Sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia
The sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, U.S., is a significant episode in the series of Catholic sex abuse cases in the United States, Ireland and elsewhere. The Philadelphia abuses were substantially revealed through a grand jury investigation in 2005. In early 2011, a new grand jury reported extensive new charges of abusive priests active in the archdiocese. In 2012, a guilty plea by priest Edward Avery and the related trial and conviction of Monsignor William Lynn and mistrial on charges against Rev. James J. Brennan followed from the grand jury's investigations. In 2013, Rev. Charles Engelhardt and teacher Bernard Shero were tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Lynn was the first official to be convicted in the United States of covering up abuses by other priests in his charge and other senior church officials have been extensively criticized for their management of the issue in the archdiocese.
- 1 Grand jury in 2005 and aftermath
- 2 2011 grand jury
- 3 Legal proceedings
- 4 Penitential service and other aftermath
- 5 Resignation of Rigali and appointment of Chaput
- 6 More reaction
- 7 Lynn punishment and Chaput actions
- 8 References
Grand jury in 2005 and aftermath
Cover-up by cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua
On September 21, 2005, nearly 10 years after the death of Cardinal John Krol, a grand jury, empaneled by Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, announced that Cardinal Krol was involved with the cover-up of a sex scandal against accused priests throughout the archdiocese, as was his successor 1988-2003, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Like the sex scandals in the Archdiocese of Boston, Krol and Bevilacqua transferred accused priests to other parishes throughout the archdiocese.
Using records subpoenaed from the archdiocese, the jury examined “secret archive” files for 169 priests and two deacons. To expose the extent of abuse and a "continuous, concerted campaign of cover-up", the jury documented 63 examples of abuse and where the abusers were assigned at the times of those attacks. The grand jury also demonstrated that nobody could be prosecuted due to Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations and other conditions that protect the archdiocese from being criminally accountable.
Three weeks into the 2012 Lynn trial, The Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized that "the clear outlines of an alleged cover-up ... as far up as" Bevilacqua had already emerged in the testimony. While the judge compelled the cardinal to testify in a closed hearing in November, 2011, before the trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense used any of the testimony in the trial. The cardinal died in January, 2012.
Role of Cardinal Rigali in 2005
Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali adopted the policy of defrocking those who were accused and confirmed by investigations. Cardinal Rigali, in cooperation with District Attorney Abraham and other district attorneys throughout the archdiocese, started the practice of both internal archdiocesan investigations, as well as external criminal investigations.
Cardinal Rigali staunchly defended the actions of his two predecessors, Krol and Bevilacqua, when they were named as sponsors of a cover-up by the September, 2005, grand jury.
Actions of Bishop Cistone
According to the 2005 investigation, while serving as assistant vicar for administration in 1996, Joseph R. Cistone was involved with silencing a nun who tried to alert parishioners at St. Gabriel parish about abuse by a priest. According to the report, there were several other instances of priest sexual abuse which Cistone was complicit in covering up. The report also indicated that Cistone was most concerned with the public relations ramifications of the sexual abuse. The report also showed that when a sex abuse victim demanded to meet with Cardinal Bevilacqua, Cistone refused the request, saying that allowing a sex abuse victim to meet with the Cardinal would "set a precedent. When these revelations became public, Cistone expressed sorrow for "any mistakes in judgment." However, Cistone refused to discuss the matter further, saying, "[I]t would not serve any purpose to revisit the grand jury report and endeavor to recall the rationale for past decisions made in specific cases."
Aftermath in Saginaw, Michigan
A week after being named to lead the Diocese of Saginaw, Cistone was asked by a mid-Michigan newspaper reporter about the grand jury investigation and his reported role in covering up instances of sexual abuse. Cistone expressed unhappiness with how little opportunity he had been given to respond to the report, saying, "Unfortunately, the grand jury procedure, as followed in Philadelphia, did not allow for any opportunity to address such questions to offer explanation or clarification." Cistone also expressed surprise that he had not been questioned about the grand jury report during his introductory press conference and told the reporter, "Had it come up, I certainly would have addressed it."
