Oh Brother

By Mike Newall
Philadelphia Weekly
March 3, 2004

It's the first Friday morning of Lent and the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is all but empty. Sunlight filters through the stained-glass windows, illuminating in ghostly light two workmen who polish the marble and wood of the high altar. A few faithful sit in the pews.
It's two hours before the daily 12:05 mass when Betty enters through a side door. A thin 70-year-old with a narrow face and darting eyes, Betty attended St. Anthony's Parish in Ambler for most of her life. But St. Anthony's, "God bless it," burned down four years ago.

Betty, who asked that her last name not be used, now lives at 17th and Race streets, just across from the basilica. She was on her way to buy groceries when she decided to stop in, say hello to the workmen and maybe say a rosary.

She says she hasn't heard the two reports on sex abuse and the Catholic Church that were released this morning. The reports were commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the height of the scandal that rocked the American Church two years ago. The findings are startling: nearly 11,000 children molested from 1950 through 2003. More than 4,000 abusive priests. Close to three-quarters of a billion dollars spent by the Church in response to the abuse claims. The reports detail how bishops often covered up allegations of abuse and allowed known abusers continued access to children.


In a Feb. 26 letter to the The Catholic Standard & Times, Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali released the local priestly abuse numbers. Rigali says 44 of the 2,204 priests who have served in the Philadelphia Archdiocese since 1950 have had credible allegations brought against them.

While the cardinal did offer his apologies to victims of abuse and assured readers that the Philadelphia Archdiocese has taken the proper steps to avoid further abuse, he seemed intent on acquitting the Church.

"The Church relied upon the expertise of mental health professionals in evaluating priests accused of sexual abuse of minors," he wrote. "In certain cases, psychologists and psychiatrists advised that some of the priests were not a threat to the well-being of children. With such assurances, the Church allowed some of these priests to return to active ministry."


Betty doesn't like to think much about the scandals. Sometimes she physically recoils when someone brings them up. "Who knows who's telling the truth?" she whispers, turning her head from the altar.

"But people can lie," she continues, switching course, "say anything they want to get something, to get money."

Betty's younger sister lives in Greenwich Village and is a member of the Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic watchdog group formed shortly after the abuse scandal broke.

"I'm sure she'll be out there on top of it today," she says with a bemused smile. "They'll be protesting somewhere or having a press conference. They are just wild, those people."

Unsure as she is about the scandals, she believes priests should be allowed to marry and have families.

"What kind of life do they have?" she asks, pointing a finger to the altar. "It's no life at all."


A few members of SNAP Philadelphia, the local chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priestsand Other Clergy, have gathered in a small park across the street from the basilica's big cast bronze doors.

Patricia Clancy, a 48-year-old dental hygienist from Brookhaven and the group's assistant director, is preparing to lead a press conference.

A few reporters have gathered. Clancy waits nervously, shivering in the mid-morning cold, her green eyes pensive.

Clancy grew up in a modest Southwest Philadelphia row home and attended St. Barnabas Church on Buist Avenue. Her father suffered from mental illness and spent a lot of time in psychiatric hospitals. When she was 9 years old her younger brother Vincent died from complications during surgery. Her mother was devastated, barely hanging on.

Clancy doesn't remember a time in her childhood when George Costigan wasn't around. A big balding man in his mid-40s, with a fleshy face and pale blue eyes, Costigan was a close friend of her father's and a Christian brother stationed in the archdiocese.

When her father wasn't around, he'd try to help her mother out at home. He baby-sat, took the kids on trips and counseled the family after Vincent died. He became a surrogate father to Clancy.

She says the abuse started sometime before Vincent died. Brother Costigan had been the one to tell her about her brother's death. And she remembers feeling responsible. Her 9-year-old mind saw it as a warning from Costigan: If you even think about telling anyone our secrets, bad things will happen.

It was all so confusing to Clancy. The touching. The shame. The guilt. The letters.

"We have to stop," he wrote to a 13-year-old Pat, while away on assignment. "I am married to the Church."

She says Costigan had been abusing her for seven years when, as a sophomore at West Catholic High School, she took a handful of pills and tried to kill herself. She told someone at the hospital about the abuse, her mother banned Costigan from the hospital, and it was rarely spoken about again.

Clancy was 37 years old when she decided to confront Costigan, the man she held responsible for her years of self-doubt, depression, self-degradation and disconnection from others. There had been some rough times, but she had her life in order. She had raised two children, had a good job and was in therapy.

When she contacted the archdiocese and asked them to help her track down Costigan, they were reluctant.

"He's a Christian brother," they told her, "and not under our jurisdiction."

But Clancy didn't relent, and after some time the Philadelphia Archdiocese set up a meeting between her and Costigan, who is now dead but was retired at the time. At the meeting, she looked the man in the eye and told him she "was no longer the 9-year-old girl he had raped." She was "reclaiming her soul," she told him.

Costigan denied the crimes, and told Clancy he "would pray for her."

Clancy also asked the Philadelphia Archdiocese to cover the cost of her therapy. But they did nothing.


After a few minutes, the press conference begins. Clancy immediately attacks the veracity of the national reports, noting that the findings were based on self-auditing rather than a criminal investigation.

"Do we expect Enron to tell us how much money they stole from their employees?" she says. "Of course not. Instead, we rely on the Justice Department to investigate.

"Sexual abuse is a crime. Rape is a crime," she continues, her voice barely concealing her anger. "We call on each attorney general in each state to immediately launch an investigation into each diocese to determine the true extent to which priests abused children and the extent to which bishops hid and enabled the abuse."

She goes on to urge the Philadelphia Archdiocese to release the names of all known abusive priests.

"The Church remains focused on damage control," she says, "rather than genuine outreach, healing and prevention. We encourage victims to continue to come forward, so the truth can be told and so they can begin to heal."


In his law office at 16th and Spruce streets, attorney Stewart Eisenberg has had time to catch only glimpses of the press coverage surrounding the release of the reports just a few hours earlier. The news could not have come at a better time for him.

In December, just two days before Christmas, Eisenberg held a press conference announcing the lawsuit of Rocco Parisi, a 44-year-old resident of South Philadelphia. It was to be only the second civil suit brought against the archdiocese since the scandal broke. The first one was eventually dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

The limitations had long expired in Parisi's case as well, but Eisenberg argued that the clock should've started ticking in 2002, when it first became known that the Catholic Church had covered up abuse allegations.

Since announcing Parisi's case, Eisenberg has taken on six additional clients who claim clergy abuse. He plans to announce their lawsuits in the upcoming months. These will be on top of five separate civil suits another attorney filed against the archdiocese since Christmas.

"The majority of my clients are suing as a last resort," says Eisenberg. "They sought help from the archdiocese, but were met with an apology and the promise of therapy. And sometimes not even that."

Mike Newall ( last wrote about a North Philadelphia man who was abused as a child by an East Falls priest.


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