Some St. Maria Goretti Parishioners Encourage 'Benefit of the Doubt' for Cleared Priest

By Bradley Schlegel
Montgomery Media
July 19, 2012

The decision to declare the Rev. Leonard Peterson suitable for ministry was made through the lens of protecting the children of parishioners.

That's according to a member of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Office for Child and Youth Protection, who spoke Tuesday night to parishioners of the St. Maria Goretti Parish.

During an open forum on the standards of ministerial behavior, Leslie Gomez told the audience that the investigation into 37 priests accused of various abuse charges of children was not disclosed to protect the privacy of the priests and the alleged victims.

The process was not treated like a legal matter, according to Gomez, an investigator working on behalf of the archdiocese and a former child abuse prosecutor for the Philadelphia District Attorney.

She said the charges ranged from misconduct of minors to some "really serious accusations."

Gomez said she would not talk about the specifics of the investigation of Peterson, who was placed on administrative leave in February 2011 after a grand jury report alleged that several priests remained in active ministry despite being accused of sexual abuse and/or boundary issues.

The archdiocese did not release any other details about the accusation against Peterson, only that it was deemed "unsubstantiated," according to a news release.

Leslie Davila, the director of the archdiocese's Office for Child and Youth Protection, could not say when church officials would decide if Peterson will return to the parish at 1601 Derstine Road.

"It's a process," Davila told the parishioners during the meeting.

She said Peterson would have a voice in the decision, which will be ultimately be made by Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Comments from the parishioners on Peterson were mixed.

One man said Peterson was embarrassed by being lumped together with 36 other priests who may be pedophiles.

Another man thanked the Rev. Andrew Brownholtz, the parish's current priest, for leading St. Maria Goretti "into the light." The comment garnered a standing ovation from the audience.

One female parishioner said the members need to give Peterson the benefit of the doubt.

"We need to put our Christian hats on and show some empathy for him," she said.

Another female parishioner, who described herself as a member since 1956, said the handling of the scandal did more damage to the parish than the scandal itself.



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