PHILADELPHIA – Cardinal Justin Rigali is calling together hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese to hear from two people who were sexually abused by Roman Catholic clerics.
The priests will meet at a seminary, where they'll be addressed by two adults — one man, one woman — who were abused by priests as children, and from a parent of two other victims.
Such gatherings are unusual though not unheard of since the Catholic sex abuse crisis erupted in 2002. Abuse victims addressed a meeting of the nation's bishops that year.
A Philadelphia grand jury probe last year identified 63 archdiocesan priests as abusers since the 1950s. Seventeen of them have been defrocked and others have been relieved of pastoral duties.
The latest meeting comes a year after the grand jury issued its scathing report, which concluded that archdiocesan leaders covered up the abuse. Prosecutors bitterly concluded they could not file criminal charges because of Pennsylvania's statute of limitations on such crimes.
Lawyers for the archdiocese reacted with equally strong words, calling the panel "a sword to attack the church and build support for insidious pre-judgments."
The meeting Friday is being organized by a victim's advocate the archdiocese hired this year.
"For the last 10 months or more, the church has been silent, very much at my suggestion, because we have to look inward," advocate Mary Achilles said Wednesday. "We have to straighten up our own house."
"This event on Friday is just a step," Achilles said. "It will not solve the problem. Its goal is simply for those who operate in the church currently to witness the pain and suffering of victims."