21 priests rape young boys, Catholic Church still protects Church, not victims
PHILADELPHIA & SANTA FE, NM (By Joann Loviglio, AP) March 9, 2011 ― The Philadelphia archdiocese suspended 21 Roman Catholic priests Tuesday who were named as child molestation suspects in a scathing grand jury report last month, a move that comes more than eight years after U.S. bishops pledged swift action to keep potential abusers away from young people.
The priests have been removed from ministry while their cases are reviewed, Cardinal Justin Rigali said. The names of the priests were not being released, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.
"These have been difficult weeks since the release of the grand jury report," Rigali said in a statement. "Difficult most of all for victims of sexual abuse but also for all Catholics and for everyone in our community."
The two-year grand jury investigation into priest abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia resulted in charges against two priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher who are accused of raping young boys.
In an unprecedented move in the U.S., a former high-ranking church official was accused of transferring problem priests to new parishes without warning anyone of prior sex-abuse complaints.
Since 2002, when the national abuse crisis erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston, American dioceses have barred hundreds of accused clergy from public church work or removed the men permanently from the priesthood. The allegations against the Pennsylvania priests stand out because they come years after the U.S. bishops reformed their national child protection policies, promising to keep potential abusers from children.
The grand jury named 37 priests who remained in active ministry despite credible allegations of sexual abuse. After the release of the report, the second such investigation in the city in six years, Rigali vowed to take its calls for further reforms seriously.
In addition to the 21 priests placed on leave Tuesday, three others named by the grand jury were suspended a week after the report's release in February. There were five other priests who would have been suspended: one who was already on leave, two who are "incapacitated and have not been in active ministry," and two who no longer are priests in the archdiocese but are now members of another religious order that was not identified.
"The archdiocese has notified the superiors of their religious orders and the bishops of the dioceses where they are residing," the cardinal said.
The remaining eight priests of the 37 in the report were not being put on leave because the latest examination of their cases "found no further investigation is warranted," Rigali said.
"I know that for many people their trust in the church has been shaken," Rigali stated. "I pray the efforts of the archdiocese to address these cases of concern and to re-evaluate our way of handling allegations will help rebuild that trust."
While the archdiocese formed a panel to handle abuse complaints after the 2005 report, the 2011 grand jury found it mostly worked to protect the church, not the victims.
Rigali responded by retaining former city child-abuse prosecutor Gina Maisto Smith to re-examine complaints made against the active-duty priests that internal church investigators previously said they could not substantiate.
"Cardinal Rigali's actions are as commendable as they are unprecedented, and they reflect his concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of those in his care," District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement. "We appreciate the Archdiocese has acknowledged the value of the report, and seen fit to take some of the steps called for by the grand jury."
The suspensions came on the eve of Lent, the Christian period for penance leading up to Easter.
Peter Isely of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Rigali should have suspended the priests much sooner.
"There's a simple reason dozens of credibly accused child molesters have recklessly been kept in unsuspecting parishes for years, instead of being promptly suspended. It's because Rigali and his top aides want it that way," he said. "They have taken and still take steps to protect, above all else, themselves, their secrets and their staff, instead of their flock.
That's what two separate Philadelphia grand juries, working with two prosecutors, after two long investigations, found over the last six years."
Rigali's move to suspend the priests "was forced on him by the Philadelphia grand jury report, and is an act of desperation, not transparency," Terence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said.
"In Philadelphia, a Catholic official had to be indicted before the archdiocese finally began to comply with its own policies," he said. "We have no reason to believe Philadelphia is unusual – in other U.S. dioceses, credibly accused priests are no doubt still in ministry, and review boards are protecting priests instead of protecting children."
A statement from Mr. Cuomo’s office said there was “mounting evidence” the program, called Secure Communities, had not only failed to meet its goal of deporting the most serious immigrant criminals but was also undermining law enforcement and compromising public safety.
“There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,” Mr. Cuomo said. Unless those concerns are eased, the statement said, New York will not take part.
Mr. Cuomo’s decision makes New York the second state to announce its intention to withdraw from the program, and sets up a confrontation with the Obama administration, which has made Secure Communities a cornerstone of immigration enforcement strategy. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois said in May he was canceling his state’s participation.
Under the program, begun by the Bush administration in 2008, the fingerprints of everyone booked into a local or county jail are sent to the Department of Homeland Security and compared with prints in its files. If officials find a suspect is in the country illegally, or is a noncitizen with a criminal record, they may seek to deport the person.
By Wednesday, fingerprint sharing had been introduced in about 41 percent of the nation’s jurisdictions, including 27 of 62 counties in New York. Mr. Cuomo’s move means those counties’ participation will end. The entire country is scheduled to join the program by 2013.
The practical effects of Mr. Cuomo’s decision are unclear. New York law enforcement agencies regularly check fingerprints with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Homeland Security officials said regardless of New York’s participation in Secure Communities, the F.B.I. would still share fingerprints with the immigration agency.
Federal officials said if states did not share fingerprints with the F.B.I., those states would lose access to federal criminal databases, undermining their ability to fight crime.
While Secure Communities has contributed to a sharp rise in deportations under President Obama, it does not appear to have won him many allies. It has angered immigrants who supported Democrats in recent elections. It has also failed to convince many of the president’s Republican opponents he is sufficiently committed to enforcement.
Opponents of the program contend even though it was mainly intended to ensnare convicted criminals and people deemed a security threat, it has instead caught too many immigrants charged with low-level crimes or guilty only of being in the country illegally. This pattern, the opponents argue, has driven immigrants deeper into the shadows and deterred them from helping officials fight crime.
In addition, critics have assailed the rollout of Secure Communities, which has been plagued by seemingly contradictory statements about how it works and whether local and state participation is voluntary.
Mylan L. Denerstein, counsel to Mr. Cuomo, cited these concerns in a letter on Wednesday.
“Until the numerous questions and controversies regarding the program can be resolved, we have determined New York is best served by relying on existing tools to ensure the safety of its residents, especially given our overriding concern the current mechanism is actually undermining law enforcement,” Ms. Denerstein wrote to John Sandweg, counsel to Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary.
Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of Homeland Security that oversees Secure Communities, said it was reviewing the program to make sure it focused on criminals.
Immigrant advocates praised Mr. Cuomo. “It is clear the tide is turning” against Secure Communities, said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Los Angeles. “It’s high time for the president to terminate the program before any further damage is done to our communities.”