The Criminal Legacy of American Catholic Bishops

Last week, Cardinal Rigali of the Philadelphia Archdiocese announced that two retired priests were being put on "administrative leave." That means that child sex abuse victims had made allegations against them. It is a simple fact that abusers abuse well into their elderly years, so these two men could still be a risk to children.

That brings the number of priests in Philadelphia with allegations against them to twenty-eight. Two were indicted following the 2011 Grand Jury Report, three were named in the Report, twenty-one were suspended in the wake of the report, and now two more.

That is all news, but the monumental indifference of Cardinal Rigali persists. The twenty-three most recently suspended were not named by the Archdiocese, for reasons only their lawyers can understand.

We eventually learned the identities of the twenty-one suspended active duty priests, no thanks to the Archdiocese. Reporters had to compare previous and current Archdiocese web pages to deduce who they were, and then they had to verify those deductions according to which parishes were notified about the removals.

The most recent two were retired, though, and, therefore, no such comparison could be done because non-active priests are not listed on the website. Some have guessed that one is Fr. Givey. No one outside the Archdiocese knows who the other retired priest is. So now in Philadelphia, we have yet another priest who has allegations of child sex abuse against him, and the people have no idea who it is. Speaking solely as a mother here, if you let your child alone with a priest in Philadelphia, shame on you. And victims will tell you that the more charming he is, the more you need to fear.

The basic problem here is that the Philadelphia Archdiocese cannot work itself out of its urge to protect priests before children. Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, speaking at Marquette University this week, urged American bishops to change their ways. He said: "The truth will set us free." No one understands this fact better than the Irish bishops, who have seen their Church all but shrivel away in Ireland in the wake of the abuse crisis there. Good lesson for Philadelphia, where pettiness continues to dominate transparency.

In a moral universe, Philly's suspended priests would have been delivered up to prosecutors the minute there was an inkling that children were at risk. And the message would have come from many of the adults in these children's lives, from teachers to priests to principals. Priests living in rectories with abusers would have spoken to their local policemen about the kids coming to their fellow priests' rooms, and about the summers at the Shore in Religious Order homes where kids visited certain priests in their rooms. And when news trickled to the Cardinal, whether it was Krol, Bevilacqua, or Rigali, he would have personally called the police to urge them to investigate.

For those who are resting more easily at night now that the Archdiocese has removed nearly thirty priests from active ministry, wake up. Last week, in Madison, Wisconsin, a priest was criminally charged with sexually assaulting a girl in 2003 and 2004. Several years earlier, in 1999, he had been removed from active ministry for taking sexual advantage of a woman who had sought him out for counseling.

Removal from active ministry does not protect our children. All it really does is give the priest more free time to commit more crimes.

4/6/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • God vs Gavel
  • Clergy
  • Law
  • politics
  • Philadelphia
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Marci Hamilton
    About Marci Hamilton
    Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge, 2008) and God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2005, 2007).