Five priests removed from ministry; two restored to duty

Posted: December 16, 2013

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has permanently removed five parish priests from ministry over allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct, including one priest who had previously been investigated and returned to duty last year.

An archdiocesan review board had cleared the Rev. Michael A. Chapman in May 2012 of an abuse allegation involving a minor. But within months, a new accuser came forward with allegations dating back 30 years.

In a statement expected to be released in parishes across the region Sunday, the archdiocese said the board substantiated new abuse accusations against Chapman and deemed him "unsuitable for ministry."

"This information was provided to law enforcement and Father Chapman was placed back on administrative leave," the statement read. "At no time was he ever returned to active ministry."

As has been its practice, the archdiocese offered no details of the allegations against Chapman or the four other priests whose removals were announced to congregants who braved Saturday's snowstorm for evening Mass.

Ken Gavin, spokesman for the archdiocese, declined Saturday evening to comment on the decisions, pending an official announcement expected Sunday.

Two other priests - the Rev. Zachary W. Navit, last of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Doylestown, and the Rev. Francis J. Schlett, who retired from Our Lady of Grace in Penndel in 2004 - were cleared to return to their positions after the review board said it could not substantiate allegations against them.

It remained unclear Saturday whether the men would return to their old parishes or take up new postings.

Of the four others removed besides Chapman, two - the Rev. Stephen B. Perzan, of St. Helena Parish in Philadelphia, and the Rev. Peter J. Talocci, of St. Patrick's in Malvern - faced sexual-abuse allegations that the review board said it could not substantiate. They were removed for violations of "the standards of ministerial behavior," church officials said.

The remaining two - the Rev. Mark E. Fernandes, last of St. Agnes Parish in Sellersville, and the Rev. Joseph M. Glatts, formerly of SS. Simon and Jude in West Chester - faced no accusations of sexual misconduct but rather were deemed to have acted in violation of church standards.

Church officials have said such misconduct can range from making inappropriate comments to boundary violations.

The decisions announced Saturday are the latest fallout in a dark chapter of archdiocesan history.

In 2009, a scathing grand jury report excoriated then-Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and other church leaders and accused them of an "immoral" cover-up, saying they protected predator priests for decades and allowed sexual assaults against children to go unpunished. Bevilacqua and top archdiocesan officials vigorously denied that and said the church was committed to ensuring the safety of children.

Two years later, a second grand jury accused church officials of continuing to fall short. In a stinging report, the grand jury said the archdiocese had failed to act on credible allegations of child sex abuse and other misconduct.

The panel recommended criminal charges against Msgr. William Lynn, then the archdiocese's secretary of clergy, and accused him of transferring some accused priests and letting others fall through the cracks. He was convicted of one count of child endangerment last year and sentenced to three to six years in prison.

In the aftermath of the 2011 report, 26 priests were suspended.

Since May of last year, Chaput has permanently removed more than half of those priests from active ministry.

After Saturday's announcement, the fates of only two of the accused priests remain unresolved.

The review board has yet to make a decision on one, whom church officials declined to name. The archdiocese said it had referred abuse allegations against him to law enforcement officials, who declined last month to prosecute him.

The other, the Rev. Andrew McCormick, was arrested last year on charges of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy at St. John Cantius Parish in Bridesburg. He is awaiting trial.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

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