In response to the latest charges of sex abuse by priests, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has taken steps to make sure it won't happen again.
Cardinal Justin Rigali has hired a psychologist to investigate any future allegations of sexual abuse made against priests and to report them to law enforcement officials, if warranted. The new position is called Clergy Support Associate, an odd title for someone whose principal job is supposed to be to investigate clergy.
In addition, the archdiocese already has an independent review panel -- created the last time it took steps to make sure it won't happen again -- to investigate allegations.
More steps are promised. The Cardinal, in a video address posted on the Archdiocesan web site, said these latest allegations -- of priests raping altar boys, of another priest covering up the crimes -- "brings great distress and sadness."
I'll bet it does.
The previous grand jury report, issued in 2005, did substantial damage to the church in the eyes of the faithful (not to mention the unfaithful) and the scars are still visible today.
As to the victims, the Cardinal said, "we embrace all victims with our love, compassion and concern."
Here is where the Cardinal and I part company.
If I were a victim, I would stay as far away as possible from the embrace of the church.
If there are three things we have learned from the grand jury reports they are:
One. There are, within the archdiocese, some priests who engage in sexual abuse of children and young teens, usually males. There's a name for these varieties of abuse -- rape. The sex is not consensual. It cannot be. The victims are minors.
Two. There is, within the archdiocese, a pattern of covering up these abuses, of protecting the priests, of allowing them to remain in contact with children even after credible allegations of sexual abuse are confirmed. According to the last week's grand jury report, several of the priests involved in the latest cases, which date to the late 1990's, had allegations made against them earlier in their careers, yet they were not prosecuted or administratively punished. They went onto new assignments, in this case St. Jerome's parish in Northeast Philly, where they allegedly raped again.
Three. These cover-ups reached the highest levels within the archdioceses, involving clergy who are supposed to oversee and regulate the conduct of priests. Hence, the charges last week against Msgr. William Lynn, who was secretary of clergy when these latest abuses allegedly occurred. The DA's office all but said that it might have brought charges against the now-retired Cardinal Bevilaqua but did not, due to his age and his infirmities.
As the grand jury report stated: "The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy [Lynn], but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again."
The grand jury was equally skeptical of the archdiocese's vows to take steps to make sure it won't happen again. To quote the report: "The procedures implemented
by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the
Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers - dozens of them, we believe - remain
on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey."
Now, let me offer some simple advice.
If you are a victim or know of a victim, do not -- under any circumstances -- contact any officials within the church about these incidents. Pick up the phone and call the police.
They are the appropriate agency to investigate crime, not some Clergy Support Associate or a panel appointed by the Cardinal.
The police are independent of the church and they have detectives with long experience in investigating sex crimes. The Philadelphia Police Department even has a Sex Crimes Unit.
If the allegations are founded, the police will refer the case to the local district attorney for prosecution.
Twenty-five or 30 year ago, local law enforcement was reluctant to step on what it saw as the church's turf. It deferred to church officials on these matters. I cannot imagine that happening today, not with what has been disclosed in the last decade.
Why would we even think -- in this day and age -- that the archdiocese is an appropriate agency to examine these allegations? Again, to quote the grand jury report: "There is no other class of crimes where we expect victims to rely on their assailants for a
So, again, if you are a victim or know one, stay out of the embrace of the church. Go directly to the police. It's the one way to make this nonsense stop.
-- Tom Ferrick
-- Tom Ferrick