Members of Philadelphia archdiocesan abuse panel counter criticism

Panel member David Ingle said he acted "if I saw something I thought was going to be harmful to children in any way."
Panel member David Ingle said he acted "if I saw something I thought was going to be harmful to children in any way."
Posted: February 13, 2011

Three members of the independent advisory panel that reviews abuse allegations against Philadelphia-area priests said the latest grand-jury report misrepresented their work, and they bristled at its suggestion that they have failed child victims.

In a two-hour interview Saturday, Archdiocesan Review Board members Ana Maria Catanzaro, David Ingle, and Anne Shenberger said they were not defending the archdiocese, attacking the grand jury, or disputing all the assertions in its report.

But they took issue with the panel's depiction of their board as ineffective and its contention that some of their recommendations enabled priests to prey on children.

"In every step of the road, if I saw something that I thought was going to be harmful to children in any way, I got in their faces - and so did these guys," said Ingle, a psychologist and father of four who has acknowledged he was abused as a child. In those cases, he said, "we've been able to work through the dispute and come to a reasonable conclusion."

Catanzaro, who chairs the seven-member board, said the report gave an incomplete picture. "I was shocked at the sweeping statements that were made," she said, "because none of us testified before the grand jury."

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams said the archdiocese had multiple chances to suggest people to appear before the grand jury. "They did not request, suggest, or offer that members of the board do so," spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson said.

Donna Farrell, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, disputed that, saying: "Who appears before an investigating grand jury is solely within the province of the District Attorney's Office."

The board members' comments were the most extensive response from any of the individuals implicated or criticized in the grand-jury findings, which were released Thursday.

That 124-page report accused church officials of failing to protect children or respond to complaints of past abuse. It accompanied an indictment charging four priests and a teacher with having roles in the abuse of children in the 1990s.

The Archdiocesan Review Board was formed in 2002, part of a swath of changes mandated nationwide by the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

After the board hears details of abuse allegations, its role is twofold: Determine if there is enough evidence to recommend action against a priest, and suggest improvements in the system to protect children and identify abusers.

Composed of unpaid volunteers, the board gets cases that come through the archdiocese's victims' hotline but are not being investigated by police, often because they are outdated. Its members are largely professionals with some experience in child welfare. Catholics and non-Catholics, they meet quarterly.

Others members of the board are Sean Ryan, who heads the Bucks County Probation and Parole Department; James Amato, deputy secretary of Catholic Social Services; Edward J. Morris, a permanent deacon at St. Christopher's parish in Philadelphia; and Msgr. Thomas J. Owens, pastor of St. Alphonsus parish in Maple Glen.

The board members review evidence gathered by an archdiocesan investigator and can take into account statements from witnesses, victims, and the accused priests. They have no subpoena or enforcement power and cast secret votes on whether to recommend a priest's removal.

Resolving a case takes up to a year.

The grand jury said it had determined that the review board overlooked or ignored "very convincing evidence" of wrongdoing by priests.

In two cases, it said, priests were allowed to keep their posts despite failing lie-detector tests concerning allegations of sexual abuse. The grand jury cited another case in which a priest, facing two separate accusations of improper behavior, gave "evasive answers" to an investigator.

Catanzaro, the director of graduate nursing programs at Holy Family University in Northeast Philadelphia, said she and her colleagues could not discuss specific cases except to note that their recommendations "have been based on the evidence that was given to us."

The three board members estimated that they had weighed evidence in more than 50 cases against priests since 2003. They said that in most of those cases - including those of two of the defendants charged last week - they had recommended a priest's removal and that church leaders had agreed.

They also said they had proposed a number of changes adopted by the archdiocese, including establishing a website identifying offenders, requiring that all current and former priests' personnel files include reports of accusations against them, and establishing a supervised home for abusive priests.

"Our concern was if you just cut the strings and they're out there loose, they're even more dangerous," said Catanzaro. "So let's keep them contained and under supervision as much as possible."

The board members also said they welcomed more suggestions and revisions to the process, including the appointment of new board members. All are in their second five-year term.

"We're at a new place in the process, obviously, and it's very important to have fresh ideas, and fresh approaches, and fresh people," said Ingle, who lives in Rhode Island and commutes to Philadelphia for the meetings. "It's hard to do this work."


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

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