On June 9, 2009, a group of survivors of clergy abuse protested Cistone's appointment outside the Saginaw Diocese office. Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) demanded that Cistone hold a public forum to explain his actions as described in the 2005 grand jury report. SNAP President Barbara Blaine said the actions had to be taken because, "the innocence of children was shattered needlessly because of the action and inaction of this bishop." In response to the group's calls for transparency, Cistone said, "If someone wants to go back and rehash what the church may have done based on knowledge and experience or lack of experience the church had, well, that's OK, but that's not productive. What's productive is what we can do to move forward."
John McDevitt affair
A 2009 suit claims that Rev. John McDevitt, a religion teacher at Father Judge High School for Boys, abused Richard Green for six months in 1990 and 1991, according to a report by the New York Post. At the time, the victim's uncle, Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor, served as archbishop of New York.
Use of the penile plethysmograph
During the abuse scandal, the reliability of the penile plethysmograph was questioned by some officials in the archdiocese of Philadelphia. Later, these officials chose to seek therapy at an institution where the plethysmograph was not used. This, even though the officials were made aware of the fact that the test was used by most experts[who?] and was believed to be of value in diagnosing sexual disorders. Later, a Grand Jury found that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's decision to do so "had the effect of diminishing the validity of the evaluations and the likelihood that a priest would be diagnosed as a pedophile or ephebophile." 
Mary Achilles hired by archdiocese
"In 2006, the Archdiocese hired Achilles, the state's first victim advocate, to review its treatment of victims after a 2005 grand-jury report highlighted abuse by more than 50 priests over 50 years." Achilles, among other involvements in the field, has worked on the subject of restorative justice with Professor Howard Zehr of Eastern Mennonite University.
Monsignor accused and cleared
In 2011 a Monsignor was accused of sexual abuse from his time as vicar of Christ the King Parish in Northeast Philadelphia in the late 1960s, and again while principal of a school in Warminster, Pennsylvania. He denied both allegations, and a church investigation determined that the charges were "unsubstantiated" and that he was "[s]uitable for ministry".
2011 grand jury
A second grand jury, in February, 2011, accused the Philadelphia Archdiocese, still under Cardinal Rigali, of failing to stop the sexual abuse of children more than five years after the first grand jury report had documented abuse by more than fifty priests. The 2011 grand jury report said that as many as 37 priests were credibly accused of sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior toward minors. Rigali initially said in February "there were no active priests with substantiated allegations against them, but six days later, he placed three of the priests, whose activities had been described in detail by the grand jury, on administrative leave. He also hired an outside lawyer, Gina Maisto Smith, a former assistant district attorney who prosecuted child sexual assault cases for 15 years, to re-examine all cases involving priests in active ministry and review the procedures employed by the archdiocese." Three weeks later, most of those 37 priests remain active in the ministry. Terence McKiernan, the president of BishopAccountability.org, which archives documents from the abuse scandal in dioceses across the country, said "'[T]he headline is that in Philadelphia, the system is still broke.' David J. O’Brien, who teaches Catholic history at the University of Dayton, said, 'The situation in Philadelphia is "Boston reborn."'"
The appointment of Smith, the new outside lawyer for the archdiocese and a partner with the Ballard Spahr law firm, was criticized by SNAP's executive director, David Clohessy, who said "No lawyer or consultant is independent in any way, if they're picked and paid by Rigali. He can bring in a dozen more lawyers, but if he does what he did five years ago with the expert child-safety consultant and ignores every single recommendation, it's just going to be more empty promises and public relations." Clohessy was referring to the work of Mary Achilles. The 2011 grand jury found that "archdiocesan officials ignored all of Achilles' initial recommendations" .... Rigali hired Achilles again last week to perform the same service," according to one report. District Attorney R. Seth Williams said he respected Rigali's choice of Smith to lead the case review.
