The Ex-Priest Who Flew under the Radar

By Michael Smerconish
Philadelphia Daily News [Philadelphia PA]
June 9, 2005

HOW did a defrocked priest end up in my kitchen?

That's what has me preoccupied this week. My puzzlement arises out of the extensive coverage of the latest local twist in the sex scandal that continues to plague the Philadelphia archdiocese.

A week ago, the Catholic Standard and Times reported that two priests were defrocked and a third (already retired) was barred from the ministry for more of what has become the same-old same-old with some men in black.

But what was a Page 10 story for the Catholic weekly was a front-page story in the Inquirer. It reported that the Rev. Martin J. Satchell, now 39, was ordained in May 1993. He then served as assistant pastor at St. Raymond of Penafort in Germantown until September 1993, when he was dismissed because of a "credible allegation of misconduct involving a minor."

That was the underlying charge, which led to his recent defrocking - at his request.

His photo accompanied the Inky story, and when I saw it, I paused because something about him was familiar. After a moment of thought, I couldn't place him, and turned the page.

A day or so later came the next revelation: Four years after he was canned by the archdiocese for being "accused of abusing a teenage boy," he began to teach middle school at the prestigious Haverford School for boys on the Main Line, where he stayed for three years.

Again, his photo ran in the paper. Getting warmer, but his head shot still didn't register.

Then our 17-year-old saw it and reminded me that he was once HER teacher, and this was AFTER he taught at Haverford. That was at another of the prestigious Main Line schools, Episcopal Academy. And here is the best - or worst - part: His subject was religion. It was his job to teach our then eighth-grader morals and ethics.

The students were enamored of him. He even once dropped by my house to visit his former student. He was, after all, in the neighborhood house-sitting for a family whose children he taught. He may even have been baby-sitting for their son.

Satchell freely gave out his e-mail address to his students. His moniker? Veritas321. How nice. "Veritas," meaning truth.

Well, I'm interested in the truth. The truth of who is to blame for the fact that a guy who was dismissed for alleged sexual impropriety ends up teaching one of my four children just miles away from the incidents that gave rise to his termination. In this era of Megan's Law, and state registrations of sex offenders, how could this happen?

By my count, there are four explanations that alone or in combination could explain this: 1) He lied to cover up his past, 2) the schools that hired him after he was fired by the church did a poor job in vetting him, 3) he revealed his employment history but when the school or schools contacted the church, somebody was less than forthcoming about the reason for his dismissal, or 4) the first school hired him with limited information, and the second school simply relied on the first.

None of these is acceptable. My hunch is to blame the church, if for no other reason than because of its past pattern of obfuscation and cover-up. But I'm not willing to excuse the schools. It doesn't seem to me to be rocket science that, given recent history, if you have a young guy who recently left the priesthood, the alarm bells should be ringing.

I SEE TWO other factors at work.

First, the reluctance in a litigious society on the part of past employers to speak candidly about employees when called by prospective employers, for fear of being sued by the bad seed himself.

And, second, you wonder whether the desire of the lily-white, private suburban schools to have a young African-American adding diversity to their faculty came at the expense of a proper background investigation.


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