After abuse report, Philadelphia archdiocese makes changes

David Clohessy of SNAP,an abuse-survivors group, was among those protesting outside archdiocesan offices in Center City.
David Clohessy of SNAP,an abuse-survivors group, was among those protesting outside archdiocesan offices in Center City.
Posted: February 12, 2011

A day after new allegations of unchecked sexual abuse by its priests, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Friday said it had created two positions and hired a consultant to improve how it handles accusations and monitors priests.

Described by the archdiocese as "an initial response" to the scathing grand jury report, the changes appeared to signal church officials' willingness to accept findings that its system to identify, investigate, and deter abuse is badly flawed.

"We determined we did - and do - need to make changes," said Donna Farrell, the archdiocese's communications director.

Farrell said the appointments had been in the works for some time, with input from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

The announcement came hours after four priests and a schoolteacher accused by the grand jury were released on bail. It also followed a rally by victims' advocates to express fresh outrage at the allegations in the grand jury report.

"This is incredibly clear proof that almost nothing has changed," said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), who led the protest outside archdiocesan headquarters in Center City. "It's very tragic and disillusioning."

The indictment unsealed Thursday charged former schoolteacher Bernard Shero and three priests - the Revs. James J. Brennan and Charles Englehardt, and Edward V. Avery, who was defrocked in 2006 - with abusing children at Philadelphia parishes in the mid- and late 1990s.

A fourth cleric, Mgsr. William Lynn, faces felony endangerment charges for allegedly tolerating or placing predatory priests in positions with access to children.

At the time, Lynn was secretary of the clergy, a high-ranking archdiocesan official who supervised pastoral assignments. Authorities said his arrest represented the first time nationwide that a church supervisor had been charged with enabling or hiding abusive priests.

Through his attorney, Lynn has denied the allegations.

The defendants were arraigned before a Philadelphia magistrate in the predawn hours Friday, and granted bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 3.

In the scorching 124-page report accompanying the indictment, the grand jury also accused the archdiocese of mishandling or ignoring evidence in other cases of alleged abuse, even after another grand jury delivered a similarly blistering criticism of the church in 2005.

The latest report claimed that the archdiocese let as many as 41 priests stay in active ministry in recent years despite being accused of sexual or inappropriate behavior with minors.

Cardinal Justin Rigali has disputed that, saying there are no active priests with "an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them."

One of the priests that the grand jury said was credibly accused but never disciplined was the Rev. Stephen DiGregorio. According to the grand jury, DiGregorio flunked a lie-detector test after a girl accused him of molesting her on four occasions in 1967 or 1968 at Our Lady of Loretto Parish in Philadelphia.

In an interview Friday, DiGregorio denied the accusations.

"None of that is true. Absolutely none of that is true," he said. "I deny every allegation made by this individual. We're talking about something 45 years ago. My credibility as a priest has never been questioned."

The changes outlined by the archdiocese on Friday included rehiring Mary Achilles, the former victim advocate for Pennsylvania, to advise church leaders on "how best to address the needs of victims of sexual abuse."

Achilles served in the same role from 2006 until 2008. According to the grand jury, she gave church officials 11 recommendations for improving the process of handling and investigating abuse complaints. None was implemented.

"Instead of changing the church's procedures, Ms. Achilles modified her recommendations," it said.

Rigali also created, but has not filled, a position, delegate for investigations, to oversee the diocese's internal investigation abuse allegations and report them to civil authorities. Archdiocesan lawyers had been responsible for notifying police about allegations.

The diocese also said it had appointed psychologist Joseph J. Cronin Jr. to be clergy support associate, a post in which he is expected to ensure "the compliance of priests in active ministry" with church standards.

For two years, Cronin has been the supervisor of a treatment program for priests who have been permanently removed from the ministry.

In his new role, he will work with priests who have "personal problems and need regular support," including those who have struggled with substance abuse, Farrell said. She could not immediately say how many priests that was.

SNAP responded with skepticism to the changes.

"Archbishop Rigali can hire dozens of people, but as long as he and his top staff continue their irresponsible deceit, virtually nothing will change," a SNAP official, Joelle Casteix, said in a statement.

Former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, who spearheaded the 2005 grand jury investigation, called the latest allegations "all hauntingly familiar."

The 418-page report she released didn't include any charges because the cases it described fell outside of the statute of limitations.

Still, Abraham said Friday that she hoped that the work of the previous grand jury laid the foundation for the current indictments.

"Once people are willing to come forward, more are likely to come forward," she said. "It's an important signal to send to sexual-abuse victims of any kind."  

 


Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at jmartin@phillynews.com.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Nancy Phillips, Dan Hardy, and Jeremy Roebuck.

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