One commentator, Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, concluded, "Out of the church’s many unpleasant confrontations with modernity, this is the starkest. It’s tragically past time to send the message that priests can’t do anything they want and hide their sins behind special privilege," and credited Philadelphia and District Attorney Williams with starting to send that message.
Edward Avery guilty plea and sentencing
In March 2012, "Edward Avery, 69, known for his moonlighting work as a disc jockey, pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child. He was immediately sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison. The charges stem from Avery’s abuse of an altar boy at St. Jerome’s Parish in northeast Philadelphia in 1999, when Avery was 57 and the boy 10. ... Avery was at St. Jerome’s despite a credible 1992 complaint that led him to undergo psychological testing at an archdiocesan-run psychiatric hospital, according to a 2005 grand jury report. He was pulled from his parish, put on a so-called “health leave” and then reassigned in 1993, the report said."
Two of Avery's victims testified to the Common Pleas Court jury in the William Lynn trial in April 2012. Lynn's alleged crime is not taking adequate action against Avery after having heard an accusation against Avery in 1992. Together the testimony of the two "represented a pillar of the landmark conspiracy and endangerment case prosecutors are trying to prove against" Lynn.
William Lynn and James Brennan trial
Msgr. William Lynn, the pastor of St. Joseph Church in Downingtown, was arrested in February 2012, indicted in mid-March and, more than a week after the indictment, put on administrative leave by Archbishop Rigali. "According to a scathing grand jury report, Lynn, as secretary of clergy for the archdiocese, concealed the crimes of accused priests and put them in positions in which they could harm more children. Lynn is innocent and a victim of excessive zeal on the part of the District Attorney's Office, his lawyer, Jeff Lindy, said after his arrest." Lynn became the "most senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to be tried on charges relating to the child sexual abuse scandal" and "the first U.S. church official ever charged with endangering children for allegedly failing to oust accused predators from the priesthood or report them to police".
As the trial opened, Lynn and another of his attorneys, Thomas Bergstrom, were "insisting that [Lynn] tried to address the long-brewing sexual-abuse problem when he served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. [Deceased Cardinal] Bevilacqua and other superiors quashed his efforts .... The jury on Tuesday saw a 1994 list Lynn prepared that named 35 accused priests still on duty in the five-county archdiocese. Avery was on it [and a major subject on the opening day], and deemed 'guilty' of the abuse. The list also shows whether the archdiocese could still be sued over each allegation. Bevilacqua ordered that the list be shredded, although a copy survived".
The court heard Lynn testify on April 19, 2012, that the case of Rev. Stanley Gana "fell through the cracks" due to a job change. "A seminarian in 1992 told Lynn and Lynn's boss, the late Monsignor James Malloy, that he [the seminarian] had been raped throughout high school by ... Gana. The seminarian, who testified in person this week, gave Lynn and Malloy the names and parish of two other potential victims" but they made no contact with the victims. "Malloy told Gana to avoid contact with the seminarian because the allegations, if true, might be criminal. Lynn agreed with the assessment, according to his testimony. Asked why he didn't notify police, Lynn testified: 'Because we weren't required to.'" They did question Gana, who denied the charges. He remained as pastor at Our Mother of Sorrows in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania until 1995; moved to Florida and garnered further abuse inquiries back to Philadelphia from there; and "is 69 [but i]t's not clear where he's living", said the AP report, which also detailed the testimony on the extent and nature of the priest's, and his superiors', behaviors and actions.
"[T]housands of confidential church records and years of abuse complaints against priests in the five-county archdiocese[, many of which] had been locked away for years in the so-called Secret Archives, church files that cataloged misconduct by priests", also came to light in the trial.
