As a wave of discontent ripples among its priests, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Thursday described its contact with 26 clerics suspended over past allegations of child sex abuse or misconduct and said it hoped to resolve their cases “over the next several months.”
In a three-page memo sent by e-mail and fax to more than 500 priests in the region, two ranking church administrators also announced plans to begin preparing for the return or departure of the suspended priests.
“The plan is being developed to ensure the best possible pastoral care for those parish communities directly affected by the administrative leave of a priest, regardless of the eventual determination of each unique case,” said the letter from Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Thomas and Mgsr. Daniel Sullivan, the archdiocesan vicar for clergy.
The letter marked the archdiocese’s first substantive update in months on the suspended priests, many of whom had years of service as pastors or lived in rectories around the region.
The men were removed after the February arrests of four other current and former priests on sex-abuse and child-endangerment charges and a grand jury report that said church leaders ignored “credible” evidence that some of the 26 had previously sexually abused children or acted inappropriately around minors.
The update also comes as other local priests – stung by the report and their leaders’ response to it – have taken an unusual step to gain a stronger voice in church matters.
Last month, scores of Philadelphia priests agreed to form an independent organization. The fledgling Philadelphia Priests Association, as it calls itself, hopes to provide a new voice for area clergy and to advocate archdiocesan policies “that respect the canonical, civil, and human rights of a priest,” according to its proposed bylaws.
Priests in other dioceses, including Pittsburgh and Chicago, have for decades maintained independent associations. The Philadelphia Archdiocese has a priests’ advisory council, but it has been led over the last 30 years by three influential cardinals.
One person at the last meeting was the Rev. John McNamee, a retired Philadelphia priest who publicly chided his brethren this year for “fearful, mute submissiveness” that he thought was an obstacle to change.