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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. pkp

    There are more accusations of abuse in protestant churches than the Catholic Church, but you'll seldom hear about them. That's because most Americans would never believe there are evil conspiracies and satanic leaders behind anything a Baptist would do – that's for those creepy, idol worshipping Catholics – that were around 1500 years before any other Christian denominations.

    July 20, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • JB

      Beg to differ. Those of us in the Bible Belt know the hate-spewing, bigoted Southern Baptists for what they are. A cleaned up chapter of the KKK.

      July 20, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • A History of Southern Baptist

      "As Baptists struggled to gain a foothold in the South, the next generation of Baptist preachers accommodated themselves to the society. Rather than challenging the gentry on slavery, they began to interpret the Bible as supporting its practice. In the two decades after the Revolution during the Second Great Awakening, preachers abandoned their pleas that slaves be manumitted. They first attracted common planters and yeomen farmers and later began to attract planters among the elite. Many Baptist preachers argued to preserve the rights of ministers to be slaveholders, a class which included prominent Baptist Southerners and planters. The Triennial Convention and the Home Mission Society reaffirmed their neutrality concerning slavery.

      In 1844, Basil Manly, Sr., president of the University of Alabama, prominent preacher and a planter who owned 40 slaves, drafted the "Alabama Resolutions" and presented them to the Triennial Convention. These included the demand that slaveholders be eligible for denominational offices to which the Southern associations contributed financially. Georgia Baptists decided to test the claimed neutrality by recommending a slaveholder to the Home Mission Society as a missionary. The Home Mission Society's board refused to appoint him, noting that missionaries were not allowed to take servants with them (so clearly could not take slaves) and that they would not make a decision that appeared to endorse slavery. Southern Baptists considered this an infringement of their rights to determine their own candidates."

      July 20, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  2. justathought

    Can anybody tell me why the are no convents south of the border?

    July 20, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Say What?

      For the same reason there are no tacos in Mexico.

      July 20, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  3. Better Priesting Through Technology

    You know, it's the 21st Century, so I think some technology is in order. The Vatican should upgrade all priests' collars so they are shock collars, with a sensor attached to their eye-eyed trouser snakes so that any time a priest starts to get a stiffy, WHAM ! ! ! 50,000 volts of instant morality. Because let's face it, the morality of Jesus failed miserably in this scandal, so it's time to unleash the morality of high voltage instead.

    July 20, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • steve

      i really like what you said there except the part where you brought Jesus into it. the priest werent thinking about jesus as they were abusing children.

      July 20, 2011 at 1:36 am |
    • Bill Ferdinander

      I think the point was that priests are supposed to spread and exemplify Jesus' morality, and yet that did not stop them from their crimes. If 5% of priests, men deeply versed in Christianity, still went out and did such terrible things, then the effectiveness of religion as a moral force should be doubted. A lot of other research supports that, while none shows religion to improve morality.

      July 20, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  4. justathought

    Does anyone know why there are no convents in Mexico?

    July 20, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  5. justme

    A Roman Catholic priest can do whatever they want and the Church turn their heads the other way. I know a priest that sleeps with the nun and had an affair with a married woman. Still doing Mass all the time!

    July 20, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • Chien

      Please report to his Bishop, if it is true.

      July 20, 2011 at 1:36 am |
    • Jethro Bodine

      Yes, report it immediately so he can transfer the priest to another jurisdiction where there are lots of new Catholic children to fondle.

      July 20, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  6. mscanlon

    The magnitude of this is so large across the world that FINALLY we will maybe get justice for all these victims. I support EVERY SINGLE priest that either did the abuse or covered it up is an accessory to the crime and should be thrown in jail. The pope has no jurisdiction here; this pope covered these abuses and knowledge up for John Paul II and then turned around and is ready to make him a saint. This is the MAFIA OF CHILD ABUSE over decades and centuries of crimes. I was a faithful Catholic all my life and I won't step foot in the place or give one penny to it – I will not be a laundering machine for the MAFIA of child abuse – the Catholic church.

    July 20, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • mickey1313

      not to mention that most of the worlds evil comes from the monothoestic religons.

      July 20, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Tony The Ant Spilotro

      Mafia: Italian
      Vatican: Italian

      Not connection whatsoever.

      July 20, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • steve

      mickey1313. your statement was so broad that it not only can't be true but makes no sense for people who aren't in your head knowing what your thinking. look at the past 100 years or so and you will see that people who claim to follow a monotheistic religion have caused huge amounts death, destruction, and mayhem, but you will also see that atheists have done even more. hilter, stalin, lenin, pol pot, and moa to name a few.

