Amid American church abuse scandal, Philadelphia stands out
New Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and outgoing Philadelphia Archbishop Justin Rigali.
July 19th, 2011
03:33 PM ET

Amid American church abuse scandal, Philadelphia stands out

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - Accusations and revelations of sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests have been hitting American cities for a solid decade.

The now-global scandal broke in a big way in 2002 in Boston and has ensnared dioceses from Los Angeles to Kansas City to Memphis, along with many others.

But Philadelphia, where Archbishop Justin Rigali stepped down Tuesday - five months after the scandal struck his city - is different.

Pope accepts resignation of Philadelphia archbishop amid sex scandal

The scandal there could open a historic chapter in the abuse crisis, church watchers say, changing the way the American criminal justice system deals with church abuse and challenging the church’s claims that that reforms adopted in the wake of the Boston scandal have largely rooted out abuse.

“What makes Philadelphia devastating is allegations that priests who were facing credible accusation of sex abuse were still working in parishes as recently as February,” CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen said. “This is not about misconduct that happened 50 years go. This is about the failures of today.”

The scandal hit Philadelphia five months ago, when a grand jury charged four priests and a parochial school teacher with raping and assaulting boys in their care.

The charges were unusual because they went beyond accusations against priests. A church higher-up was charged with covering up the abuse, which church experts say had never happened in the United States before.

But the grand jury also took the unusual step of releasing a report alleging that as many as 37 priests remained in ministry in Pennsylvania despite credible accusations of abuse.

Although the abuse alleged in the grand jury report happened more than a decade ago, accusations that accused priests remained active challenged the church line that reforms adopted by American bishops in the wake of the Boston scandal had largely stamped out abuse.

The American bishops’ reforms, adopted in 2002, include a zero-tolerance approach toward priests who are known to have abused children; mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to authorities; and the creation of local boards of lay Catholics to respond to such allegations.

But the allegations of the grand jury report raise doubts about the application of those standards.

“The story that the Catholic bishops have tried to tell is that, yes, the sex abuse crisis is terrible, but it’s in the past,” Allen said. “They say they’ve been called into account and cleaned up their act. Some have even argued that the church has become a social model for protecting children from abuse.”

Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of abuse victims in church lawsuits, says the grand jury report shows that the church is “singing a different tune but taking the same kind of actions to protect themselves.”

“Philadelphia demonstrates that abuse is every bit the current problem that it was in the past,” Anderson said. “There has been no fundamental change.”

The four priests and parochial school teacher charged in Philadelphia are pleading not guilty.

Rigali had initially challenged the claim that as many as 37 allegedly abusive priests remained active in the archdiocese, but eventually, 29 of them were placed on administrative leave. No further investigations were conducted on the remaining eight.

Allen says that many American bishops are waiting to see how the Philadelphia archdiocese responds to accusations about the priests named in grand jury report but that if abuse allegations are born out, there is likely to be widespread anger.

“You’ll find a lot of bishops who are outraged because they worked hard to apply the 2002 reforms,” he said. “They’ll realize that their credibility is under attack and badly damaged because of Philadelphia.”

In charging a church official with covering up abuse, the Philadelphia cases could also establish a national precedent for authorities holding the church hierarchy responsible for abuse.

Patrick Wall, a consultant to church abuse victims who says he is helping Philadelphia’s district attorney build a case against the archdiocese, hopes the threat of prison time will change the way American bishops respond to abuse allegations in a way that civil lawsuits have not.

"In the civil cases, we have taken over $3 billion, but you're not getting a lot of change in the system," he says.

Anderson says that he’s representing roughly two dozen abuse victims in suits against the Philadelphia archdiocese.

“Some have sought our help for years, but we weren’t able to help them because of the statute of limitations,” he said. “The grand jury report gave us a new legal basis to bring claims of cases we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do.

