Five priests are out, three reinstated

Posted: May 05, 2012

Church officials have deemed five priests unsuitable for ministry due to substantiated claims of sexual abuse or other significant violations of the ministerial code, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput announced Friday.

Reporting on the fates of some of the 27 priests suspended after last year's grand jury report on clergy sex abuse, Chaput noted that three others were cleared to return to their parishes, while another died before inquiries into allegations against him were completed.

Decisions on the remaining 17 clergy members suspended last spring in the wake of the February 2011 report will be announced soon, the archbishop said.

"No lesson from the sexual abuse scandal is more important than the understanding that the people who suffer most are the victims," said Chaput. "We can't change the past, but the lessons of the last year have made the church humbler, wiser and more vigilant guardians of our children's safety."

The five priests deemed unsuitable for continued ministry are the Rev. George Cadwallader, 58, most recently of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Richboro; Msgr. Francis Feret, 75, of St. Adalbert parish in Philadelphia; the Rev. Robert Povish, 47, chaplain at the Graterford State Correctional Institute in Montgomery County; the Rev. John Reardon, 65, of St. John of the Cross in Abington; and the Rev. Thomas Rooney, 61, chaplain of Immaculate Mary Home, a skilled nursing facility in Northeast Philadelphia.

Church officials refused to outline the specific allegations made against the men but said that only one of the five - Reardon - was removed for alleged sexual abuse of a minor. The rest had committed unspecified violations of ministerial code, the archdiocese said.

The men can appeal the decision to Rome, voluntarily leave the priesthood, or continue in a diminished role of "prayer and penance" that precludes further public contact, Chaput said.

The three cleared priests are the Rev. Philip Barr, 92, retired since 1995; the Rev. Michael Chapman, 56, most recently of Ascension of Our Lord Parish in Philadelphia, and Msgr. Michael Flood, 72, of St. Luke the Evangelist parish in Glenside.

A public announcement about their return will be made at Sunday masses in their respective parishes, Chaput said.

Flood, who became the target of a sex abuse lawsuit filed in Delaware, had vigorously denied the charges against him. The suit was thrown out last year after his accuser withdrew his allegations during a deposition.

Flood, through his attorney, declined request for comment Friday, but in a statement thanked his parishioners for their continued faith in him.

"Monsignor is acutely aware of the pain suffered by those who have been abused," the statement. "It is critically important, however, for people to know that, in this case, not only were the allegations against monsignor false, they were proven to be factually impossible."

The results released Friday were determined after review of dozens of accusations by an independent panel led by Gina Maisto Smith, a former child sex crimes prosecutor whom the archdiocese hired shortly after the release of the February 2011 grand jury report.

She said that her probe included reviews of more than 400,000 documents, interviews with 225 witnesses, and repeated visits to parishes. Investigators weighed the evidence on whether it suggested the priest was "more likely than not" to have committed the alleged crimes.

"Reasonable minds may disagree with our findings, but not everyone can be satisfied - nor is it satisfaction we seek," she said. "This process was designed to seek facts through competence and fairness."

About a year ago, Cardinal Justin Rigali suspended 26 priests following release of a grand jury report that accused church officials of ignoring "credible" allegations of sexual misconduct.

The 27th - Msgr. William J. Lynn - is currently on trial in Philadelphia courts, charged with child endangerment for his handling of abuse complaints from 1992 to 2004.

Until Friday, the archdiocese had refused to confirm the names of many of the clergy placed on leave or characterize the severity of the accusations against them, but the names of affected priests quickly seeped into public view.

The lingering questions created clouds of suspicion and uncertainty that have lingered in some parishes for more than a year.

Once Chaput said earlier this week that he would announce final determinations in some of the cases, church officials began notifying the victims of priests slated for removal.

One, a 51-year-old Philadelphia man, said in an interview that he was told Thursday about Feret's removal. He said Feret sexually assaulted him at least 100 times when he was a student at St. Timothy's school in Northeast Philadelphia in the early 1970s. The abuse occurred in the church confessional, choir loft and other places, he said.

The victim, whose name is being withheld because The Inquirer does not identify victims of sexual abuse, said he once reported the abuse to his grade-school English teacher and a nun who ran the school, but nothing happened.

In 2006, he said, he was outraged to see Feret on the television news celebrating the funeral Mass for a fallen Philadelphia police officer. He said he sent an email to the archdiocese's victim-assistance office saying Feret had abused him.

Someone responded and asked for phone-contact number. the man said. "And at that time I chickened out," he said.

The man called the archdiocese again after reading last year that Feret had been suspended, and he was later interviewed by police. He was relieved to hear the news this week that the priest was being removed.

Feret was listed as one of the priests suspended for ministerial violations - not sexual abuse - in materials distributed by the archdiocese Friday.

"It's affected my whole life - in every way," he said.


Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218 or jroebuck@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @jeremyrroebuck.

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