Action against Priest in Memo

By John P. Martin
Philadelphia Inquirer
March 14, 2012

Msgr. Richard T. Powers, 76, was assigned to South Phila.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia plans to suspend a priest nearly two decades after church leaders learned he had sex with a girl, 17, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Msgr. Richard T. Powers, 76, who had served in parishes across the region and was most recently assigned to Epiphany of Our Lord in South Philadelphia, will be placed on administrative leave pending a review, said the source, who asked not to be identified discussing a personnel issue.

Powers' suspension comes after his name emerged on a newly disclosed 1994 internal church memo that listed 35 area priests suspected or accused of abusing children.

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua allegedly ordered that memo shredded, but a copy was discovered in a safe in the archdiocese's Center City offices in 2006 and turned over last month to Philadelphia prosecutors.

They included it in a court filing as part of their case against Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former aide to the cardinal who drafted the memo and awaits trial on child-endangerment charges.

The memo named Powers in a group of priests described as "guilty of sexual misconduct with minors."

It said he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl in Caracas, Venezuela, "more than five years" earlier, when he was with the Society of St. James, a Boston-based missionary group that sends diocesan priests to South America.

The memo does not explain how church officials learned about Powers' relationship with the girl, if the monsignor acknowledged it, or if the girl filed a complaint.

It also does not say if archdiocesan administrators took any action against the priest.

Powers was the only priest named in the memo who was still in active ministry.

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Messages left at the Epiphany rectory were not returned.

Donna Farrell, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, declined to comment, citing a gag order imposed by the trial judge in Lynn's case.

In the years after the memo, Powers continued to live and work in area parishes, according to church directories, news clippings, and other records.

He served as pastor at two Philadelphia parishes, Incarnation of Our Lord and St. Veronica's, and later became pastor at St. Michael the Archangel in Levittown, Bucks County.

Powers was also mentioned in the 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report that recommended endangerment charges against Lynn, and child-sex-assault charges against three priests and a former Catholic schoolteacher named Bernard Shero. The report said that, as pastor in Levittown, Powers "went out of his way to intimidate and humiliate a mother who, frustrated with the failure of the school to curb Shero's inappropriate behavior with children, reported the teacher to police."

Last week's Sunday bulletin at Epiphany church named him on the church masthead, but described him as retired.

The bulletin also had a message from the pastor, the Rev. John Pidgeon, reminding parishioners about the importance of forgiveness and noting that the church is full of imperfect people.

"Because the Church is made up of people wounded by fallen human nature, we will until the end of time be in need of reform and renewal," Pidgeon's message said.

Powers joins about two dozen archdiocesan priests placed on administrative leave last March so the archdiocese could reexamine past allegations that they abused or acted inappropriately around minors.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has pledged to resolve most of those reviews by early May.



Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.