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. Dong Loc

    All religions in the world are the root of all evils. If there was a God existed, the world should be paceaceful, no war, no hunger, no crime...

    July 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  2. AvdBerg

    A number of people that have written to respond to this article have spoken of the interpretation of the Bible, which is the number one problem in this present world as the Bible itself teaches us that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). Only few people (Matthew 7:14) are able to understand the Bible and as long as mankind remains separated from God, the Word of God will remain a mystery.

    Mankind in his natural state is unable to understand the Bible and unable to receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

    There is a natural body and a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44). The only thing that separates the Natural body from the Spiritual body is the Baptism of Repentance (Mark 1:4). To repent means: to change spirits and to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan, whose spirit mankind is of (Luke 9:55), unto God (Acts 26:18). This is not an interpretation. Many people search the Bible for in them they think they have eternal life, but when we bring them the Scriptures they don’t believe us (John 5:38,39). Confused? There is no need to be confused any longer. For a better understanding of the mystery of God we invite you to read all the pages and articles of our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    So, before mankind will be able to understand the Word of God, mankind requires to be converted and transformed by God (not by any religion) and only then mankind is able to understand the Bible, as it is God (John 1:1).

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how this whole world has been deceived as confirmed by the Word of God in Revelation 12:9. The Bible is true in all things and is the discerner of every thought and the intent of the heart (Hebrews 5:12).

    July 25, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • ....

      Still trolling trying to sell your cult and book it's complete garbage. Click the report abuse link to get rid of this troll.

      July 25, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  3. 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?


    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 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  4. SoundOfForest

    America needs religion(Christianity). It'll be worse than the Soviet empire since America doesn't have Russian literature.

    July 21, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • ScienceWorks

      America can do without Religion. Religion brings more problems to the U.S. than a secular society would. Again this world is secular and will always be. Look at the crime rates and how great medical care is overseas. Places like Norway, Sweden, etc. They are majority Agnostic and Atheist societies. I think this country could learn alot from these countries. I'll vote against Indoctrination of children that have blank slates that the religious take advantage of cause they can't convert rational thinking adults.

      July 21, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  5. rei-girl

    Punish the deed (or persons), not the religion.

    July 21, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • fred bazzeeda

      but they are the face of religion, they tout that they are the face of religion and they claim they are the interpreter of god. so, it must be taken into account that they are in fact representatives of their religion, ordained and put in office by their peers and of course, as they say, "by god", therefore, the religion must be held accountable.

      July 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  6. America accepts the resignation of the catholic church.


    July 20, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  7. Richard S Kaiser

    TG wrote; "Jesus said that there would be those who are "false prophets that come to you in sheep's covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves."(Matt 7:15) He then said that "by their fruits you will recognize them." The "fruits" of the Catholic Church is likened to a "rotten tree (that) produces worthless fruit."(Matt 7:17) Thus, God has determined that it should be "cut down and thrown into the fire" or everlastingly destroyed (Matt 7:19), along with the rest of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion.(Rev 18:8)"

    It is true TG that: Bible Scripted Prophecies can lay claim to current Ongoings within this World of Mostly Humane OMnivores with hardened intelligence and Moral Coruptiveness Being but two of a Myriad of Lustfulness entangling ALL Those who do willfully Prey Upon the Young and Innocent even to the Teens and I dare say us Adults. Time is now on the side of the Meek and should wait patiently for the Discourse of Religious Ratifications Altering the Unjust Priests and Glergy in any Religion.

    July 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  8. Richard S Kaiser

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

    Just exactly how much money is in the RCC's Treasure Chest? Can the RCC truly pent up the wranglungs of wayward SOBs?

    July 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  9. William Demuth


    The church has been complicit in the felonius molestation of children for decades.

    THOUSANDS of boys were violated by the represenatives of the Roman Catholic Church here in the United States.

    A foreign power has been buggering our children for generartions and we do nothing.

    Anyone who protects these deviants a second longer deserves to have their children violated by the same lying monsters they now defend.

    Shame on all the indoctrinated that enable these monsters.

    July 20, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Patrick O’Malley


      July 20, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  10. TG

    Jesus said that there would be those who are "false prophets that come to you in sheep's covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves."(Matt 7:15) He then said that "by their fruits you will recognize them." The "fruits" of the Catholic Church is likened to a "rotten tree (that) produces worthless fruit."(Matt 7:17) Thus, God has determined that it should be "cut down and thrown into the fire" or everlastingly destroyed (Matt 7:19), along with the rest of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion.(Rev 18:8)

    July 20, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • William Demuth


      Jesus is like the Incredible Hulk.

      A complete fabrication designed for the minds of children.

      So how is this cartoon character relevant?

      July 20, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  11. MadCityBabe

    priests....makes you wonder what goes on under those precious holy robes they wear! Sick F–cks!

