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Philadelphia archdiocese places 21 priests on leave

Catholic World News - March 08, 2011

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has placed 21 priests on administrative leave, in response to a grand jury report sharply criticizing the Church’s response to sex-abuse charges.

The grand jury report had indicated that 37 priests who faced credible accusations of abuse were still in active ministry. In mid-February, just days after the report was issued, the archdiocese had placed 3 priests on leave. Thus the March 8 announcement brings to 24 the number of priests who have been removed from ministry since the publication of the grand jury report.

The archdiocese announced that of the 37 cases cited by the grand jury, 5 priests are already on leave, incapacitated, or no longer serve in Philadelphia. In 8 other cases, the archdiocese said, the available evidence showed no grounds for further investigation of the charges.

In his immediate response to the stinging grand jury report, Cardinal Justin Rigali had said that no priests facing substantiated charges of sexual abuse were still in active ministry. But later the archdiocese acknowledged the need for more thorough investigation of the cases examined in that report.

Cardinal Rigali said on March 8 that the archdiocese “believed that we were on the right path, making significant progress in the protection of children and handling of abuse allegations.” He conceded, however, that the grand jury report “presented us with serious concerns that demand a decisive response.”

The archdiocese had asked a former prosecutor, Gina Maisto Smith, to examine the 37 cases mentioned in the report. The archdiocese removed the 21 priests from ministry on Smith’s recommendation after she completed a preliminary investigation.

Smith—who said that she had been given “unlimited freedom” for her inquiry—will now conduct a thorough evaluation of each case. The archdiocese stressed that the placing of the 21 priests on administrative leave should not be interpreted as a final judgment on the complaints against them.

"I know that for many people their trust in the Church has been shaken," acknowledged Cardinal Rigali—who said that the archdiocese has been through “difficult weeks” since the release of the grand jury report. He repeated his apology to the victims of sexual abuse.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: annemarie - Mar. 09, 2011 6:32 PM ET USA

    It’s frustrating that there exists a presumption of guilt for all priests placed on leave. The standard for a credible accusation is extremely low in most dioceses. Innocent priests suffer the loss of their good name and seldom receive due process, remaining in limbo for years. They are spent physically, mentally, and financially. This is NOT justice. Unfortunately, innocent priests are paying for the transgressions of the bishops who are not good shepherds. Caiaphas syndrome, perhaps!

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Mar. 08, 2011 11:33 PM ET USA

    No wonder the lawsuits abound. These priests need jail time as any abuser gets. It is so frustrating to see them get a pass when other offenders go to prison. And what about these bishops who moved them around? Some jail time would straighten up a lot of these "princes of the Church". It is only fair.

  • Posted by: rpp - Mar. 08, 2011 7:21 PM ET USA

    Sounds like a good, if belated, first step.

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