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Belief Beat

As Lent Approaches, Catholic Clergy Abuse Scandal Rocks Philadelphia (Again)

As Catholics prepare for Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season — a period of penitence and reflection — the Philadelphia archdiocese is getting hit with a major lawsuit, three weeks after a grand jury investigation concluded that it has continued to protect more than three dozen priests credibly accused of abusing children.

From The New York Times:

Philadelphia is unusual in that the archdiocese has been the subject of not one but two grand jury reports. The first, in 2005, found credible accusations of abuse by 63 priests, whose activities had been covered up by the church. But there were no indictments, mainly because the statute of limitations had expired.


This time, the climate is different.

When the grand jury issued its report on Feb. 10, the district attorney immediately indicted two priests, Charles Engelhardt and James Brennan; a parochial school teacher, Bernard Shero; and a man who had left the priesthood, Edward Avery, on charges of rape or assault. All four are due in court on March 14. He also indicted Msgr. William Lynn on charges of endangering the welfare of children — the first time a senior church official has been charged with covering up abuse in the sex scandal in the United States.

When the archdiocese learns of reports of sexual abuse, it is now supposed to report them to the district attorney, which is what led to the most recent grand jury investigation. Extensions on the statute of limitations also made prosecutions possible this time.


But even with these changes, some were surprised to see the grand jury paint a picture of a church where serious problems still festered.

“The thing that is significant about Philadelphia is the assumption that the authorities had made changes and the system had been fixed,” said Terence McKiernan, the president of, which archives documents from the abuse scandal in dioceses across the country. “But the headline is that in Philadelphia, the system is still broke.”

The grand jury said 20 of the active priests were accused of sexual abuse and 17 others were accused of “inappropriate behavior with minors.”

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posted March 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Thank you Nicole. Well covered, I think.
Perhaps the most important part of this, because it will be news to a lot of people, is that the RCC is still hiding those people and still keeping them in their jobs.

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posted March 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm

And THAT is a big part of the problem.

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posted March 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Nothing has changed because the church never changed, or even examined, the underlying culture of secrecy and zero accountability which has perpetuated this crime since day one. Procedures aimed at prevention and disclosure are utterly useless if the people at the top of the organization don’t believe in the spirit of what they’re supposed to achieve. In every last instance in every diocese I am aware of, the bishops have approached every new progressive policy they’ve adopted with a lawyer’s eye toward the weasel way around it. “What’s the bare minimum I can get away with in disclosure in this case? How can I justify not telling the cops because the apparent validity of the allegation fell short of such and such internal standard this time?”
That’s the sort of mentality we’re still dealing with, and as long as that’s the case, we will see no letup in the new cases surfacing. The only comforting thought is that eventually the lawyers will win so much in judgments that the bishops will one day be living in a transient motel someplace.

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posted March 9, 2011 at 12:45 am

It’s a sad tale. What I find so disheartening is that the higher-ups either don’t get it, or else think we need more of the same. Case in point: The appointment of a bishop with a very shaky record on sexual abuse cases to be coadjutor bishop with right of succession in a larger diocese (i.e., a promotion). This person was nominated for the post by the Vatican ambassador (Apostolic Nuncio) to the U.S., Archbishop Pietro Sambi. His notion of due diligence certainly does not coincide with mine. The diocese in question, Santa Rosa, CA, has had a long, sad history of both sexual and financial shenanigans stretching over at least three decades. Why would anyone in his right mind nominate a bishop who has a bad record, and furthermore refuses to make annual reports to the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops on the topic, and even beyond that, refuses to conduct, or allow to be conducted, the required sexual abuse prevention training?
Of course, Archbp. Sambi only NOMINATES. APPROVAL and APPOINTMENT have to come from Rome, ultimately from the Pope himself. So the buck stops there. With authority comes accountability.

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posted March 10, 2011 at 8:06 pm

And people still think that the RCC is THE only church and continue to go —even with leaders that can’t figure out that the priests that were abusing children need to be kicked out AND prosecuted to the fullest extent of the secular laws, and that the reputation of the church isn’t made better by hiding/moving the priests about to continue their ways. Just no excuse for any of the weak leaders in that church—poor examples of what they claim to represent—love etc.

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posted April 16, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I’m no longer certain the place you’re getting your information, however great topic. I needs to spend a while studying more or working out more. Thank you for great info I was in search of this information for my mission.

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