US archdiocese suspends 21 priests

 

THE HOLY See had no comment to make yesterday about reports that the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, this week suspended 21 priests pending investigation into allegations of child sex abuse.

Senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi declined to comment, pointing out that the matter was being handled by the archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The suspension of the priests on Tuesday follows on from the findings of a Philadelphia grand jury which last month indicted three priests and one lay teacher on charges of rape, assault and other felonies related to minors, mainly in the late 1990s. The damning grand jury report also concluded that 37 priests remained in ministry “despite solid, credible accusations of sex abuse”.

Within a week of the grand jury findings, Cardinal Rigali suspended the three indicted priests – Father Edward Avery (68), Fr Charles Engelhardt (64) and Fr James Brennan (47).

Msgr William Lynn, who served as the archdiocesan secretary from 1992 to 2004, was also suspended since the grand jury charged him with endangering the welfare of children via his role in the assignment of priests.

Following the findings, Cardinal Rigali also appointed an independent examiner, former assistant district attorney Gina Smith, to reassess the accusations.

It was in the wake of Ms Smith’s investigation that the cardinal this week suspended 21 of the 37 priests mentioned in the original report.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell said Cardinal Rigali’s actions demonstrated just how seriously he had taken the concerns raised by the grand jury report.

The suspended priests, all child molestation suspects, have not been named pending further investigation into their cases, a decision which was criticised by Barbara Blaine of the sex abuse survivors lobby SNAP.

“We believe the names of all the alleged predators should be made public so that parents and employers can be warned and keep the children away from these men.”

Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams said last month that the archdiocese’s procedures had much improved in the wake of the findings of a 2005 grand jury report. Mr Williams, a practising Catholic, said: “This isn’t a witch-hunt into the Catholic Church.

“The criminal acts that occurred here are not representative of my religion. They are the bad acts of individual men.”