It was his first public statement since the Archdiocese of Philadelphia revealed last week it had found "credible evidence" that 35 priests had committed sexual abuse against about 50 children dating back several decades. Several priests were dismissed, the archdiocese said.
The investigation was prompted by a sex-abuse scandal at the Archdiocese of Boston, where church leaders admitted they knew about molestation allegations against a priest but did little to stop him. "Each such instance of abuse by a priest is a heinous offense against the dignity of the human person and an affront to the sanctity of the priesthood," Bevilacqua wrote in a 1,400-word statement.
His statement will be published Thursday in The Catholic Standard & Times, the archdiocesan newspaper. A spokeswoman said Bevilacqua would not be immediately available for an interview.
There are about 800 diocesan priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese, which serves about 1.5 million Roman Catholics. Since 1950, about 2,100 priests have served the archdiocese.
Bevilacqua wrote that he has made every effort to respond quickly to allegations of abuse. In 1993, he instituted a written policy on clergy sexual abuse. The policy was recently revised to bar accused priests from serving in administrative functions. "Consequently, I do not know of any priest who has had sexual contact with a minor who is in a current assignment," he wrote. The archdiocese has not said how many of the 35 accused priests were turned over to civil authorities, but Bevilacqua said the church had followed state law.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called Bevilacqua's comments "disappointing" and said he should have released the names of the accused priests. "Talk is cheap, but he doesn't commit himself to making any substantive change," said Clohessy, of St. Louis, who said he was abused by a priest as a boy.