“And because of all the publicity,” Anderson said, “a lot of other survivors have come forward.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Crime • Pennsylvania • Sex abuse

soundoff (291 Responses)
  1. vel

    One wonders where God is in all of this. In the bible, he was all about smiting people who did wrong. Heck he killed a guy for daring to make sure his magic box didnt' crash. but now God does nothing. There will be whines of "free will" but what about the free will of the abused? Why does this impotent imaginary God still get worshipped?

    July 19, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • matthendrickson

      Just goes to show militant atheists are open-minded... accepting and enlightened... and if you don't believe that, go ahead and ask on yourself and they'll tell you how open-minded, accepting and enlightened they are.

      July 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Mike

      God is God ... we are not! A great many of us practicing catholic’s ach over this issues and will continue to do so. If you remember God the Father didn’t stop the death of his Son … there is a deep mystery here. Darkness didn’t stop the day Christ rose from the dead. The hearts and minds of the individuals who committed these crimes against the weakest among us will indeed be judged by God just like you and I. The individuals who are a part of the Body of Christ know (hopefully) of their sins and are dealing with them. If your outside of the church I’ll bet you must be wondering what gives … those of us on the inside truly believe they should be brought to civil authorities and experience civil penalties.
      If you are wondering about faith in God and if there is anything to Spirituality … if you are seeking the truth and true peace … I hope this whole matter isn’t going to be a road block to you and others. If you believe by throwing out the baby in the bathwater … then, I feel sorry for you!

      July 19, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Rick

      mike: he didn't stop the death of his son? seems to me that, by demanding a blood sacrifice, he caused the death of his son. after all, did he not forsee what would happen? did he not know his son was going to be crucified?

      July 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  2. Artist


    @Bucky but if we all stop haeing kids it solves it all

    But then are our pets safe around the catholic church. Priests are going to get their rocks off no matter what.

    July 19, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Ed

      bit of a leap there but par for the artist course

      July 19, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  3. movement31

    i love this part..doesnt it makes you so cozy and feeled with trust and safety.. Pope John Paul II, his words ( We must send a clear message to these hundreds—perhaps thousands—of children whose sinful ways have tempted so many of the church’s servants into lustful violation of their holy vows of celibacy.)

    July 19, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Jim

      JPII never said such a thing. You should think twice before quoting articles from The Onion.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Bert in UT

      That quote is from the Onion. There's plenty to criticize, no need to make stuff up.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Jessica

      Yes...watch your sources.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Observer

      There's loads of facts to support you so watch your sources. Be better than that. Let your opponents get desperate enough to make things up. They usually do or else they exit when they are afraid to answer a question.

      July 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • SRD

      @movement31: provide me the reference of where JPII said that??....

      July 20, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  4. Keiffer

    TAX ALL CHURCHES. This is absurd... they are nothing but pedophiles with tax exemption.

    July 19, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Buddy R

      Tax atheist brainpower. Oh wait, that would be a negative income!!!

      July 19, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Yep, you sure know all churches. No matter what the denomination.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Observer

      Buddy R,

      Since you think the problem with priests that molest is that they are gay, the obvious solution is to replace all altar boys with altar girls.

      Do you agree? Yes or no?

      July 19, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  5. Buddy R

    Gay men who molest alter boys are the culprits.

    I'm not Catholic but I know the RCC teaches gay se_x is sin, all se_x outside marriage is sin, and pedophilia is sin. So blame the gays doing the sinning, not the RCC.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Jessica

      YES! YES YES YES and YES,

      July 19, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Jeff

      I hope you don't have children. Your ignorance doesn't need to infect another generation.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Ed

      Actually no the problem is not gay men the problm is pedophiles. Pedos in adult life are either straight or a-se-xu-al statisticly so blaming the gays for this problem is just as wrong as blaming all priests. Also even it if it were true that the gays were the problem the church would still have some responsibility since it ordained them

      July 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Observer

      Buddy R,

      The gay men are ALL PRIESTS.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Observer

      Let's all pretend that the priests who molest boys wouldn't do it if there were altar girls.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • dalis

      Buddy R Would you rather they'd molested girls? Gay is not the problem here.

