Vatican Defrocks Phila. Priest over Abuse of Minors

By Sam Wood and Rita Giordano
Philadelphia Enquirer
February 15, 2008

A Philadelphia priest whose archdiocesan file, according to a grand jury report, showed "a long history of abusive and manipulative relationships with adolescents" has been defrocked by the Roman Catholic Church.

David C. Sicoli, 60, a parish priest from 1975 to 2004 in Philadelphia, Ambler, Levittown and Yeadon, was officially "removed from the clerical state" by order of the Vatican, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia disclosed yesterday. Sicoli volunteered for laicization after the archdiocese substantiated accusations that he had abused several boys.

No criminal charges were ever lodged against Sicoli.

However, a 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report found that despite numerous complaints about his alleged misconduct with boys and even warnings from other priests, the church transferred Sicoli to different parishes as scandal pursued him. Diocese officials did nothing to intervene, the report stated. Instead, they named him associate director of the CCD youth program for the entire Philadelphia area.

That appointment was made, the report states, "even though the priest's file clearly showed that he used the Church's youth groups to reward, groom, and manipulate his targeted boys."

Technically, Sicoli will remain a priest.

The church teaches that there is an "indelible priestly character" taken on by the soul during ordination, said Msgr. Thomas Green, an expert in canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

"Once you've been ordained, it's irrevocable," Green said. "It's similar to being baptized. Doctrine states that it cannot be set aside. It transcends whatever human beings may do."

But Sicoli will no longer be authorized to perform any priestly functions, Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said in a statement released yesterday.

Sicoli, who has past addresses in Philadelphia and Sea Isle City, N.J., could not be reached yesterday.

Farrell said Sicoli resides in a private home outside the archdiocese. She said his local bishop and county law enforcement authorities have been notified of his presence.

In 1990, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua named Sicoli pastor of Our Lady of Holy Souls in North Philadelphia. Other parish postings followed despite numerous complaints that Sicoli kept boys living with him in the rectory, according to the grand jury report. Bevilacqua, who stepped down in 2003, never asked the archdiocese to investigate claims against Sicoli.

The following year, the archdiocese's Review Board assigned an investigator to look into the rumors of abuse, but only after a church official was questioned about Sicoli before the grand jury. At the time, Sicoli was still a church pastor. He took a leave of absence in 2004 as assault allegations were coming to light.

The Review Board found "multiple substantiated allegations involving a total of 11 minors" from 1977 to 2002, according to the grand jury report. The Review Board then recommended Sicoli be removed from the ministry.

According to the archdiocese, Sicoli served as a priest at the following parishes: St. Joseph, Ambler; St. Martin of Tours, Philadelphia; Immaculate Conception, Levittown; St. Athanasius, Philadelphia; St. Louis, Yeadon; St. Raymond of Penafort, Philadelphia; Our Lady of the Holy Souls, Philadelphia (closed in 1993); Our Lady of Hope, Philadelphia; St. Anthony of Padua, Philadelphia (closed in 1999); and Holy Spirit, Philadelphia.

In a statement issued yesterday, a victims' group called Sicoli's defrocking "a belated and begrudging move taken only after children have been abused unnecessarily."

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a statement: "We are grateful that the Vatican has chosen to defrock these priests. We hope that this will bring a measure of healing to his victims.

". . . While this long-overdue step may bring some comfort to the victims and their family members who have been hurt by these men, it is important to remember that molesters are not cured and may still pose a serious threat to nearby children," Clohessy's statement read.

Church authorities said they realize their announcement "may be painful to those who have experienced sexual abuse within the church."

They ask people who were victims and need assistance to call 1-888-800-8780.

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796 or at


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