Philly Archdiocese suspends 3 more priests

Posted: February 17, 2011

CARDINAL JUSTIN RIGALI announced yesterday that he has suspended three priests and ordered a "re-examination" of more than 30 others still in active ministry who are accused of molesting children in their charge.

The announcement came one week after a damning grand-jury report charged archdiocesan officials with covering up clergy sex abuse. In last week's indictment, two priests, a defrocked priest and a lay teacher were charged with rape and related offenses, and a monsignor accused of shielding the men from detection was charged with endangering the welfare of children.

"Many people of faith and in the community at large think that the Archdiocese does not understand the gravity of child sexual abuse. We do," Rigali said. "The task before us now is to recognize where we have fallen short and to let our actions speak to our resolve."

Placed on administrative leave were the Revs. Joseph DiGregorio, Joseph Gallagher and Stephen Perzan. A priest on administrative leave cannot live in a rectory or parish and cannot publicly minister.

DiGregorio was accused of molesting a 16-year-old girl four times in 1967 or 1968 in the Our Lady of Loreto rectory in Southwest Philadelphia and in his car. Another priest confirmed the allegations against DiGregorio, who also failed a lie-detector test when queried in 2005, grand jurors found. Yet, archdiocesan investigators cleared him. Until yesterday, DiGregorio remained a parochial vicar at Stella Maris parish, in South Philadelphia.

In 2007, a 36-year-old man told archdiocesan investigators that Gallagher had repeatedly fondled, hit him and discussed masturbation with him when he was an altar boy at St. Mark's in Bristol in the 1980s. A year later, another man reported that Gallagher had fondled him and talked with him about masturbation when he was an altar boy in 1968 or 1969. During both investigations, witnesses substantiated the allegations, yet the Archdiocese in 2008 cleared Gallagher. Less than a year later, the alleged victim from the 1980s killed himself, according to the grand jury.

Although Gallagher is now retired from St. Richard's, in South Philadelphia, he was, until his removal yesterday, a regular assistant at St. Jerome's and St. Timothy's in Northeast Philadelphia and at St. Thomas Aquinas in Croydon, Bucks County, according to the grand-jury report.

In Perzan's case, two boys reported that he molested them in the early 1990s, when he was chaplain at St. Gabriel's Hall, a residential program for delinquent youths. Perzan failed a polygraph, and other youths and Perzan's superiors backed up the allegations, according to the grand-jury report, but the Archdiocese declared them unsubstantiated. The church and its attorney then withheld details of the allegations from Montgomery County prosecutors, according to grand jurors. Perzan, until yesterday, was parochial vicar at St. Helena's, in Olney.

Rigali also announced yesterday that the Archdiocese has hired Gina Maisto Smith, a partner at the Ballard Spahr law firm, to review the cases of all accused priests still in active service to determine their suitability for continued service. Smith is a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney who prosecuted child sexual-assault cases for nearly 20 years.

David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), criticized the changes as "a tiny, belated and begrudging step forward."

"Dozens - not three - dozens of credibly accused priests need to be suspended," he said.

In a statement, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams praised Rigali's latest steps.

"The cardinal's strong words and recent efforts are the correct steps at this time," Williams said. "I will continue my commitment to working with him to protect our children, and I highly respect his choice of Gina Maisto Smith to lead this effort."

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