      Do you honestly think that orthodoxy is a silver bullet? If we just make the right rule, people will always obey it? These pedophiles could care less about your doctrine.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Buddy R

      @Observer: Straight men have no desire to have se_x with boys. NAMBLA is a gay organization, not a straight organization. Don't blame the RCC for actions they say are sin.

      Pedophiles often seek to work around children it is obvious the pedophile "priests" sought such a job. They had no commitment to God.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Pe-do-philia strictly speaking refers to se-xual desire for prepu-bescent children, Most of the abuse victims were adolescents.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • dalis

      Oh that's an improvement. Sheesh.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Since I suspect that at least one person has already missed my point: It is erroneous to say that the main problem is pedophiles, just as it is erroneous to say that the problem is gay men of the sort who engage only in consensual relations with other men. It is rather a third group of men who are attracted to post-pubescent but still legally underage children. If there's gonna be a solution, understanding the problem generally helps.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • M.

      @Buddy R.

      So, they are sinners? The Catholic Church disagrees with you. To the Church, they are priests that need to be protected and moved somewhere else, so they can commit more crimes.

      Pedophiles can be found everywhere. But no other organization has been protecting them in this manner. A pedophile doctor will go to jail when caught. He won't get protected and moved from hospital to hospital by the American Medical Association. A pedophile lawyer will go to jail when caught. He won't get protected and moved to a different state by the Bar association. Etc.

      You can blame the "gays" all you want. The fact remains that the Church itself committed a crime, a crime of aiding and abetting pedophiles, and it did so consistently, in an organized manner. You should be very, very angry at the Church for this, and if you are not – there is something seriously wrong with your ethics.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • kpete

      Mmm. Actually, just because they molest boys doesn't mean they are gay. At all, in fact. Some men who are married with children also have pedophilic desires towards young boys, not just priests who are not allowed to marry. Take a psychology class about psychological disorders if you think you're right.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • fred

      Are you married?

      July 19, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  6. oldguy

    When radical Muslims commit terrorists acts we rightly talk of temperance, respect and understanding in that the terrorists only represent a very small fraction of what is otherwise a beautiful, peaceful religion. We are reminded that all Muslims aren't terrorists and, in fact, the vast majority of Muslims don't even live in the ME.

    When a Catholic priest is accused of molestation we hear very few of the above defenders of Islam coming to the defense of the RCC. Instead we hear, as evidenced by posters on this blog, the hateful, disrespectful and indefensible generalizations liberals usually attribute to the Tea Party's criticism of Muslims.

    Should the priests involved be held accountable? Absolutely, and so should anyone who aided, abetted or ignored their behavior. It would be nice to see some liberals offer their customary defenses of 'innocent until proven guilty', 'not all priests are pedophiles' and 'the RCC is a beautiful and peaceful force in the world.' If they took the time to understand the religion, they may find a lot of common ground, birth control and women as priests aside.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • beth

      It would be nice to hear some Catholics say, "there is a REAL, serious, wide-spread and systemic problem with our church and I can't support it anymore." That's what would be nice to hear.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • wgage

      All Muslims are not terrorists but Islam is a crappy religion.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Jessica

      Agreed. It's not fair at all. There's a definite double standard– it's okay to say awful, terrible things about Catholicism because of what a few people do, but it's hate speech to accuse any other religion of anything (especially groups such as Muslims).

      July 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Ed

      except its niot wide spread and systematic. There are fewer priest accussed of pedophilia the people in the general population. The problem is also not a chatholic problem pedophiles exist in every religious organization and every none religious one as well. This does not excuse the priest that commit the act but its is actually a much smaller number than your keep saying it is.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Ed

      sorry the last post was direct to Beth

      July 19, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • SRD

      @oldguy: I wish there was a "Like" button because I have clicked it many times.....you words exactly represent what I am thinking...thank you.....

