PHILADELPHIA – Five priests will be permanently barred from ministry after the Philadelphia archdiocese substantiated allegations of sexual abuse or inappropriate conduct, a Roman Catholic archbishop said Friday.
Three other suspended priests will return to ministry, and another died during the investigation, Archbishop Charles Chaput said. Another 17 cases remain under review, he said.
"When a child is harmed, the church has failed. When trust is lost, the church has failed. When the whole community suffers as a result, the church has failed," Chaput said. "We can't change the past. But I pray — and I do believe — that the lessons of the last year have made our Church humbler, wiser, and a more vigilant guardian of our people's safety."
Four of the five cases substantiated were said to involve "boundary" or "behavioral" problems, not sexual assaults.
Yet a lawyer for one accuser said one of those four priests had raped his client at St. Timothy's Parish rectory in Philadelphia in the early 1970s.
"How do they define boundary issues, if somebody reports, credibly, that he was sexually raped — both orally and anally — as a 9-to-11-year-old?" said the man's lawyer, Daniel Monahan of Exton.
The accuser, now in his 50s, contacted the archdiocese in 2006. He met last year with church investigators, a team led by a former child sex-crimes prosecutor and retired detective, and detailed his allegations, Monahan said.
The announcements came as a former archdiocesan official, Monsignor William Lynn, stands trial on child-endangerment and conspiracy charges. He faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted of helping the church cover up abuse complaints as the secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Defense lawyers say he took orders from the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
None of the accused priests whose fates were announced Friday could be reached for comment. Phone listings rang unanswered or had been disconnected, and their former parishes did not know their whereabouts.
About two dozen other priests were suspended more than a year ago, after a grand jury report again blasted the archdiocese for keeping accused priests in ministry. A 2005 grand jury report had raised the same concern.
U.S. bishops have had a "zero tolerance" policy for abusers since 2002.
Priests removed from ministry can agree to serve a life of prayer and penance in a church-run facility, where they can be monitored. Some might agree to leave the priesthood, while others may be laicized after a church trial. The priests can also appeal the decision.
Chaput inherited the sex-abuse problem when he arrived from Denver last year. He declined to provide details Friday of how old or how serious the cases might be. Most had earlier been deemed not credible by his predecessors.
"I need to balance the need for transparency with the pain already felt by victims — pain which we acknowledge and do not wish to compound," Chaput said.
Priests who were cleared of the accusations could return to their parish or perhaps move to a new assignment, decisions Chaput plans to make after consulting with the priest and parish. He met with the eight accused priests this week to tell them their fate, meetings he called "very difficult."
About 65 other Philadelphia priests have been credibly accused of sexual assault or abuse since the 1940s, according to the archdiocese's website. Twenty are now deceased. Twenty more remain have been placed in restricted ministry in recent years, and another 25 have been laicized. The archdiocese lists their names and church assignments on the website.
Philadelphia prosecutors unearthed hundreds of abuse complaints from secret church files for a watershed 2005 grand jury report that named 63 credibly accused priests, many still in ministry at the time. But they said the alleged crimes were too old to prosecute. No one was charged, and church leaders blasted the report as anti-Catholic.
The second grand jury report, issued in February 2011, charged three priests and a teacher with more recent sexual assaults. And prosecutors brought a case against Lynn, on the legal theory that he endangered children by keeping accused priests on the job.
Lynn's trial is now under way. Jurors are hearing a daily drumbeat of graphic sexual assault allegations involving about priests whose personnel files were known to Lynn. The trial, which began March 26, is expected to last about three more weeks.
Chaput, at Friday's news conference, offered his "heartfelt apology" to all victims of clergy abuse, and said he would be happy to meet with any of them. In contrast with earlier church policy, he said he that all of the accusations against the 26 suspended priests had been referred to law enforcement. It's not clear if any are recent enough for police to contemplate charges.
David Clohessy, executive Director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was disappointed that so few cases have been resolved.
"It leaves ... priests accused with little or no supervision, living among unsuspected neighbors, and no clarity whatsoever among Catholics or citizens," Clohessy said.