Philadelphia Priest Sexual Abuse

Archdiocese of Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Situation

Most of the information about the Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest abuse scandal comes from two grand jury reports-the first in 2005 and the second published earlier this year in 2011. Both reports admit that they provide only composite sketches of the criminal sexual abuse of minor children over the past forty years. They are by no means exhaustive and do not tell the whole story. What may be glimpsed in these reports is the utter lack of regard for the welfare and safety of children not only by the priest perpetrators of these crimes but also by the Catholic Church officials who covered them. The reports name names and don’t shy away from condemning the actions of cardinals, bishops, and other priests who knew about the abuse and did nothing to protect the children. No less than three cardinals, John Krol, Anthony Bevilacqua, and Justin Rigali are named and judged among those who failed in their duty to protect children. The most recent grand jury report laments the fact that it was not able to recommend a criminal indictment for Cardinal Bevilacqua. However, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has directed his office to re-examine any sexual abuse allegations that came to his office during the years Bevilacqua was the bishop of Pittsburgh in the 1980’s.

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The 2005 Grand Jury Report opens with the disclaimer that what the Philadelphia Archdiocese has termed “inappropriate touching” is actually rape. Here are examples of such incidents from the Report itself:

A girl, 11 years old, was raped by her priest and became pregnant. The Father took her in for an abortion.

A 5th grader was molested by her priest in the confessional booth.

A teenage girl was groped by her priest as she lay immobilized in traction in a hospital bed. The priest stopped only when the girl was able to ring for a nurse.

A boy was repeatedly molested in his own school auditorium, where his priest/teacher bent the boy over and rubbed his genitals against the boy until the priest ejaculated.

Unfortunately, these horror stories don’t end. They aren’t even the worst cases which are detailed in the 400-page plus report. In another section of the 2005 report, it concludes, “In short, as abuse reports grew, the Archdiocese chose to call in the lawyers rather than confront the abusers. Indeed, Cardinal Bevilacqua himself was a lawyer, with degrees from both a canon law school and an American law school. Documents and testimony left us with no doubt that he and Cardinal Krol were personally informed of almost all of the allegations of sexual abuse by priests, and personally decided or approved of how to handle those allegations.”

One of Cardinal Bevilacqua’s top lieutenants in the Philadelphia Archdiocese described serial abuser Nicholas Cudemo “one of the sickest men I ever knew”. Yet, Bevilacqua kept Cudemo in active ministry until 2002.

One priest was transferred so many times because of sexual abuse allegations one document in his priest personnel file complained that church officials were running out of parishes to assign him since he was so notorious.

On another occasion, according to the 2005 Grand Jury Report findings, a nun was fired from her job after reporting a priest to the chancery for sexual involvement with a minor.

Cardinal Bevilacqua took in one priest from another diocese who was a known abuser. Bevilacqua provided him with an assignment in the Archdiocese and gave him a cover story to conceal his past from unsuspecting parishioners. Bevilacqua did this while he was Bishop of Pittsburgh as well. The Grand Jury Report noted that in church documents such actions were known as “bishops helping bishops”.

While the 2005 Report was a damning indictment of the behavior of sexually abusive priests and Archdiocese of Philadelphia Cardinals and chancery officials, it did not lead to any criminal indictments. The District Attorney at the time explained in the report that the Grand Jury was hampered and restricted by Pennsylvania law that made it impossible to criminally prosecute anyone due to the statute of limitations. In her legal analysis, Lynn Abraham called this a travesty of justice.

“We are left then with what we consider a travesty of justice: a multitude of crimes for which no one can be held criminally accountable. We cannot issue the presentments we would otherwise have returned.”

After that conclusion, it appeared that the Archdiocese and top church officials escaped criminal liability just as Cardinal Law had done in Boston and Cardinal Mahony in Los Angeles.

The situation dramatically changed when a new grand jury was impaneled to investigate new allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and the subsequent attempts to cover-up the abuse by high-ranking officials of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This time, criminal indictments were handed down. Four Philadelphia priests were criminally indicted, one of whom Monsignor William Lynn, was indicted for endangering the welfare of children. Lynn’s indictment is particularly significant since it marks the very first time a Catholic Church official has been criminally indicted for the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors. Lynn was the Vicar for Clergy from 1992-2004 and Cardinal Bevilacqua’s appointed priest in charge of priest sex abuse allegations. In describing Lynn’s role in the cover-up, the 2011 Grand Jury report notes, “The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again. The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers and the Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers-dozens of them, we believe-remain on duty in the Archdiocese today, with open access to new young prey.”

That was the opening salvo fired by the 2011 Grand Jury report that led to four criminal indictments and most recently, 21 active priests suspended from ministry by the Archdiocese and Cardinal Justin Rigali.

In the immediate aftermath of the publication of the 2011 Grand Jury Report, Cardinal Rigali gave a public assurance that the Archdiocese had learned its lessons from the past and no priest who’d been accused of the sexual abuse of minors remained in active ministry in the Archdiocese. A month after Rigali’s video pronouncement, he suspended 21 more priests who’d been linked to the abuse of children.

Besides the ground breaking criminal indictments, the 2011 Grand Jury Report urges the Pennsylvania

Legislature to address the inequities present in the civil statute of limitations which prevents victims from seeking civil justice in a court of law. The Report acknowledges that a 2 year window where by survivors of sexual abuse by clergy could come forward. According to the Report, this would not only assist in the healing of victims but also incentivize the Catholic Church to do more to protect children from sexual predators. Finally, the Report urges all those who’ve been victimized sexually by a priest or Catholic Church official to report the crime to law enforcement.

The situation in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, much like the situations in Boston, Los Angeles, and across the dioceses and archdiocese of the country, will not change unless criminal and civil laws change to protect children. It’s clear from this sad state of affairs, the Catholic Church is incapable and unwilling to police itself.


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