Monica Yant Kinney: Grand jury shows audacity of archdiocese

Probe of how the church investigates allegations against priests found it focuses mostly on its reputation and assets.

Posted: February 13, 2011

If Catholic churches across the region took up a collection this Sunday and used it to hire lawyers to mislead victims of clergy sex abuse, would anyone give?

If a parish priest confessed that your tithing paid rapists to retire and funded interrogations that push innocents to suicide, would you demand a refund?

And knowing that dozens of area priests accused of abuse remain on the job in good standing with access to children, should you think twice about signing up your son for altar service?

The latest 124-page grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse makes abundantly clear that when it comes to predator priests, the Philadelphia Archdiocese blew its last chance to be believed.

Six years after another grand jury report forced contrition and so-called reforms, the archdiocese remains focused on protecting its assets and reputation above all else.

Victims who muster the courage to report their torment then must endure an investigatory process biased against them.

One young man was hounded into giving an in-person statement with a church staffer who immediately relayed the details to lawyers fearing litigation. Another victim was guilted into reliving his trauma while hospitalized after a suicide attempt, only to learn later that the archdiocese had used his confidences against him in the defense of his priestly abuser.

District Attorney Seth Williams, a proud Catholic, admitted that he had lost faith in his church's ability to do right by those it wronged. He now urges abuse victims to call or e-mail his office (215-686-8783, da.victimservices@phila.gov) rather than risk being wounded all over again.

"You do not need to go to the archdiocese first," Williams said.

Even the grand jurors - regular citizens honorably answering the call to seek justice - noted the audacity of the archdiocese's overseeing sex-abuse investigations:

"There is no other class of crimes where we expect the victims to rely on their assailants for a resolution."

Mistakes and intentions

Five years and five months ago, a different panel of grand jurors released the first report on sex abuse in the archdiocese. They found that church leaders had allowed dozens of priests to abuse hundreds of children for decades and harbored at least 63 known criminals.

Cardinal Justin Rigali condemned that report, especially the assertion that church officials knew exactly what they were doing when they protected pedophile priests over children.

"Mistakes are one thing," Rigali insisted. "Intentions are another."

That was 2005, and though the report did not lead to arrests, it forced the archdiocese to hire a respected victim advocate, establish a Review Board, and - significantly - begin reporting new allegations to law enforcement.

The church touted the "reforms," but made sure the new process was as sick and twisted as the old.

Turns out the archdiocese refused to adopt any of the victim advocate's recommendations. And that much-hyped Review Board - chosen by the cardinal himself - regularly deems accusations "unsubstantiated" even when priests flunk polygraph tests and the evidence against them is overwhelming.

In one fondling case reported by two victims, the Review Board sided with the priest even after hearing convincing corroborating testimony by several other former altar boys with clear memory of the cleric's obsession with sex.

"On July 24, 2008," the grand jury wrote, an archdiocesan staffer told 36-year-old victim "Ben" that the Review Board "could not substantiate his allegation. Less than a year later, Ben committed suicide."

Second time's a charm?

Last week, another group of truth-seeking strangers released a second sordid grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. This one led to the arrest of a Catholic schoolteacher and three archdiocesan priests on rape charges and a once-omnipotent monsignor charged with endangering the welfare of children.

Within hours, Rigali fired off another denial, this time of the stunning revelation that the archdiocese still refuses to pull priests from parishes after they are accused of sexually assaulting minors.

"I assure all the faithful," Rigali wrote, "that there are no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them."

Parse that sentence with me, will you? It's a work of lawyerly art designed to lull Catholics into thinking their children are safe.

No active priest could have an admitted allegation, we now know, because as part of those "reforms," the archdiocese no longer bothers to question priests accused of sexual misconduct.

"The policy is not to even ask the abuser to speak," wrote the astonished jurors. "The explanation we were given for this policy is that it might 'put the priest in a position of admitting' his guilt."

The second part of Rigali's wiggle concerns established allegations. See above, then weep.

If two grand jury reports, failed lie-detector tests, repeat accusations, earnest witnesses, and victim suicides aren't enough to convince the archdiocese of priestly culpability in 2011, what is?


Reach me at myant@phillynews.com or 215-854-4670. Visit my web page and connect on Facebook and Twitter at philly.com/kinney.

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