholic High School. Sept. 1958 to June 1963. Faculty.
Office of Catholic Education.
June 1963 to June 1965. Assistant vicar.
St. Eugene, Primos. June 1965 to June 1966. Assistant pastor.
Cardinal O'Hara High School, Springfield, Delaware County.
June 1966 to Nov. 1985. Faculty.
St. Joseph's Home for the Aged in Holland, Pa.
Sept. 1985 until his removal this year. Chaplain.
Msgr. Leonard A. Furmanski
St. Joseph's, Spring City, Montgomery County.
May 1959 to May 1960. Assistant pastor.
St. Christopher's, Philadelphia. May 1960 to Sept. 1960. Assistant pastor.
Archbishop Kennedy High School, Conshohocken.
Sept. 1960 to June 1964. Faculty.
Cardinal O'Hara High School. June 1964 to June 1975. Faculty.
Archbishop Kennedy High School.
June 1975 to June 1977. Faculty.
Sacred Heart, Swedesburg. June 1977 to June 1989. Pastor.
St. Martin of Tours, Philadelphia.
June 1989 to June 1991. Pastor.
St. Titus in Norristown. June 1991 to Dec. 1994. Pastor.
St. Josaphat in Philadelphia. Dec. 1994 to June 1998. Pastor.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Bensalem. June 1998 to July 1998. Parochial administrator. July 1998 to Nov. 1999 was pastor.
Nazareth Hospital, Philadelphia. Nov. 1999 until his removal this year. Assistant chaplain.
The Rev. Francis X. Trauger
St. Leo's, Philadelphia. June 1972 to Nov. 1976. Asst. pastor.
Holy Cross, Springfield, Delaware County.
Nov. 1976 to June 1980. Assistant pastor.
St. Titus, Norristown. June 1980 to Sept. 1981. Asst. pastor.
St. Matthew's, Philadelphia.
Sept. 1981 to Aug. 1982. Assistant pastor.
St. Francis de Sales, Philadelphia.
Oct. 1982 to June 1985. Assistant pastor.
St. Matthew's, Conshohocken.
June 1985 to Sept. 1988. Assistant pastor.
Annunciation B.V.M., Philadelphia.
Sept. 1988 to June 1989. Assistant pastor.
St. Joseph's, Aston. June 1989 to June 1993. Asst. priest.
St. Michael the Archangel in Levittown. June 1993 until his removal this year. Assistant priest.
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