    July 20, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  12. William Demuth

    People who expose their children to Priests should be charged with child abuse.

    The RCC is a cult, and we need to protect children from it.

    July 20, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • WhenTheyFall

      Your post has no common sense

      July 20, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  13. William Demuth

    Anyone who gives money to this abomination of a church may as well bugger the children themselves.

    Shame on you all!!!

    If there really was a hell, I would banish the lot of you there.

    July 20, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • brad

      Should you ever find yourself having a heart attack or in a traffic accident, have them take you to a corporate hospital ten miles away instead of the catholic hospital a block down. In this way, you won't later see a hypocrite in a mirror.

      July 20, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • William Demuth


      If you see me in a Catholic hospital I will have a molotov in my hand.

      July 20, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • The truth

      If it weren't profitable, the catholic hospital wouldn't be there. Like catholic schools, churches and hospitals, they close them if profits aren't high enough. More so they get your tax dollars, gov grants, as income – that includes the lion share of operating costs for catholic charities.

      July 20, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  14. Jesus

    No masquerade! They are the real deal. The Catholic Church is a criminal cartel and has been for many hundreds of years.

    July 20, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  15. William Demuth

    We don't allow people to engage in anti social behavior through peer pressure.

    This organization has tolerated the buggering of children.

    Therefore if YOU support it, then YOU are complicit in harming children.

    We collectively reject cults all the time, and this one is well past the point of deserving it.

    Stop supporting men with deviant desires, REJECT THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH>

    July 20, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Reality

      ., Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

      Current problems in the "reformed" churches:

      Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      July 21, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Reality


      "The onset of pe-dophilia usually occurs during adolescence. Occasional pe-dophiles begin their activities during middle age but this late onset is uncommon. In the United States, about 50% of men arrested for pe-dophilia are married. "

      And this from Wikipedia:

      Due to the stereotype that pe-dophiles are always male, it has been difficult to determine the prevalence of female pe–dophiles; however, studies in the UK and USA suggest that a range of 5% to 20% of child se-xual abuse offenses are perpetrated by women.[20]”

      So even if B16 removed the celibacy and gender requirements for the priesthood, pe-dophilia would still be a problem.

      July 21, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  16. Joe Zamecki

    I don't see why the Catholic church is still allowed to operate. It's the world's largest and most successful pedophilia network in human history. We should treat it as such.

    July 20, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • TF

      That is an unfair accusation.
      The problem was they covered it up, mostly to try to save face, but also because of the churches belief in forgiveness. As for numbers I would expect that it near the level for any other organization. Boy Scouts Leaders, Teachers, Social Workers.... All have a record of people who used their status to take advantage of kids. The mistake was the church hid it so 50 years of abuse comes out at once making it look absolutely huge. While the real numbers are probably still higher on average but about the same where you have, someone of power and community respect who job requires to work with children.

      July 20, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • William Demuth


      Thats like saying the Nazi's were ashamed on the camps so they hid them.

      Yes, and that is why ALL Germans are considered complicit in the holocaust.

      Why should this church be any different? If the Pope knew he has got to go. Anyone who was complicit must be rooted out and dealt with. The reparations to the victims must be paid.

      Otherwise more children shall be harmed.

      July 20, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Reality

      A jury in O-regon ordered the Boy Scouts of America to pay $18.5 million to a former Scout who suffered se-xual abuse as a child at the hands of his troop leader — the largest such award levied against the organization, reports The O-regonian.

      Attorneys for 38-year-old Kerry Lewis said the verdict exposed the organization’s “dark history with pe-dophiles and its unwillingness to come to terms with the problem.” They waved “pe-rversion files“ around the courtroom – secret files kept by the Scouts docu-menting claims of s-exual abuse by troop leaders and volunteers over a 70 year-period."

      July 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  17. gary

    Priests and most Xtians use their myths to justify and qualify and slip out of their guilt. Xtianity sux.

    July 20, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  18. Chien

    It's sad to hear these news, but I am glad that the priests that have actually fallen into these sins are rooted out. I don't think the Catholic Church condone these sins. The devil is working hard to tempt priests and infiltrate the Catholic Church. Please pray for all priests, Bishops, Cardinals, clergy, and the Catholic Church.

    St. Michael the Archangle, please pray for us and protect us, and the whole Catholic Church around the world.

    In Holy Family !

    July 20, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Halleluljah

      These things must take place. For it is the will of God. Rev. 18:2.

      His servants have been telling all 4 years and I tell u now. Rev 18:4

      So yes I will pray for you, that you will find the truth and that it will set you free.

      Do not reject the loly man of God when he comes to you, why should you have to perish?

      I tell you for a certanty the things written in the book of Revelation concerning the Harlot-(false religion, catholic church)- riding the wild beast-(mankinds governments) will soon undergo everlastion destruction. Her time has come.

      Or is the Almighty God a liar. Never may that happen.

