NEWS:  March 30, 2011

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

MUDDY TIDE IN PHILADELPHIA - While waves of actual mud from the Japan tsunami killed unknown numbers of persons, a tide of moral mud is killing countless souls in Philadelphia. Indeed, the sexual-abuse by priests in that city is reaching proportions only seen in Boston ten years ago.

On February 10, 2011, a grand jury released its report charging the Archdiocese of harboring 37 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. Cardinal Justin Rigali immediately went public to declare that “there were no active priests with substantiated allegations against them.”

Cardinal Justin Rigali, 2011 report

Card. Rigali first said Philadelphia had no pedophile priests; later, however, he suspended 24 of them
Six days later, however, he put three of the priests accused in that report on administrative leave. After hiring lawyer Gina Smith to re-examine the cases, on March 8 Rigali suspended 21 more priests on that list. Further suspensions can still come. These late measures proved the accuracy of the grand jury report, the lack of vigilance in Cardinal Rigali’s Archdiocese and the rotten moral state of the clergy right under his nose.

Two precedents must be remembered to have the full picture of the situation.

•  On the national level, in June 2002 the American Conference of Bishops released its Dallas Charter, which was meant to reform the system from head to toe and stop the sexual abuse of minors by priests. A national Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection was also created to supervise the implementation of the Charter in the Dioceses, and a layman was placed at its head to guarantee its rigor – even against the Bishops if necessary – or at least to give this impression.

Although the Dallas Charter was weak and had some points that permitted the continuation/rebirth of abuses, it was cautiously received as a good first step. Then the public sat back to watch and see what would come. It did manage to halt the enormous scandal on sexual abuse, but new cases often sprung up here and there, showing that the waters remained dirty under a calm surface.

•  On the State level in Pennsylvania, in 2005, two years after Justin Rigali was named Archbishop of Philadelphia by John Paul II, a first grand jury released a public report documenting abuse by 63 priests in Philadelphia and accusing the previous Cardinals John Krol and Anthony Bevilacqua of “immoral covering up” for those priests. When Rigali took the reins of the Archdiocese, he appeared to be a hard-liner who would implement measures against sexual abuse; he also started to work together with civil authorities toward that effect.

However, Rigali, for reasons of conviction or convenience, always defended the indefensible policies of Krol and Bevilacqua. In 2006 the Cardinal hired Mary Achilles, the State’s first victims' advocate, to review the Archdiocesan policies on sexual abuse.

The result is the grand jury report released February 10, 2011, which showed that neither the Dallas Charter nor the 2005 recommendations had been applied, and that the cover-up policy for at least 37 priests continued full steam ahead in Philadelphia.

This conclusion has shocked public opinion and produced different reactions:

Failure of the system

1.  The first reaction is one of shock and disappointment at the failure of the whole ecclesiastical system to effectively eliminate the pedophile vice from the Church. Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, which keeps track of documents on sex abuse from Dioceses across the country, commented on the effects of the new scandal, noting, “The headline is that in Philadelphia the system is still broken.”

Priests are suspended in Philadelphia

The new report sends a shock wave through the public; below, protesters outside Philadelphia cathedral

Philadelphia parishioners protest outside the cathedral
Facing the results of both the grand jury report and Rigali’s suspension of priests, Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection of the USCCB expressed her distress: “We are as shocked, angry and stunned as anyone else.” She considered that the scandal “clouds all the good work that has been done,” and said that she and her staff will be scrutinizing the Philadelphia case to find where the system failed.

Skepticism

2.  While representatives of Catholic organizations reacted with dismay as reported above, the general feeling among the representatives of the victims is one of deep skepticism.

For example, David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), referring to the appointment of lawyer Gina Smith to re-examine the cases of the accused priests, said: “No lawyer or consultant is independent in any way if he is picked and paid by Rigali. He can bring a dozen more lawyers, but if he does what he did five years ago with the expert child-safety consultant [lawyer Mary Achilles], and ignores every single recommendation, it’s just going to be more empty promises and public relations.”

Barbara Dorris, another director of SNAP, expressed hope that the Philadelphia district attorney's actions would "cause prosecutors across the U.S. to examine their consciences and work harder to file similar charges against others in the Catholic Hierarchy who continue to put the reputations of Church officials ahead of the safety of innocent children."

Prof. David O’Brien from University of Dayton, also skeptical, went straight to the point: “The situation in Philadelphia is Boston reborn.”

News accusations spring up

3.  As the scandal unfolds new alleged victims have appeared recounting their cases. Only in the first 15 days of March, three new lawsuits were filled against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The last was by Francis Finnegan (47), who claimed Fr. John Kline, assigned to St. Francis Xavier Parish, had sexually abused him while on vacation with the victim’s family sometime between 1968 and 1969.

"It has to stop. They haven't changed anything," Finnegan said. "I stand here because I don't want somebody who is 7 today to be [like] me in 40 years.” He also affirmed Fr. Kline abused sexually his older brother. In 2008 Finnegan contacted the Archdiocese to seek help, but he never heard back from it.

The victim’s attorney Dan Monahan, who also recently filed two other lawsuits on behalf of alleged victims, intends to file as many lawsuits as necessary. He said: "Each week we get more and more phone calls and contacts, not only from Philadelphia, but from across the country."

Rigali’s niche in Rome

Cardinal Law escorted to the courtroom

Above, Cardinal Law escorted to a courtroom in 2002; below, honored in Rome afterwards

Cardinal Law honored in Santa maria Maggiore
In Rome the Philadelphia scandal is being closely watched, especially because Justin Rigali lived there for more than 30 years serving in the Roman Curia. The apex of his Rome career was heading Accademia Ecclesiastica, the elite schools that forms papal diplomats. The Tablet’s correspondent describes the situation at the Vatican:

“The clerical sexual-abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has old Roman Curia hands wondering if the Archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, will quickly ‘retire’ and move back to Rome. The Cardinal who turns 76 next month, lived here from 1961 to 1994. ‘They can give him a room at Santa Maria Maggiore with Bernie Law,’ said one monsignor bitterly” (The Tablet, March 19, 2011, p. 35).

The mention of Cardinal Bernard Law refers to his forced resignation as Archbishop of Boston in December 2002, a step taken after his deep involvement in covering for pedophile priests came to light. Law was at the eye of the hurricane since it was the Boston scandal that triggered the national pedophile crisis in the U.S. He was called to Rome, not to be punished, but to be rewarded by John Paul II, who gave him the great honor of being head of the third most important Basilica in the Eternal City, Santa Maria Maggiore.

With the award of Law – and now possibly of Rigali – how could anyone deny that Rome supports the cover up of pedophile priests?
The data in this article were collected from the following online sources:
1. "US Archdiocese Suspends 21 Priests," Irish Times, March 10, 2011, here
2. "Philadelphia clergy sex abuse scandal raises national questions," Our Sunday Visitor, March 27, 2011, here
3. "Judge orders quick trial in Philadelphia church sex case," Reuters, March 25, 2011, here
4. "Archdiocese of Philadelphia Sex Abuse Keeps Getting Worse," March 10, 2011, here
5. "Third suit filed against Philadelphia archdiocese charging sex abuse," CNN, March 16, 2011, here
6. "Grand jury indicts five after Philadelphia sex abuse investigation," Catholic News Service, February 11, 2011, here
7. "Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia," Wikipedia, here

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