On June 22, 2012, Monsignor William Lynn was convicted of one of two child endangerment charges, and acquitted of a single count of conspiracy. Had he been convicted of all three charges, he would have faced 10 to 20 years in prison. Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in prison. This was the first time a Catholic church official serving in an administrative position in a diocese was convicted in the United States for covering up child sexual abuse by priests; efforts have been made to indict U.S. bishops as well, though prosecuting them would be more difficult, since they are viewed by the Vatican as being administrative extensions of it as well as overseers in their own right, despite being U.S. citizens. The jury deadlocked on attempted rape and endangerment charges against Brennan and Judge M. Teresa Sarmina declared a mistrial on those charges.
Prosecutors said in late June that they planned to retry Brennan.
Following arguments for lenient and stiff sentencing, Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in state prison. Judge Sarmina said he had "turned a blind eye while 'monsters in clerical garb' sexually abused children and devastated the church and community". The sentence was just short of the maximum and well above what the defense favored.
However, Lynn's conviction was overturned, and he was ordered released, by a three-judge panel of the Superior Court, on Thursday, December 26, 2013. The court rejected prosecutors' arguments that he had ever actually supervised any children. Prosecutors had argued at trial that, as a diocesan administrative official (specifically, as secretary for clergy under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, and his successor, the now-retired Cardinal Justin Rigali, from 1992 to 2004, he had authorized the transfers of priests who were found to have abused children, especially one particular case, former priest Edward Avery). The earlier judge had allowed Lynn to be tried, as an administrator, but the Superior Court rejected that argument. The case could be appealed to the full Superior Court.
Engelhardt and Shero trial
Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former parochial school teacher Bernard Shero were tried separately from William Lynn because they did not report to Lynn. They were both, with Avery, associated with St. Jerome's parish. The two were charged with rape, indecent sexual assault and other criminal charges in decade-plus-old assaults. Their primary accuser was called "Billy" in the 2011 grand jury report and was the key witness against the men. After delays, rescheduling and transfer to Judge Ellen Ceisler, the case was tried in January 2013 and both Engelhardt and Shero were convicted. In June 2013, Engelhardt was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison, and Shero was sentenced to eight to 16 years in prison. Both also must serve five years of probation after prison. With their families in court, both protested their innocence. "Engelhardt insisted he had no memory of meeting the former altar boy." He denied assaulting the boy and said after sentencing, "I have accepted this injustice [but] ... I believe it will be righted." Ceiler's sentences exceeded the mandatory minimums. '"The guidelines," she said, "shock my conscience and my sense of justice."'
In September 2012, eight lawsuits brought by Andrew Druding and Michael W. McDonnell and seven other survivors joined eight other suits. Druding, 51, named the Rev. Francis S. Feret of St. Timothy parish in Mayfair in the early 1970s as his abuser, in a press conference the two held with attorneys. McDonnell said that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was abused by the Rev. John P. Schmeer and the now-defrocked Francis X. Trauger of St. Titus parish and school near Norristown. The eight earlier-filed lawsuits involved different victims. Attorneys included Marci Hamilton, a legal advocate and expert on child sexual abuse; Malvern lawyer Daniel F. Monahan; and Jeffrey R. Anderson, a veteran litigator involving church sex-abuse cases, based in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Penitential service and other aftermath
In March, 2011, Rigali invited Catholics to a special Stations of the Cross penitential service at the Philadelphia cathedral. The purpose of the service, he wrote in his Lenten letter, was 'the forgiveness of all sins and reconciliation with God and in the community.' SNAP, on the other hand, commented "that it took two harsh grand-jury reports and four indictments to get a 'prince of the church to finally temporarily take more predator priests away from kids.'"
Also in March, 2011, reports emerged about an October, 2003, form which had been apparently used by the archdiocese to prevent archdiocesan officials from reporting some information about alleged sex abuse by clergy to civil authorities. Any individual reporting alleged abuse by Church personnel was required to sign the form.
