Joy and Uncertainty over News about Catholic Priests

By David O'Reilly, Dan Hardy, Alfred Lubrano and Bonnie Cook
Philadelphia Inquirer
May 4, 2012

In parishes around the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, both joy and uncertainty greeted the news Friday that three priests among the more than two dozen accused of wrongful behavior with children would soon be returning to ministry, while five would not.

"Yay!" shouted 17-year-old Emily Ferry when she learned that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput had reinstated the Rev. Michael Chapman, former pastor of Ascension of Our Lord parish in Kensington.

"I'm excited," she said. "He was a fine, nice guy."

"I'm happy he's back," said her brother, Hugh, 21. Both had been altar servers at Ascension.

The accusations against Chapman and others have not been made public, and Chaput did not indicate Friday if he would be reassigning the returning priests to the parishes where they served most recently. Priests also have the option of going to new parishes, he said.

Chaput announced he was returning three priests to ministry who had been on administrative leave for the past 14 months, pending an investigation into the charges against them. Five priests on leave will not be restored to ministry, and the charges against 17 others are not yet resolved.

But even priests who have been cleared will likely face uncertainty, said Ariz Mendy, 18, a former member of Ascension. Chapman "is a good guy," Mendy said, yet "a lot of people may look at him in a prejudiced way."

News that the Rev. John D. Reardon would not be returning to St. John of the Cross parish in Abington did not shock Chris Marsh, the parish's youth minister.

The congregation was divided in its feelings about whether Reardon did what he was accused of, Marsh said, with many people who did not like the priest's "harsh" demeanor believing he was guilty.

"I liked him myself," said Marsh. "So did some others who got to know him and were able to get past his shortcomings. Those who were in his camp, myself included, find it hard to believe" that he had been accused of wrongdoing with a minor.

"But even for me, it puts a shadow of doubt out there," Marsh said. "He's tarnished."

The Rev. David Fernandes, interim parish adminitrator at St. John's, said the congregation was divided about the former pastor, and that there would have been "alienation if he did return."

But teachers leaving the school in St. Luke the Evangelist parish in Glenside were ecstatic to learn that Msgr. J. Michael Flood had been judged suitable for ministry.

"We're just so thrilled," said Maryann Dean Buonomo, who was giving a piano lesson at a house near the school. "He's a man of great honor."

The Rev. Joseph D. Brandt, parish administrator since Flood's suspension last year, said parishioners would be "excited and happy" to learn Flood could return. "But we also can't forget the victims, in every community as well as ours."

Outside St. Edmund's Church in South Philadelphia, Pat Orlando interrupted her geranium planting to say she was not surprised that the Rev. Phillip R. Barr had been cleared of wrongdoing.

"We were expecting this," she said. "There never really was any questionable activities with him."



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