Archdiocese suspends pastor over sexual abuse claim

Ascension of Our Lord, where the Rev. Michael Chapman was pastor. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Ascension of Our Lord, where the Rev. Michael Chapman was pastor. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 19, 2012

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said Monday that it had suspended a former Northeast Philadelphia pastor over a claim that he sexually abused a minor, four months after church officials publicly cleared him of another misconduct accusation.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in May declared the Rev. Michael Chapman suitable to return to active ministry. The 56-year-old cleric was preparing to resume working as a priest when the archdiocese received a new accusation that Chapman had sexually abused a minor approximately 30 years ago, the archdiocese said Monday.

Church officials passed the accusation to law enforcement and halted Chapman's reinstatement, according to Donna Farrell, a spokeswoman for the archbishop.

"Father Chapman had never actually returned to active public ministry, did not have access to children, and was not residing in a parish at any time since the May 4 announcement," Farrell said.

The archdiocese's investigation into the allegation continues, she said.

News that Chapman was again on administrative leave was announced last weekend at his old parish, Ascension of Our Lord in Kensington, where he served as pastor between 2001 and 2011.

What had been excitement among some in the neighborhood about his possible return melted again into disappointment.

Eileen Harvey, who was married at the church and whose children and grandchildren attended its school, said parishioners were sickened by the allegations but hopeful about their former pastor.

"We all loved him," Harvey said Monday. "I would love for him to come back if everything was cleared."

Chapman was among two dozen area priests placed on leave in March 2011 while church officials reexamined past allegations of misconduct.

Chaput permanently removed seven of those priests from after finding the allegations credible. Six others, including Chapman, were reinstated. Another died before the investigation against him was complete.

In July, the Rev. Andrew McCormick became the first priest on leave to be charged with criminal sex abuse. McCormick, the former pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bridgeport, Montgomery County, is accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy at a Philadelphia rectory in 1997.

The rest of the cases are pending.

Officials have not disclosed the details of the accusations against the suspended priests except to say they range from child sexual abuse to "boundary violations," actions that include inappropriate comments, touching or conduct that could be considered grooming of abuse victims.

The claims also involve conduct that typically cannot be prosecuted because it falls outside the state's criminal statute of limitations. Instead, an independent review board investigates the claims and makes recommendations to the archbishop.

The first allegation against Chapman involved boundary violations, church officials said.


Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, at jmartin@phillynews.com or follow @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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