Thursday, September 22, 2005

 

Grand jury flays archdiocese for hiding priest sex abuse


PHILADELPHIA - The leaders of the Philadelphia Archdiocese — including two former archbishops — actively concealed sexual abuse by priests for decades, but no criminal charges can be brought against the church or its priests because of the constraints of state law, according to grand jury findings released Wednesday.

Following the nation's longest-running grand jury probe into priest abuse, the scathing report documents assaults on minors by more than 60 priests since 1945 — including 12 who served in the Lehigh Valley region at some time — and alleges that the former archbishops, Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and John Krol, covered up the abuse.

Read the entire grand jury report on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy

''To protect themselves from negative publicity or expensive lawsuits — while keeping abusive priests active — the cardinals and their aides hid the priests' crimes from parishioners, police and the general public,'' says the report, which contains sexually explicit details.

State laws, including legal time limits, prevented prosecutors from filing charges, the report says. The grand jury also explored the possibility of charges against the archdiocese, but said the organization could not be prosecuted because it is an unincorporated association rather than a corporation.

''Archdiocese leaders have endangered and harmed children in parishes and schools by keeping known abusers in ministry and transferring discovered abusers to assignments where parents and potential victims are unaware of the priests' sexual predations,'' the report says.

Cardinal Justin Rigali issued a measured response Wednesday, saying the church will do all it can to protect minors. In contrast, archdiocesan attorneys wrote a harshly worded 69-page rebuttal to the grand jury report, calling it a ''a vile, mean-spirited diatribe'' that was ''reminiscent of the days of rampant Know-Nothingism in the 1840s'' — a time of strong anti-Roman Catholic sentiment.

''The original intent behind the grand jury concept was to shield against abuses of power,'' the archdiocese said. ''In this case, the grand jury was used as a sword to attack the church and build support for insidious prejudgments.''

Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham convened the grand jury in April 2002 amid a nationwide scandal following the disclosure of widespread abuse in the Boston Archdiocese.

In Lehigh County, District Attorney James B. Martin had declined to convene a grand jury to investigate allegations of abuse by priests in the Allentown Diocese, saying in May, ''It would be improper to use the grand jury for a fishing expedition.''

The 418-page report on the Philadelphia Archdiocese names 63 priests ''whose abusive behavior was well-documented in archdiocese files and by witnesses who testified'' before the grand jury. All had multiple victims, and many more abusers certainly exist, the grand jury concluded.

Rigali said 54 priests — nine fewer than named in the report — have been ''credibly'' accused of sexual assaults since the 1950s. Only one priest in the archdiocese has been indicted.

Juliann Bortz of Lower Macungie Township, co-chairwoman of the local chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, anticipates more victims of abusive priests will come forward after hearing about the Philadelphia report.

She wants Martin to convene a grand jury and expects that SNAP members today will discuss trying to meet with him.

Martin on Wednesday maintained his position against such a probe, saying the Allentown Diocese has cooperated fully and voluntarily with his office, which found no prosecutable cases among 23 it investigated three years ago.

Church officials in 2002 met with Martin and the top prosecutors in the four other counties that make up the Allentown Diocese about priests accused of molesting children. The district attorneys in Berks, Carbon, Northampton and Schuylkill reviewed dozens of cases and concluded that the allegations were too old to prosecute.

Of the 12 Philadelphia Archdiocese priests who at one time served in the Lehigh Valley region and were named in the grand jury report, four had served decades ago at churches in what is now the Allentown Diocese — the Revs. Gerard W. Chambers, Peter J. Dunne, Joseph P. Gausch and Charles J. Siegele.

Of those, Dunne had not been previously identified publicly.

Until 1961, the Allentown Diocese was part of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which now includes Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties.

Abraham, the Philadelphia district attorney, said at a news conference, ''We should make one thing clear: When we say abuse, we don't just mean inappropriate touching. We mean child rape.''

The grand jury found that Krol and Bevilacqua knew that priests were molesting and raping children but conducted bogus ''non-investigations'' designed to avoid uncovering abuse. The cardinals and their aides also transferred known abusers to other parishes, according to the report, a decision determined by the risk of a scandal or lawsuit rather than a danger posed to the community.

Abraham said, ''The evidence is clear. This reaches the top — the very top of our archdiocese. Regrettably, the perpetrators of these crimes and the people that protected them will never face the penalties they deserve.''

Worst of all, the grand jury said, is that hundreds of children were molested, raped and subjected to a lifetime of despair because of the archdiocese's ''purposeful decisions, carefully implemented policies and calculated indifference.''

''In many cases … the victims believed God abandoned them,'' the grand jury said of the victim testimony.

Among the examples of abuse cited in the report:

An 11-year-old girl was raped and impregnated by a priest, who took her for an abortion.

A fifth-grade girl was molested by a priest inside a confessional booth.

A boy woke up intoxicated in a priest's bed to find the priest performing oral sex on him as three other priests watched and masturbated.

A priest falsely told a 12-year-old boy that the child's mother knew he was being raped repeatedly by the priest, and allowed it.

Several victims of clergy assault said they were disappointed no charges could be lodged against the abusers, but that they hoped the report would help abuse survivors heal.

''This shows everybody that the laws need to change and people who commit these kinds of crimes need to be held accountable,'' said John Delaney, 33, who was an 11-year-old altar boy at St. Cecilia Church in northeast Philadelphia when he was first abused.

He has filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese, contending that evidence of a cover-up might prompt the state Supreme Court to set aside the statute of limitations. He said he has suffered from drug and alcohol addiction as a result of the abuse, which went on for seven years.

''I was raped by the time I was 13 years old. It happened in the sacristy, it happened in the rectory, it happened in my parents' house,'' Delaney said. ''The archdiocese knows about these predators, and they let it go on.''

The archdiocese denied allegations of a cover-up and contended that prosecutors taking testimony from Bevilacqua — whom it referred to as ''inquisitors'' — sought to ''bully and intimidate'' him.

''Cardinal Bevilacqua's remarkable record of service belies the report's vicious treatment of him,'' the archdiocese said. ''This personal attack against a longstanding leader in our community was neither accurate nor necessary.''

The grand jury urged that Pennsylvania abolish its statute of limitations for sexual offenses against children, expand the offense of child endangerment to include caretakers and supervisors, and allow unincorporated associations to be subject to criminal prosecution just as corporations are.

Victims advocates and prosecutors said they would work together to push for the changes.

Amid the clergy abuse scandal nationwide, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for victims to lodge sexual abuse allegations was extended in 2002 to a victim's 30th birthday. Victims previously had only two years after their 18th birthday.

''At least for today, the archdiocese has beaten the system,'' said John Salveson, spokesman for the Philadelphia chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ''But … we will not give up the fight. Our need for justice will not allow it.''


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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