      July 20, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  7. beth

    the celibacy rules for priests are a huge cause of this. Humans are se xual beings and if we suppress this it will come out in very strange ways. That's part of it. Ped o philes knowing that the church was a playground where they would be protected by other ped o philes is another part. Top down there are a bunch of ped o philes in the ranks going up pretty high. It's a SYSTEMIC problem in the Catholic church. Some posters have compared it to the rare case of a teacher having relations with a student. Not a fair comparison since teachers do not often abuse students and it doesn't get covered up. Teachers get FIRED and put in jail for that! I would not feel comfortable to give money to the Catholic church knowing I was supporting ped ophiles. The money does go to those men who did and are doing this to children.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • dalis

      beth A pedophile doesn't molest children for lack of a proper outlet. In fact, if these guys were married, they'd almost surely molest their own biological children. They are criminally insane people who never should have been ordained priests, never should have been let around children. Also, having worked for years in education, I can tell you that assaults and misconduct by teachers is swept under the rug ALL the time, and children are seldom believed if they try to report it. Google news omaha public schools s**ual assault

      July 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • SRD

      @Beth: Celibacy is a choice not something imposed upon all Catholics, those that "choose" to enter the Church need to adhere to the rules and regulations of the Church however wrong you or I might think it is just like you have "choices" in other aspects of your life. Celibacy is not cause of Pedophila, we cannot label and say it is systematic problem within the Church, if that was the case then why is the percentage of pedo priests only about one-half of one percent (0.53 percent) of the 47,000 priests currently serving in America (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/2489752/posts), would that percentage increase?

      July 20, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • dopey

      "only" 0.53%...? should it not be 0.0%?

      July 20, 2011 at 2:01 am |
  8. movement31

    Is it me or does this seem like molestation is apart of the catholic church beliefs. Whats crazy is how the Catholic church tries to hid the sick priest by moving them to other areas. How can you be a catholic?! This has been going on for centuries in the catholic beliefs..molestaion, being gay, killing in the name of your god..and its not like i'm giving false information here..it's all true!

    July 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Jessica

      Wake up– molestation happens more in schools and within families. Why blame a whole religion for what only a percentage of priests have done? Yes, that doesn't excuse them, but let's be real and "true."

      July 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Jessica

      So yes, it's definitely you.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • movement31

      Jessica) isnt the "church" suppose to be a school and family as well?..so i guess you're right..it does happen in the school and with family..so you be real..this has been going on and has been hiding in the catholic religion for the longest.. Pope John Paul II, his words! ( We must send a clear message to these hundreds—perhaps thousands—of children whose sinful ways have tempted so many of the church’s servants into lustful violation of their holy vows of celibacy.) He blamed the children! this religion is sick and yes i'm blaming the religion

      July 19, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Ed

      @movement31 your quoting the onion its obvious anything you say can't be trusted since you quoted a known comedy fake news site.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  9. dalis

    Matthew 18:6: "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

    July 19, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • wgage

      Please keep relligious crappolla out of this.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • dalis


      July 19, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  10. STL Altar Boy

    He was a real "HOLY" guy when he was Archbishop here in s St Louist. Always acted like he was THE pope and above it all. Then we got Burke who tried to hijack a Polish church for their money AND do the same as this man.. But boy all these guys are so proud of protecting the un- born. But they don;t seem to care after they are born.You can be kicked out of the church or not take sacraments if you suppprt abortion but guys like this can be elevated for lying and protecting pedophiles..

    July 19, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      My sympathy on having Burke. Hear he caused a mutiny in Wisconsin. When are they going to go back to the "real" real "tradition" and elect the bishops ?

      July 19, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  11. Jessica

    Bill Clinton cheated on his wife...and he was a....President! I hate Presidents. They're all cheaters.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • tldixon

      at least Ms. Lewinski was a consenting adult...