      July 20, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • SRD

      @mscanlon: If you don't mind, can you elaborate on how big of a magnitude this abuse is globally, and also have you done any research on Child Abuse outside the Church before making the statement that the Catholic Church is the "Mafia of child abuse"?
      You also stated you were a faithful Catholic, does that mean now you are an unfaithful or non-Catholic because of the child abuse perpetrated by the Church ???.....secondly you also stated that you would not give a penny to the "Mafia of Child Abuse – the CC, may i ask you why do you pay taxes to a country where there is injustices done in the name of America, Democracy and Freedom?

      July 20, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  7. Upon this rock

    The fact that this is so prevelant in the Catholic Church should raise some red flags. Grab your young children and TAKE them to church, quit Sending them. A Priest should never never be alone with any person under the age of sixteen! And that includes the confession booth.

    July 20, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Geegee

      One thing I don't understand is why people continue trusting their children to people who hide a gay problem behind the church. I wouldn't leave my children to any priest for one moment. Will people of faith one day open their eyes and be more careful as to who they trust their children to. I trust nobody.

      July 20, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • SRD

      @upon this rock: please don't over sensationalize the abuse in the CC, its not like its an epidemic, in fact the % of abuse significantly lower to the number of priests. This does not mean in anyway that I condone the actions of some in the CC, I believe every person (priest or layman) should be held accountable if they commit such heinous crimes and including those people in the Church hierarchy that helped cover it up

      July 20, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  8. Who

    Look at that picture – they look like identical twins! I bet they are identical inside as well.

    Meet the new boss
    Same as the old boss

    We don't get fooled again

    July 20, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  9. Don

    God is not smiling and these priest should be ASHAMED of themselves for covering all this up!!! It's one thing if you are a sick pedophile, but the ones covering it all up should be charged and jailed too. I'm so ashamed to be Catholic when I hear about all this child abuse that went on and covered up for years.

    July 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  10. LouAz

    Clearly it is very hard to stop something that your whole life has been accepted by your peers, superiors, and whole organization and has been consented to for 2000 years. Tsk, tsk . . . the poop will keep looking into it and seek jeebus guidance, and all the good little catholics will continue to offer up their own children, because, you know, the church does so much good, and besides other people molest children, so it is really not that bad is it ?

    July 19, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  11. Reality

    Why did today's pope, prelates, preachers and rabbis, so focused on society's se-xual sins, lose sight of clerical se-xual sins?

    FEAR, SHAME and GUILT and COVER IT ALL UP!!!

    Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

    Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

    Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

    Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have se-x with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy"

    Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods.

    Neither is being an atheist or pagan since pedophilia is present in all walks of life.

    If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Clinton, Cardinal Law, Cardinal Rigali?) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

    July 19, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Observer

      Reality,

      REALITY is Newt Gingrich, Mark Sandford, Larry Craig, John McCain, David Vitter, John Ensign, Mark Foley, Arnold Schwarzennegger, etc. REALITY is to admit to REALITY and not just fantasize it exists only for one side.

      July 20, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Reality

      Why did today's pope, prelates, preachers and rabbis, so focused on society's se-xual sins, lose sight of clerical se-xual sins?

      FEAR, SHAME and GUILT and COVER IT ALL UP!!!

      Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

      Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

      Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

      Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have se-x with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy"

      Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods.

      Neither is being an atheist or pagan since pedophilia is present in all walks of life.

      If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods, Newt Gingrich, Mark Sandford, Larry Craig, John McCain, David Vitter, John Ensign, Mark Foley, Arnold Schwarzennegger), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Clinton, Cardinal Law, Cardinal Rigali?) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

      July 20, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  12. Quinky

    To you doubters...I WAS groped my priest in Catholic High School. It was well known to keep away from Father K.. He was investigated at one point, but never convicted. He would grab my butt as I'd pass him frequently and as a kid in the 70's you really didn't know what to do or who to turn to. I wish he were alive today to receive his earthly justice.

    July 19, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  13. loess hills

    Gina,
    Every study ever done on marraige has shown that co-habitation has an increased rate of divorce. Common sense, you can't enter into marraige freely if you are already splitting a mortgage.

    July 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  14. ThinkTank

    Organized religion, the opiate of the masses, corrupted from centuries of power and wealth using God.....

    July 19, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • mervel

      Maybe, but you are really going to use "opiate of the masses"? Consider the source of that line and the hundreds of millions that lie buried under that dead and filthy idea.

