Belief Beat

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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