Editorial: Church Review Length Adds to Pain of Abuse

Daily Times
May 7, 2012

There is no simple way to ease the pain of child abuse.

When the source of that abuse is one of the most trusted figures in a child's life, it would seem recovery is almost an impossible task.

So Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput should not be surprised if the faithful in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are less than thrilled by the progress made in the archdiocese's investigation of 26 priests suspended last year over allegations of sexual misconduct with children.

On Friday, nearly 14 months after former Philadelphia archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali placed the 26 priests on administrative leave while complaints against them were reviewed by a team headed by former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Gina Maisto Smith, Chaput announced that only eight cases had been resolved.

Allegations against them ranged from exceeding acceptable boundaries with language or touching, to sexual assault of minors. All of the cases were first referred to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams' office, then reviewed by Smith and her multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement and child abuse experts. Chaput has the final word on whether the allegations are substantiated and who gets to return to active ministry.

As of Friday, three suspended priests were found suitable for ministry and will be permitted to return to their posts if they so choose. Allegations were deemed credible against five priests. However, because the statute of limitations has apparently expired since they abused or violated the boundaries of minors, they cannot be criminally prosecuted.

They now must choose between a life of supervised prayer and penance or laicization, which means the Vatican will remove them from the priesthood. Neither of those choices will ensure the safety of children since the predators will essentially still be at large.

Then again, it is a situation that has been going on for decades in the Roman Catholic Church and has only begun to be addressed in the last 10 years since the molestation conviction of a Boston priest blew this nation's clerical sex abuse scandal wide open.

A grand jury investigation launched by former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham in 2002 revealed in 2005 that 63 priests allegedly abused children as far back as the 1940s, 43 of them with connections to Delaware County. None could be prosecuted because the Pennsylvania statute of limitations on sexual assault had expired. The statute was expanded in 2006 to age 50 for victims.

As a result, a second grand jury investigation on clerical sexual abuse convened by Williams resulted in the arrest of two priests, a former priest and a former male Catholic lay teacher for the alleged sexual abuse of boys, and the arrest of a monsignor for allegedly endangering the welfare of children because he did not turn known pedophiles over to civil authorities when he was secretary for the clergy. He became the first Catholic Church official in the country charged with such a crime.

The second grand jury report, released Feb. 10, 2011, was the source of the 26 suspended priests who were among 37 mentioned as causes for concern.

The grand jury report also lambasted the archdiocesan officials for their poor handling of child sex abuse allegations even after the scathing 2005 grand jury report.

Rigali initially insisted that all known or suspected pedophile priests were out of active ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but in March 2011 had the sense to hire Smith, a partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Ballard Spahr, to re-evaluate the situation.

A sex crimes prosecutor for the Philadelphia District Attorney's office for almost 20 years, she obviously recognized evidence of potential offenders in the 2011 grand jury report and encouraged Rigali to suspend them until their cases were reviewed.

More than a year after the review began, there are still 17 cases to be resolved, at least nine involving priests with Delaware County connections including two pastors and a parochial vicar.

The archbishop said on Friday the delay was caused because some cases are still under review by the District Attorney's office while others were just passed onto the review team by the District Attorney.

"The task of investigating past allegations of sexual misconduct is complex and time-consuming. It cannot be hurried or abbreviated without violating the whole purpose of the review," said Chaput.

While the archbishop's point has some merit, it seems only to add further insult to the injury of children who were scarred for life while their abusers rested easily in the arms of Holy Mother Church.


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