      July 19, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Free

      The full Marx quote is "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." To be fair, at that time opium was much more than an abused recreational drug; it was also an important medicine, as morphine is today.

      So, at least on one level, the quote could be understood as meaning that religion comforts and heals if taken in moderation, but becomes a social evil when taken in excess and allowed to rule a person's life.

      July 20, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • fred

      Karl Marx wanted to subst-itute the State for God. So how exactly is the State any different than God when it comes providing for the poor? Why is it necessary to remove God from the poor under communists like Stalin who said: "America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.”

      July 20, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Free

      fred
      Hay, buddy!! Any luck finding a source for that Stalin quote? I've only seen it on conservative sites and they only list it as 'Attributed' to him. I've read biographies about Stalin, but never encountered that one. Who originally attributed that to him, I wonder? Just one of those things that make you go Hmmmm.... Eh?

      July 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  15. littlelamb

    YOU KNOW THAT IT'S ALL ABOUT MONEY, then if you hv an inch of understanding about the word of GOD... then you know the THRUTH...that most of these are all lies and work of the devil trying to deceive the catholic beleivers as well as to make an easy BIG BACKS from CHURCH. No matter what accusations those devils advocate to the catholic church, this church built by GOD with a fine rock will remain stand firm and strong.

    July 19, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Al

      Hi, Mel!

      July 19, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  16. littlelamb

    yOUKNOW THAT IT'S ALL ABOUT MONEY, then if you hv an inch of understanding about the word of GOD... then you know the THRUTH...that most of these are all lies and work of the devil trying to deceive the catholic beleivers as well as to make an easy BIG BACKS from CHURCH. No matter what accusations those devils advocate to the catholic church, this church built by GOD with a fine rock will remain stand firm and strong.

    July 19, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  17. Gina

    My daughter was married by one of these priests in October. At least he was not as hypocritical as some of his peers about living together before marriage putting their souls at risk. There was a previous priest from that same parish. He was listed as from the seminary as he taught there with no mention that he was assigned to a parish. Guess we are all thought to be mindless sheep who wouldn't figure that one out.
    I'll be Catholic until the day I die but will never donate another penny to any part of the organized church that practices such deception. It's the finances that will make the church change it's behavior if not drive it's ultimate demise.

    July 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Ggargoyle

      Deception is the name of the game when it comes to organized religion, and especially Roman Catholicism. The entire doctrine is based on lies layered over lies going back to Bronze-age mythological rants which were further embellished into fantasy fiction throughout western civilization's darkest ages. Pious folks are so trained to swallow the entirely fish story of Christianity, hook, line and sinker, that they'll believe anything they are told by their so called religious authorities. That's what makes religion so dangerous. The horror is that this whole pattern of mental numbing and intellectual subversion is self-perpetuated by parents who repeat the pattern each generation, by subjecting their vulnerable young children to the same brain-washing they were put through, before their brains are developed well enough to question their elders or to think critically of what they are taught.

      On a good note, an ever increasing proportion of North Americans are breaking away from the fear and guilt and bondage of traditional western religion and coming out as "recovering Catholics", agnostics, atheists, and/or transitioning to the various "New Thought" movements which have many conservative Christians either shaking their heads in dismay or shaking in their boots!

      July 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  18. The Grand Inquisitor

    Caption to photo:

    "You are so right. He did me too!"

    July 19, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  19. Will S.

    Am I missing something? Was there a trial? No one is guilty of anything yet. All I see is accusations.

    July 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Hoog

      Denial...denial..denial. They're all innocent. The poor church is just being prosecuted. Amazing how people all over the world are conspiring together to punish the church. As far as I see it, they should be executed, or left in a room with the families of those they abused. Nothing worse than child abuse from those they're supposed to trust.

      July 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • mervel

      There is nothing worse than child abuse I totally agree. But no one has been convicted of child abuse there is no proof of anything so far. Maybe some are guilty but what is due process for a random allegation of child abuse? Would not priests who are accused or have rumors about them be afforded the same due process as public school teachers?

      July 19, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  20. SoundOfForest

    Catholics are targeted. Evil West.

    July 19, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • SoundOfForest

      Catholics are targetted by atheist anti-Christs for protecting and enabling child molestors. Evil atheists!

      July 19, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • News Flash

      Adelbrain, I almost didn't recognize you. But that keen intellect is unmistakable.

      July 20, 2011 at 12:00 am |
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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.