BREAKING: Bishop Chaput Announces Results of 8 Child Abuse Investigations

This is the press release from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as received. Short version: investigations in 8 cases concluded, 3 men exonerated, 5 found “unfit”, 6 still being examined by law enforcement, and the rest still under review.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced today that the work of a special team investigating the 26 priests publicly placed on leave by Cardinal Rigali last year is now largely done.  Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., has made final decisions in eight of the cases of the priests who were put on administrative leave following the February 2011 Grand Jury Report, which urged the Archdiocese to review cases of past allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy and some cases involving violations of the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.

“The process of reviewing these cases was designed to ensure that the decisions announced today reflect our commitment to protect children, assist victims, restore the integrity of the priesthood and provide evidence to the broader community that they can have confidence in these outcomes,” said Archbishop Chaput.

Through a rigorous investigative process, involving over 20 experts in child abuse, three of the priests have been found suitable for ministry and five have been found not suitable for ministry due to a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor or substantiated violation of the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.  One priest on leave died before the investigation was complete so no finding could be determined. The priests found unsuitable for ministry will have no public ministry in the Archdiocese.  They do have the right to appeal the decision with the Holy See.  Depending upon the substantiated allegation, if they do not appeal, or if their appeal is unsuccessful, they could be laicized (removed from the clerical state), live under some supervision, or live a life of prayer and penance.

To lead these investigations the Archdiocese hired veteran child abuse prosecutor Gina Maisto Smith, who assembled a multidisciplinary team of experts.  All cases of the priests on leave were referred to the appropriate local district attorney prior to investigation by the multidisciplinary team.  The multidisciplinary team, which reports to Smith, is composed of seven local and national authorities in the area of child sexual abuse, including a forensic psychiatrist, a psychologist who specializes in evaluating and treating sexual offenders, a pediatrician who leads the Child Protection Program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, two former Philadelphia detectives from the Special Victims Unit, and two former Philadelphia assistant district attorneys.

To date, the multidisciplinary team has located, gathered and reviewed more than 400,000 pages of relevant documents, identified, located and interviewed 227 witnesses, across the United States and in several foreign countries, and conducted countless site visits to parishes and schools where incidents were alleged to have occurred.  Many cases involved a search for additional evidence including yearbooks, parish records, photographs and public documents.  Some cases dated as far back in time as 40 years, which posed significant investigative challenges.

Mrs. Smith said, “We took care to develop a process that is thorough, impartial and fair.  We recognize that allegations of child sexual abuse can be incendiary in nature. The stakes are high for both the accused and the accuser.  Moreover, most child sexual abuse cases turn on credibility-the evaluation of word against word. Accordingly, the process must be painstakingly detailed.  Its integrity is demonstrated by an exhaustive search for corroboration – a synthesis of witness interviews, documents and any additional available evidence, all of which must be analyzed in light of the expertise of the multidisciplinary team.”

When the multidisciplinary team forwarded its completed investigations to the Archbishop, he asked the Archdiocesan Review Board to also review the cases and to provide him with a recommendation. In the past year the Review Board added nine new members, some of whom were appointed by Archbishop Chaput and some by Cardinal Justin Rigali. New Review Board members include a professor of forensic psychiatry, a former chief in the child abuse unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office and a member of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Sexual Offender Assessment Board.

Not all of the administrative leave cases were announced today. Of those 26 men removed from active ministry last year six of the 26 cases are being held by law enforcement for further review. In addition, two more of the 26 cases were recently released by law enforcement and are currently under investigation by the multidisciplinary team.

Of the remaining nine cases, all investigations are complete and are pending examination by the Review Board or a final decision by Archbishop Chaput. Due to the ongoing process there is no indication as to when the resolutions of the remaining cases will be made, however the Archdiocese hopes to announce them as soon as possible.

“I’ve been in Philadelphia for less than a year, and I’ve tried as quickly as possible to understand all of the many issues facing our local Church,” said Archbishop Chaput. “During that time, dealing with sexual abuse and protecting children has been-and will remain-a top priority for me and for this Archdiocese. Our actions, including these outcomes and the steps we have taken to improve our policies and procedures, show that we have learned from the past. No lesson from the sexual abuse scandal is more important than the understanding that the people who suffer most are the victims.”

Last year, the Archdiocese separated the investigative function from its victim assistance program and created a distinct Office for Investigations. Al Toczydlowski, former Philadelphia Deputy District Attorney, was appointed as the head of the newly developed office to ensure immediate referral to law enforcement, cooperation with county district attorney’s offices and thorough investigations as part of the canonical process. The clear division between victim assistance and investigation allows Archdiocesan victim assistance efforts to focus exclusively on the needs of victims. The Archdiocese also appointed Leslie Davila, who has more than 15 years of experience in working with victims of crime most recently with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, to lead this effort as the Director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection. The Archdiocese is also finalizing new policies and procedures for handling allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, which will reflect lessons learned from the investigative process used to determine the cases announced today.

With the announcements of the resolution of these first cases, the Archdiocese will now begin a program that will provide support and assistance to parishioners as they and the Church come to terms with the past, seek to understand sexual violence, and create an environment that is safe and welcoming to those who have been victimized.  This initiative, entitled Honesty, Healing and Hope in Christ: Confronting Sexual Violence in Our Archdiocese, identifies three primary stakeholders: the victims of the allegation or violation of The Standards of Ministerial Behaviors and Boundaries, the parishioners who include school and Parish Religious Education Program (PREP) families, and the priests on administrative leave.

The plan, which consists of four phases over six months, is designed to address the feelings and responses experienced when final resolutions are announced and going forward.

Through the implementation of this initiative, the Archdiocese begins a journey of honesty, healing and hope toward the restoration of trust.

UPDATE: I flipped two of the numbers in my haste to get this up, but it’s fixed now. Thanks to Rocco Palmo for the correction. Waiting to read what he has to say.

UPDATE II: Letter from Archbishop Chaput.

Press release from SNAP criticizing the Archbishop before the results were even announced. You keep on keepin’ it classy, SNAP. (h/t Whispers via Twitter)

UPDATE III: Chart listing the men whose investigations are complete and the results. (h/t Whispers via Twitter)

Live Tweeting of +Chaput press conference by CatholicPhilly.

 

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.


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