      July 19, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • fred

      She was a child taken advantage of my a trusted older employee of the secular establishment. The church at least moved the offending trusted employees out while the secular democrats applauded the abuser

      July 19, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  12. SDFrankie

    The problem isn't the Catholic religion. The problem isn't "organized" religion. The problem is just religion itself. Magical thinking makes you a victim-in-waiting. It trumps your best defense, your ability to think and reason. Two plus two does not equal five. Even if someone tells you that God says it does. Even if the Bible says it does. There's no god. No magic. No one will protect you or your kids except you. If you don't think for yourself then you're a sheep and the rightful prey of grey-haired old wolves.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Jessica

      You're right. I wouldn't want anyone to think for me. That's why I'm not sending my children to school. I don't want the teachers telling them what to think. I'll let them go out into the world and explore it for themselves. Who needs authority?

      July 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • SDFrankie

      You need authority. Baa-baa!

      July 19, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Yes, because anarchy is the obvious solution to everyone's problem.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Ed

      is this were I scream jihad I just don't want to miss my que.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Where does it say two plus two equals five?

      July 19, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Oh by the Way Frankie, forgot to tell you to replace the world "magic" with the word "purpose".

      July 19, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  13. Jessica

    My friend's father molested her. Now she says she can never get married. Wooh, I agree! Fathers have a reputation of molesting their children!

    July 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  14. Jessica

    You know, come to think of it, Muslims blew up the World Trade Center. We should just blow them all up. Whew! Glad I'm not a Muslim.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Ed

      is this were I'm supposed to scream jihad?

      July 19, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  15. thes33k3r

    Read 'The Case of the Pope' by G. Robertson

    July 19, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  16. Reason?

    Is it reasonable to hang the punishment for the failings of 4-8% of priests on all Catholics, the clergy and even the Church itself? If every single one of your fingers and toes were broken, would it make sense to perform a frontal lobotomy?

    July 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Ed

      I don't know but it seems like there's a few people on this blog a lobotomy might help

      July 19, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Jessica


      July 19, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • tldixon

      4-8% are only the few that have been caught

      July 19, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  17. Jessica

    Every year many public school teachers are convicted of molesting their students. I guess we should get rid of the public school system. In fact, let's just not let our children go to school anymore. Too dangerous.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      I have a better idea! Let's just not have children. That handles both the teacher problem and the church problem. Plus, it grants peace and quiet when one wants to go to a nice dinner out at a restaurant. 🙂

      July 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Ed

      plus solves over population in fact in about 100 years population will be a a level not seen since the earth began for humans any way

      July 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      AND, think about it. We won't have to hear about starving children in foreign countries. And no more questions about childhood obesity. And no more video game and movie ratings. No more censorship! And no more arguments between the Democrats and the Republicans on the issue of abortion! I think we've really stumbled upon something here!

      July 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • beth

      That's not accurate. Very few teachers molest children. It is headline news on the rare time it happens and they get FIRED and put in jail. Not so with the Catholic church. They cover it up, transfer them elsewhere. Even your Pope help cover up a KNOW child ra pist and transfer him elsewhere. That was in the news and there is proof in the form of a letter signed by the Pope. This happens a LOT in the Catholic church. NOT so with teachers.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      I think we're already there. (When was it higher ?) 😈

      July 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Beth, I believe it happens as much in the clergy profession as it does in any other. Child molestation isn't a Catholic church problem. Otherwise NAMBLA would have the Pope's A-OK. I think we just hear about it more in the Church because that's NEWS! I would bet that the amount of priests molesting children is less than 1% and I would bet the same number for teachers.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Ed

      @Bucky but if we all stop haeing kids it solves it all

      July 19, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  18. B. A.

    I hate this filthy soul stealing bunch of freaks in funny clothes.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • dalis

      Really? That's your issue? The vestments???

      July 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  19. Doink

    Father Anderson Cooper should hath read this.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  20. justathought

    Would it be well if any ceiberity or professional, including politicans, who has any influence in the lives of children are convicted of any adult activity misbehavior, although not necessarly a civil crime, be bannashed form their profession? This world is already a cesspool of adult activity misbehavior. Why should it get worse?

    July 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.