Philadelphia inquiry finds evidence of 50 abuse cases
By Bill Dedman, Globe Correspondent, 2/23/2002
n the first review of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in a major city outside of Boston, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said yesterday that it has found in its files "credible evidence" that 35 priests sexually abused about 50 children. Several still in church jobs were fired.
Prompted by the recent revelations of abuse by priests in Boston, the Philadelphia church reviewed all personnel files back to 1950, said diocesan spokeswoman Catherine L. Rossi.
Similar reviews have been announced in the past month in Portland, Maine, and Manchester, N.H., and in Vermont the church said yesterday that it would begin an investigation.
The church in Worcester encouraged its priests and employees to report any allegations of sex abuse to police.
The Philadelphia church found that some priests, as was the case in Boston, had been shuttled from parish to parish after allegations of abuse surfaced, Rossi said.
"In light of what happened in Boston, we reviewed our files and allegations from the past. We want to do better," Rossi said.
Before the review, fewer than 10 of the 35 priests were still employed by the Philadelphia church, in administrative positions. They were relieved of their jobs, Rossi said, after the revelations in Boston last month that Cardinal Bernard Law reassigned defrocked priest John Geoghan while knowing of his history of abuse.
The rest of the 35 Philadelphia priests had previously been relieved, left the priesthood, or died, and no priest has been accused in the past three years, she said.
Unlike in Boston, the Philadelphia church will not hand over names to prosecutors, Rossi said, because the statute of limitations has expired in every case.
The current policy of the church in Philadelphia is only to follow state law, but Pennsylvania law does not require clergy to report suspicions or allegations of abuse.
Priests in Philadelphia will now no longer be allowed to return to parish work after a credible allegation of abuse, Rossi said.
Philadelphia is the seventh-largest archdiocese in the United States, with 1.4 million Catholics. It has about 750 diocesan priests; 2,100 have served at various times since 1950, Rossi said.
Meanwhile, in the nation's most populous diocese, Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Michael Mahony offered a public apology yesterday to children who have been abused by priests, and announced a zero-tolerance policy in which no priest who has been credibly accused will ever return to parish work or any position with the archdiocese.
"Apologies are vitally necessary, but themselves are insufficient," Mahony said in a statement. "My goal as chief shepherd is to do all that is humanly possibly to prevent sexual abuse by anyone serving the archdiocese."
He said the new policy has three main elements: "Treat all allegations of sexual abuse seriously and never deal with a problem of sexual abuse on the part of a priest or deacon by merely moving him to another ministerial assignment. Educate clergy and people about the problem of sexual abuse and set in place screening procedures and educational policies on this subject for those training for the ordained ministry. Cooperate fully with civil reporting procedures governing sexual abuse."
A spokesman for Mahony did not answer questions, including whether the diocese is reviewing files for old allegations.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report
This story ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 2/23/2002.