Diocese Getting 'C' in Bid to Fight Abuse?
Sources: Bishops Gave Phila. Passing Mark

By Ron Goldwyn
Philadelphia Daily News [Philadelphia PA]
January 2, 2004

In a national report to be released Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is expected to get passing grades, with some recommendations for improvement, in its efforts to combat child sexual abuse by priests.

The report, to include audits of all 195 U.S. dioceses, was ordered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to monitor compliance with its charter, adopted in Dallas in June 2002, to protect children.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops conference, will announce the results at a press conference in Washington.

The audit's main categories are commendations for specific or longstanding programs, recommendations for improvement, and instructions for problem areas that require change to comply with the charter.

Details of the Philadelphia audit were not available. Sources have indicated the five-county archdiocese will receive mid-range grades, with some changes recomended but no serious problems cited.

Catherine Rossi, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, declined to comment on what the audit would show.

Philadelphia, like every other diocese, was visited in the past six months by investigators, most of them former FBI agents, from the Gavin Group of Boston, Mass., under contract with the bishops.

Several dioceses already have released results of their own audits. Others across the country have published statistics about priest-abuse cases.

On its Web site, Allentown declared on Dec. 5 that it had earned "the highest category of compliance a diocese can receive." It said it had gotten a commendation and had complied with two recommendations for change.

The Philadelphia archdiocese on Dec. 18 removed four priests after reinvestigating old abuse allegations. At the same time, it released a lengthy report on how it was implementing the charter with a review board and other steps.

A grand jury convened by Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham in April 2002 continues to investigate sexual abuse of clergy. The D.A.'s office and archdiocese will not comment publicly on any aspect of the probe.

Last week, a South Philadelphia man filed suit alleging that he was sexually abused when he was a teenager in the 1970s by the Rev. Joseph P. Gallagher. The archdiocese said the priest was not in active ministry. Diocesan directories indicate reassignment within the past two years.

After the national scandal broke in Boston in winter 2002, the Philadelphia archdiocese announced it had found "credible" allegations of abuse against 35 priests over the past half century. Most were not named.

The archdiocese said that the statute of limitations precluded criminal or civil court action on old cases, and that new allegations would be turned over to law enforcement.

Since then several priests have been publicly removed after abuse allegations, and two lawsuits have been filed.

The audit will focus on activities by dioceses since the charter was adopted in June 2002.

The bishops' report will be "descriptive" but won't contain statistics or cite specific cases, according to Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the bishops' conference's office of child and youth protection.

"A lot of people are under the misunderstanding this is a reinvestigation of previous cases," she said. "It's a measurement of how the dioceses are complying with charter."

William A. Gavin, the retired FBI official whose consulting firm, the Gavin Group, conducted the audits, said Wednesday he had hired investigators with "a passion to do the right thing for children."

Gavin said "a very descriptive report" would be drawn from their interviews and reviews of documents. He would not elaborate.

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