Priest, Deacon Accused of Misconduct

By Martha Woodall and Christine Schiavo
Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia PA]
November 25, 2005

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia yesterday reported that it has restricted the duties of a Bucks County priest and asked a deacon and teacher at St. Joseph's Preparatory School to resign in response to allegations of inappropriate physical contact with minors.

Msgr. Charles J. Schaeflein, 86, who spent 25 years in archdiocesan high schools and 12 as pastor of St. Andrew parish in Newtown, has been barred from performing pastoral duties while the archdiocese and the Bucks County District Attorney's Office investigate recent allegations that he sexually abused a minor more than 15 years ago.

And the Rev. Mr. Charles Ginn Jr., an ordained deacon, was asked to resign last week from St. Joseph's Prep in North Philadelphia as a result of allegations he had inappropriately kissed and hugged three students in 1996. Ginn, who as deacon is capable of performing several priestly duties, including baptism, had taught history at the prestigious Jesuit boys' school for 29 years.

Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the church was investigating the allegations against Ginn and would report the allegations to the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

"We have pledged to be open," Farrell said. "One of the things we have been so strong about is that we report all allegations to the proper authorities. We have learned we're not the investigators."

The announcement comes nearly two months after a grand jury detailed decades of abuse by clergy, inspiring more people to come forward with allegations of abuse.

In the days after the grand jury report was published, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office reported receiving a flood of fresh allegations. Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for the office, would not say yesterday how many new cases were under investigation.

The Rev. Bruce M. Bidinger, president of St. Joseph's Prep, said he informed students and their parents of Ginn's departure in a letter Friday. He and members of the school's board of trustees met with students and parents to discuss the issue last night.

"I knew it was the right thing to do," Bidinger said in an interview. "We need to communicate quickly, clearly and transparently to parents. Our students are our first priority."

Ginn, who was ordained as a deacon in June 2001, has been assisting with pastoral duties at St. Katharine of Siena Church in Wayne. He could not be reached for comment last night.

Bidinger said he was contacted by the archdiocese Nov. 7 after a parishioner from St. Katharine reported the allegations that had been made against Ginn in 1996.

At that time, Ginn denied any inappropriate "intent."

Bidinger said that officials who were in charge of the Prep in the mid-1990s, however, had reprimanded Ginn, mandated psychiatric evaluation and counseling for him, and limited his ability to interact with students outside class.

After the allegations resurfaced last week, Bidinger said, the school's administration reexamined the issue and concluded Ginn could not remain at the school. He resigned Wednesday and left immediately.

"There have been no accusations since 1996 that I am aware of," Bidinger said yesterday.

At last night's meeting at St. Joseph's, Bidinger told an audience of about 150 people in Kelly Fieldhouse that, in retrospect, he wished he had fired Ginn when he took over the school in 2002.

Some parents and students spoke highly of Ginn. Others were critical.

Jane Robinson, parent of a freshman, said that if three victims had come forward, there might be 30 who were unwilling to talk about an incident with Ginn.

"What scares me to death is the church in the past kept telling us our children are safe," Robinson said. "Well, they're not."

Msgr. John J. Jagodzinski, pastor at St. Katharine, told parishioners at Mass over the weekend that Ginn would no longer be delivering homilies or performing baptisms, pending the outcome of the investigation.

"We are very saddened," Jagodzinski said. "He has served here faithfully and been a wonderful presence. We loved having his services as a deacon."

Farrell said the accusation against Schaeflein surfaced a few weeks ago, after the grand jury released its report Sept. 21.

She would not say where in Bucks County Schaeflein was stationed when the abuse was alleged to have taken place. Nor would she disclose the accuser's gender or say how old he or she was when the abuse allegedly occurred.

Schaeflein was pastor of St. Andrew parish from 1977 until his retirement in 1989. He also served as principal at the former Bishop Conwell High School in Fairless Hills from 1965 to 1977.

No charges have been filed against Schaeflein, who retired 16 years ago amid a real estate controversy. Without authority from the archdiocese, he made a deal to sell 23 acres of church-owned land to a woman who intended to run a bird sanctuary. The case resulted in a lawsuit against the archdiocese.

Schaeflein, who until last weekend said Mass regularly at two parishes and was chaplain at a home for retired nuns, did not return a call yesterday. Farrell said she could not comment on Schaeflein's response to the allegation.

While church and civil authorities investigate, Schaeflein is not allowed to say Mass publicly, administer sacraments, wear a clerical collar, or present himself as a priest.

At St. Martin of Tours parish in New Hope, where Schaeflein said the 11 a.m. Mass every other Sunday, the Rev. Frederick Kindon said he would be missed.

"The folks at our parish like him very much," Kindon said. "He's very welcoming with the people."

At Mount Nazareth retirement home in Northeast Philadelphia, Sister Jude, a superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family, called Schaeflein a "very caring, extraordinary, good person."

She said Schaeflein moved out of his residence there over the weekend. Farrell said he now lives in a retirement home for retired priests in Delaware County.

Schaeflein was ordained in 1949 and served at Holy Trinity parish in Morrisville in 1949 and 1950, at St. Ann parish in Phoenixville from 1950 to 1952, at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia from 1952 to 1963, and at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Delaware County from 1963 to 1965. Until recently, he also said Mass at St. Matthew parish in Northeast Philadelphia.

Following protocol adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, cases of abuse are first investigated, then turned over to a six-person board made up of laypeople and clergy. The board recommends action to the cardinal, who can suspend a priest from ministry or move to defrock him.

The grand jury identified 54 archdiocesan priests as abusers. Of those, 12 have been defrocked, 10 are being defrocked or have legally challenged the move, 22 are in restricted ministry, nine are dead, and one is in prison.