Priest Cited As Enabler Resigns

By Jim Remsen
Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia PA]
October 25, 2005

An Archdiocese of Philadelphia clergyman identified in the recent grand jury report as covering up sex abuse by priests has abruptly resigned as pastor of his Wynnewood parish.

Meanwhile, another pastor who was also among the so-called enabler officials has called a parish meeting in Yardley tomorrow evening to discuss the grand jury findings against him - and some parishioners plan to demand that he step down.

"I sense there is anger with our people," the Yardley pastor, Msgr. Samuel E. Shoemaker, said yesterday. "That's why I'm calling the meeting."

Msgr. Vincent M. Walsh's resignation at Presentation Blessed Virgin Mary Church was announced at Masses this weekend. Walsh had been a well-known and popular pastor there since 1990.

Walsh, 69, has been on a health sabbatical since August for various ailments. A letter read from the pulpit by the interim pastor, Msgr. Michael McCulken, stated that Walsh's resignation "is not related in any way to his work as vice chancellor over 30 years ago."

The grand jury found that in 1970, as Cardinal John Krol's assistant chancellor, Walsh "sat silently" while parents praised the Rev. John Mulholland, for befriending their teenage sons, and failed to alert them to Mulholland's known sadomasochistic behavior. Krol left Mulholland at Presentation.

On later occasions, according to the report, Walsh heard complaints about Mulholland's suspicious behavior and never alerted the parish pastor or asked him to monitor Mulholland.

After his time in the chancery office, Walsh served on the church tribunal that hears annulment cases and was the archbishop's delegate to charismatic prayer groups. His Wynnewood church became a hotbed of emotional charismatic worship, and Walsh wrote 15 books on that and other faith topics.

"A numb sort of silence settled over the pews" when Walsh's resignation was announced, said one parishioner.

She and two other members, all of whom asked not to be identified because they feared criticism from other parishioners, said people in the 700-family parish were struggling to reconcile their fondness for Walsh with the grand jury's disclosures about him.

The resignation statement said Walsh has had shingles, a bacterial infection, and other unspecified ailments, none of them life-threatening. His departure is "for reasons that are personal to him, and relate to his own physical and emotional health," the statement said.

McCulken said he would remain in charge of the parish until a successor was named.

Walsh could not be reached for response yesterday. McCulken referred a request for comment to the archdiocese.

Spokeswoman Donna Farrell repeated the archdiocese's stance that it has no intention of censuring any of the dozen or so administrators named in the grand jury report.

"While aware of human errors and mistakes in judgment of those in administration," Farrell stated earlier this month, Cardinal Justin Rigali "is focused on moving the archdiocese forward."

In Yardley, Shoemaker has called an open meeting at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church, a 2,700-family parish that he pastors.

"It will give parishioners a chance to share their thoughts," Shoemaker said in a phone interview. He said the session was prompted by some angry letters he had received in recent days.

He declined to discuss the grand jury report's disclosures about him but said he would do so at the parish meeting.

According to the report, Shoemaker, while serving as chancellor for Cardinals Krol and Anthony J. Bevilacqua, raised occasional concerns that the church was not acting forcefully enough against abusers.

At the same time, the report criticized several of his actions, including naming a known predator, the Rev. David Sicoli, as associate director of youth program for the archdiocese in 1984.

"People are disgusted," said one parishioner, Joan Naylor of Yardley, who has three children in the parish school. "A lot of people are banding together to have him removed. They think he can't lead us spiritually, and they're boycotting, going to other churches. They don't want to have him sitting on the altar and have him preaching to us."

The grand jury report also criticized a number of actions that Msgr. Francis J. Statkus, a priest now in residence at the Yardley parish, took years ago when he was Krol's chancellor. Statkus, 84, has declined to comment.

Naylor said the anger over the report is focused primarily on Shoemaker, with Statkus "not so visible" at the parish.

The Yardley meeting comes at exactly the same time that Voice of the Faithful, the independent activist group, will convene an open forum at which area Catholics can air their reactions to the report. That meeting will be held at the Church on the Mall, in Plymouth Meeting Mall.

Rigali, who is returning this week from a synod in Rome, is scheduled to head to Yardley on Sunday, celebrating a 9:30 a.m. Mass at St. Ignatius. Afterward, he is to greet parishioners in the auditorium.


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