Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Editorial: Archdiocese’s response to abuse flawed
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Just when it seemed the allegations of clerical sexual abuse against priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had reached a plateau, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office last week issued its second grand jury report on the topic — and this time, the D.A. is taking prisoners.

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 whom had connections with Delaware County. All of them escaped criminal prosecution at that time because Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations had expired by the time civil authorities became aware of the alleged abuse.

It was a source of great frustration for the grand jury members who were clearly appalled by their findings.

In 2006 the Pennsylvania Legislature attempted to address the issue by expanding the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse to age 50 for victims. Previously, charges had to be filed within two years of the alleged abuse and no later than when the victims turned 18. Last week Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams released the blistering findings of a second grand jury investigation on clerical sexual abuse and announced the arrest of five men as a result of the investigation.

While the grand jury members were relieved that arrests were made as a result of their findings because two alleged victims “came forward while still young to say what was done to them as children,” they were still upset at how the archdiocesan hierarchy handled the allegations.

“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,” the grand jury maintained.

The grand jury also claimed that “apparent abusers — dozens of them, we believe — remain on duty in the archdiocese today with open access to new young prey,” a charge Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, emphatically denied.

“I assure all the faithful that there are no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them,” Rigali said in a letter to local Roman Catholics on Feb. 11, the day after the four suspected abusers and one archdiocesan administrator were arrested on charges stemming from sexual abuse allegations at St. Jerome’s parish in Philadelphia received by the archdiocese Jan. 30, 2009.

Two of the accused are still priests. The Rev. James J. Brennan, 47, who was on the faculty of Cardinal O’Hara High School in Marple from 1991 to 1996, has been on a leave of absence and restricted from performing priestly duties since Jan. 16, 2006. He was living in a private residence in Linfield, Montgomery County, being supervised by an archdiocesan monitor and awaiting results of a canonical trial, when he surrendered to authorities last Thursday morning.

The Rev. Charles Engelhardt, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, was ordered to leave his residence at Resurrection of Our Lord parish in Philadelphia when sexual abuse allegations were received about him on Jan. 30, 2009, according to archdiocesan officials. He was living in Wyndmoor, Montgomery County, before surrendering to civil authorities last Thursday. Archdiocesan officials said Engelhardt was being supervised by Oblates who maintain this is the first complaint they’ve received against the priest in his 40 years with their order.

Edward Avery, 68, who formerly served as a priest at two Delaware County parishes and was defrocked by the Vatican in 2006 because of previous sexual abuse allegations, was living in a private residence in Haverford when he surrendered to authorities on Thursday over the latest allegations. Forty-eight-year-old Bernard Shero, a layman, was removed from his teaching position at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Bucks County Jan. 30, 2009, when archdiocesan officials received allegations that he sexually abused the same student allegedly abused by Engelhardt and Avery at another parish. He was living in Bristol, Bucks County, when he surrendered last Thursday.

The Rev. Msgr. William Lynn, who was responsible for investigating clerical sexual abuse from 1992 until 2003 under former Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, was pastor of St. Joseph Church in Chester County when he surrendered to authorities on charges he endangered the welfare of children by not protecting them from the alleged abusers.

All five men made bail last Friday and are scheduled for preliminary hearings on March 3. They deserve their days in court, as do all Americans, and are innocent until proven guilty.

But the two grand jury reports have made it clear that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia desperately needs to exercise vigilance in protecting children from pedophiles. The second report has inspired Rigali to create the position of Delegate for Investigations and to hire a licensed psychologist, who is also an attorney, to help ensure priests are not abusive.

In the meantime, the grand jury has urged all alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse to report their allegations to the Philadelphia District Attorney by calling 215-686-8783 or e-mailing — before going to archdiocesan officials.

We agree with the grand jury that alleged victims should not rely on their suspected assailants for justice.

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