Another commentator for NCR, Richard McBrien, a personal acquaintance with Rigali's, drew attention to the failure of Rigali to live up to the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. McBrien went on to note that in his opinion, relative to the second grand jury report, Rigali had "made an unfortunate mistake in fundamental logic by making a universal negative assertion that could be rebutted by even a single case to the contrary ... [by] denying the allegation that there were other abusive priests still at work in the Archdiocese ... [when] [s]oon thereafter he removed twenty-one priests." He also noted the parallels with Cardinal Bernard Law's stance and actions in Boston in 2002.
Resignation of Rigali and appointment of Chaput
In July, 2011, the Holy See accepted Rigali's resignation, which he had tendered in 2010 when he reached age 75, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law. He "offered an apology 'if I have offended' and 'for any weaknesses on my part,' but said he saw no particular connection between the timing of the Vatican accepting his resignation and turbulence" over the February grand jury report. Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, was named to succeed Rigali.
In late July, 2011, Robert Huber at Philadelphia magazine published a 7,630-word article which opened with Rigali's question "Is it true?" about the 2011 grand jury report. It moved on to ask "Will the Catholic Church as we know it survive in Philadelphia?" as he began to tell the story of Joe, a 59-year-old  who spoke of his abuse at the hands of Father Schmeer when in the ninth grade at Roman Catholic High School. Joe spoke this summer to "fellow parishioners at his church—St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Manayunk. The leader of Joe’s men’s group and a victims advocate for the archdiocese set up the meeting. Perhaps 30 people came. Joe discovered something, after he spoke, that shocked him. It was that other people saw him as a hero." The piece concluded with a critique from Donna Farrell, writing on behalf of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which began: "Unfortunately for Philadelphia magazine readers looking for honest, in-depth reporting, this piece is an agenda-driven travesty of salacious innuendo masquerading as journalism." Farrell said Huber had been given access to Achilles and Smith but "chose to omit these perspectives from his piece" and hence missed the "significant steps" the archdiocese had taken to rectify the situation. This left the piece "sensational, wildly unfair, and incomplete." Farrell is the director of communications for the archdiocese.
As the William Lynn trial proceeded in mid-April, 2012, The Philadelphia Inquirer led an editorial: "Three weeks into a likely months-long landmark clergy sex-abuse trial, a Philadelphia jury already has seen the clear outlines of an alleged cover-up by Archdiocese of Philadelphia officials as far up as Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua." After detailing numerous testimonies of abuse, the editorial continued: "Both Lynn and [James] Brennan deny the allegations. Whatever the eventual verdicts, testimony likely will have removed all reasonable doubt as to the cover-up’s existence, and the need for reform." Specifically, the paper went on to say: "Harrisburg lawmakers need to act on proposals still being fought by the state’s Catholic bishops — most vocally by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput — that would waive civil statutes for a brief period to allow those victims to seek justice. As done in Delaware and California, a so-called “civil window” would further expose the abusers’ dirty secrets and help lead to healing in the church, and beyond. State legislators need not await a jury verdict to do the right thing by abuse victims."
Lynn punishment and Chaput actions
In July 2012 when Archbishop Chaput's investigation cleared one accused priest, SNAP reacted with sharp criticism of Chaput's procedure, saying decisions were "held in secrecy for months or weeks until the archbishop and his public relations staffers deem it's most advantageous to disclose them. Chaput continues to act recklessly and selfishly ... with little or no regard for children's safety." At the same time, SNAP also called "again" on Archbishop Chaput to proceed to defrock Lynn after his conviction; and for "eliminating Pennsylvania's archaic, arbitrary, predator-friendly statutes of limitations".
In January 2014, the archdiocese, prominently defended by Chaput, posted bail for Lynn. In April 2015 the state supreme court upheld the initial conviction and revoked Lynn's bail. He was returned to serve the balance of his 3-to-6 year term.
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