How the archdiocese has tightened up standards in reporting abuse and dealing with victims

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput removed five accused priests from ministry.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput removed five accused priests from ministry. (A.A. ALVAREZ)
Posted: June 24, 2012

The 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report that accused Msgr. William J. Lynn of child endangerment did much more than set in motion the landmark felony trial that ended Friday with his conviction.

The 124-page report - which charged the archdiocese with keeping in active ministry 37 priests accused of inappropriate behavior with children - triggered a series of actions by the local church to finally deal forcefully with the simmering sexual-abuse scandal.

Within days of the report's release, then-archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali placed 21 of the accused priests on administrative leave (the other 16 were already removed from ministry or had no substantial charges against them), and hired former sex-crimes prosecutor Gina M. Smith to assemble a team of law-enforcement and child-abuse experts to investigate the charges.

Last month, Rigali's successor, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, announced that five of the accused priests would be permanently removed from ministry as a result of that investigation and that three had been exonerated.

One accused priest had died, Chaput said, and the remaining cases were still under review.

While the archdiocese has not said what Smith's team has cost, a financial report released in early June said the church had spent $1.6 million on abuse-related costs in fiscal 2010-11, and projected the costs for the fiscal year ending this month would exceed $10 million.

In March 2011, Rigali also reorganized the archdiocese's Office for Child and Youth Protection (OCYP), separating its investigations arm from its victim-assistance unit.

He named Al Toczydlowski, former Philadelphia deputy district attorney, director of the new Office for Investigations, and appointed Leslie Davila, former assistant director of victim services for the prosecutor's office, as head of OCYP.

Toczydlowski said in a recent interview that his staff of three had met with anyone who had come to the archdiocese with a report of childhood sex abuse. The "intake coordinator" interviews the person and prepares a report. A "forensic investigator" then interviews the alleged assailant and possible witnesses.

Findings are then turned over to the archdiocese's 12-member Review Board, whose members include psychiatrists, psychologists, and law-enforcement personnel with backgrounds in child-abuse cases, who advise church leaders on how to respond.

Toczydlowski said the investigations office also reviews any alleged violations of the archdiocese's lengthy and detailed "standards of ministerial behavior and boundaries." These standards essentially bar all adults serving the archdiocese from touching or being alone with minors.

He said his office has handled about 20 new cases each month. "Even if somebody comes to us and says, 'He looked at me funny,' we create a case file," Toczydlowski said. Officials said the archdiocese now immediately reports to law enforcement or other appropriate state agencies any allegation of sexual abuse it receives.

Kenneth Gavin, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said it has significantly enhanced use of the Review Board since the 2011 grand jury report. Where the archdiocese previously referred only selected clergy-abuse cases to the panel, Gavin said, the board now reviews any allegation of abuse or breach of the behavioral standards.

Davila said in a recent interview that her 11-person OCYP office has served from 150 to 250 abuse victims a month and that the office no longer shared confidential victim information with archdiocesan lawyers.

Her staff helps abuse victims "with whatever they need," she said. Services typically include paying for their counseling, but can involve assistance in finding social services and housing, and paying for child care and transportation when the person goes to counseling.

Other staff in the OCYP train archdiocesan personnel in Pennsylvania's mandatory child-abuse-reporting laws and the archdiocese's own policies on adult interactions with minors. These essentially bar adults from touching or being alone with minors.

Since last summer, Davila said, her office has overseen the training of more than 30,000 clergy, employees, and volunteers in Pennsylvania's mandatory-reporting law. The law requires any adult responsible for the welfare of a minor to report any evidence of neglect or mental, physical, or sexual abuse of a minor, to designated state agencies.

The office also monitors parishes and schools to confirm that adults working with children are vetted and trained.


Contact David O'Reilly at 610-313-8111 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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