      July 20, 2011 at 4:25 am |
    • Reality

      "Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books".[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." [31]

      Martin Luther "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."[32]

      July 20, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • gary

      god is pretend .. all ancient myth

      July 20, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • Zavi13

      The only devil in this world is the one in the minds of twisted human beings!

      July 20, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  19. Buddy R

    Gay men who molest boys are the ones to blame, not the RCC (I'm not Catholic.)

    The RCC teaches gay se_x is sin, se_x with children is sin, and all se_x outside marriage is sin. Pedophiles seek positions where they will be around children and the gay priests in question did just that.

    July 20, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • sumanadevii

      Are you really so under educated that you blame gay men rather than the pedophiles doing these horrid deeds? I bet my last buck that you, yourself, are a Christian closet gay. You have guilt over it so therefore lash out at the gay community. Wait, maybe you are a pedophile in the closet...worse yet. How sad for you. One day you face the Lord and will receive just punishment for your lies to protect your own sick mind.

      July 20, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Observer


      Yes, some people are so uneducated that they don't know the difference between being gay and pedophilia.

      July 20, 2011 at 3:53 am |
    • William Demuth

      Please educate yourself

      Gays want men. Lesbians want women

      Priests want boys. Nuns want girls. That dosen't make them Gay, that makes them power hungry monsters who get their jollies off by exploiting children

      July 20, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Zavi13

      Many paedophile priests abuse girls too, it has nothing to do with being gay you moron!

      July 20, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Magesterium

      You have hit on the EXACT problem. The media is scared $H1TLE$$ to report that upwards of 95% of the cases involve pederasty: h0m0$3xual involvement with an under aged boy. They–these evil men–were born with the disease; the church didn't create it. Satan is using these evil men to infiltrate the holy Roman Catholic Church–but as Jesus Himself said, "The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it".

      July 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • sumanadevii

      You can't fix stupid.

      July 21, 2011 at 1:13 am |
  20. Ari

    if you continue to expose your children to religion and churches, while you know what kind of monsters operate in them – you're just as guilty. give money to your church? guess what you support the worlds largest organized pedophile ring...

    July 20, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • Buddy R

      Atheists are responsible for the deaths of over 250 million people in the past 100 yeras. Far more than all other religions combined for all of recorded history. Pol Pot, Mao, Lenin, Stalin, ect.

      July 20, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • Q

      The issue here is not theism or atheism per se. It is dogmatic obedience to perceived authority at the expense of compassion, reason and critical thinking. Any system which values belief over evidence is fertile ground for the dehumanization of out-groups and the atrocities which invariably follow.

      July 20, 2011 at 1:47 am |
    • fred

      So what system does not value belief over evidence. As to Hitler my mom and Aunt both told me how good people were caught up in a lie around them as they watched the hate build. It is not a system it is human nature to run with belief not evidence when a real or perceived threat is put in front of them. Christianity is not the threat it is evil men who know how to use the weakness in human nature to their advantage.

      July 20, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Q

      @fred – Science does not value belief over evidence but I concede if we are considering systems of governance, there are none which are immune to beliefs over evidence. I'd offer my post infers your point regarding certain aspects of Christianity, i.e. ethics and compassion and how these too are easily dismissed when confronted with a given out-group for failure to affirm the more magical components of the faith.

      July 20, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • Observer

      Buddy R,

      The greatest killer of all was God who killed every person on the face of the earth except for 6.

      July 20, 2011 at 3:51 am |
    • SoundOfForest

      @Observer, no human is fit for life but it's God's mercy we are alive. God is the holy sovereign Creator; He has right to give and to take away. As you choose to perceive God, your malice will return upon yourself. Call for repentance is the true goodness and mercy for people like you.

      July 20, 2011 at 5:45 am |
    • gary

      religions are just myths. Deities, demons, dragons, leprechauns, trolls are all pretend

      July 20, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Zavi13

      @BuddyR, European christians murdered tens of millions of native americans, and also stole their land and destroyed their cultures, I'd say the death tolls would be close to that caused by communism (btw it's certainly much less than 250 million), up to 30 million native americans were killed in what is now Mexico alone.

      July 20, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Free

      Religion, more than political ideology (unless you have personality cults like Stalin, Mao and Kim), tends to emphasize accepting ideas based on 'faith' in dogmatic beliefs which isn't exactly friendly to democratic processes.

      July 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • SoundOfForest

      @Zavi13, but European Christians rescued 7 billions in 6 continents. Most wars were for suvivals for both sides and Native Americans deaths were largely due to diseases. Clashes among tribes happened everywhere all the time, and the English was the most mannerly to their opponents. @Free, religion alone controls mankind's abysmal thirst for blood. Atheists killed the worst for all time everywhere. The reason it was quickly taken down by the religious. American atheism was born out of boredom and blasphemy – the worst.

      July 21, 2011 at 3:30 am |
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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.