Pastor: I Tried to Warn Church
Clergyman Tells Parish He Alerted Archdiocese to Now-Defrocked Priest
By Hal Marcovitz
Morning Call [Allentown, Pennsylvania]
September 25, 2005
A Bucks County priest told his parishioners at a Mass on Saturday that he tried to alert officials at the Philadelphia Archdiocese that a fellow priest was obsessed with child pornography, but despite his warnings the clergyman was simply transferred to other churches and permitted to remain active in the priesthood.
The Rev. Frederick J. Riegler made his comments three days after a Philadelphia grand jury report condemned Cardinals Anthony J. Bevilacqua and John Krol, the former archbishops of Philadelphia, for concealing reports of sexual misconduct by priests. Riegler, pastor of St. Isidore's Roman Catholic Church in Milford Township, said archdiocese officials were well aware of the Rev. Edward K. DePaoli's obsession with child pornography, yet during the 1990s Riegler encountered him on the clerical staff of a church in Philadelphia.
"How did he get here?" Riegler recalled asking himself at the time. "What were they thinking?"
Riegler and all other priests in the archdiocese were instructed by Cardinal Justin Rigali to address the findings of the grand jury report this weekend and distribute copies of a letter Rigali wrote to Catholics in the archdiocese condemning the abusers, but defending the responses by Krol and Bevilacqua to the scandal. The letter says the archdiocese responded properly when it learned of abusive priests.
Riegler said archdiocesan officials gave him no guidance on how he was to address the matter. Riegler said he decided to relate his personal experience with the scandal to "illustrate the complexity of the problem and show where people succeeded and failed."
Riegler said that during his experience with DePaoli, he learned there was a "corporate culture" within the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
"If you are good, perform, keep your mouth shut and don't say anything, you will get promoted," said the priest. "One of the reasons this thing went on is people didn't have the guts to blow the whistle."
St. Isidore parishioners had praise for Riegler's comments, saying that it was clear the priest tried to alert the archdiocese of DePaoli's misconduct.
"I liked what Father Riegler said," said Sharon Calhoun of Quakertown. "I question why something didn't happen to the priest when they knew something was going on."
"He was very honest," said Janice Vazquez of Quakertown. "He's a very down-to-earth priest."
Pray for healing
Rigali's letter to Philadelphia area Catholics said the report by the grand jury "is painful to read. The pain and suffering experienced by those who have been abused by the clergy is great, and we must continually pray for healing for the victims. In addition, we must pray for the members of the clergy who have perpetrated the abuse."
Also this weekend, parishioners in the five-county Allentown Diocese are hearing the contents of another letter that addresses the scandal. Edward P. Cullen, bishop of the diocese and once a top aide in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, wrote the letter, which was released to the media Friday.
In the grand jury report, DePaoli was named as one of 63 Philadelphia Archdiocese priests accused of child abuse since 1967. Riegler said he had known DePaoli for some years and was shocked when he saw a television news report in the mid-1980s announcing DePaoli's arrest on child pornography charges. In 1986, DePaoli pleaded guilty and was placed on probation for a year.
Riegler said he next encountered DePaoli at St. John the Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1992, where DePaoli had been appointed parochial vicar. Riegler said that when he arrived at St. John as pastor, a priest on staff confided in him that DePaoli still collected child pornography and had the materials mailed to the church office. The pornographic magazines were discovered by the secretary who opened the mail, Riegler said.
"It wasn't pleasant; it sickened me," Riegler said.
Riegler said he notified archdiocese officials and DePaoli was removed from the clerical staff at St. John.
Reassigned to another parish
Riegler said he also found an extensive collection of child pornography in DePaoli's apartment and, after collecting the materials, was instructed to turn it over to DePaoli. "We had to pack it together and wait for Ed to pick it up," Riegler said.
According to the grand jury report, after DePaoli was dismissed from St. John he was placed on administrative leave. In 1996, the grand jury said, DePaoli was living at St. Gabriel's Roman Catholic Church near Pottstown, Montgomery County, when he was subscribing to magazines depicting child pornography.
"For some reason, they sent him to another parish and the same thing happened," Riegler said. "I don't know why."
In 2002, the grand jury said, DePaoli was assistant pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Doylestown when the Bucks County district attorney received a complaint that DePaoli committed a sexual assault on a girl, 14. No criminal charges were filed. DePaoli, 60, was defrocked in 2004.
Letter from Bishop Cullen
Cullen, the leader of the Allentown Diocese, was the chief aide to Bevilacqua.
The bishop's letter was read to hundreds of parishioners at the 4:15 p.m. Saturday Mass in Allentown's Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena by the Rev. Jerome A. Tauber.
In the letter, Cullen denied actions attributed to him in parts of the grand jury report. He denied instructing subordinates "that victims of sexual abuse were not to be believed." And he said that while in the Philadelphia Archdiocese he never had the authority to transfer priests.
"I'm very pleased the bishop did respond to the past two articles in the newspaper this week. I have a lot of respect for the bishop. He handles this difficult situation with a great deal of integrity," said Mary Munley of Lower Macungie Township after the service at St. Catharine.
"He's taking a step in the right direction," said Russell Snyder of Upper Macungie Township at St. Catharine. "He's been very active in keeping in touch with the people and showing that he cares."
Parishioner James Krause of Cetronia criticized The Morning Call for recent "big headlines attacking the Catholic Church." He acknowledged some complaints about sexual misconduct by priests are legitimate, but said some of the controversy is being generated by "begrudged Catholics who are angry at the church and have found a way to get back at the church."
At the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bethlehem on Saturday, Monsignor John Martin told parishioners that it's a cleansing time for the church. He said that he doesn't know how the purging will end, but that it will be for the good of the church.
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