Phila. archdiocese removes two priests

John P. Paul, formerly of Our Lady of Calvary Parish (left), and James J. Collins, who taught at Holy Family University, have been removed from ministry for substantiated claims of sexual abuse.
John P. Paul, formerly of Our Lady of Calvary Parish (left), and James J. Collins, who taught at Holy Family University, have been removed from ministry for substantiated claims of sexual abuse.
Posted: February 24, 2014

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has permanently removed two more priests from ministry for substantiated claims of sexual abuse, including one who was allowed to keep working in his Northeast Philadelphia parish for nearly a year after accusations were first lodged against him.

It was only after several fresh allegations surfaced late last year against the Rev. John P. Paul, formerly of Our Lady of Calvary Parish, that the archdiocese suspended him in December - weeks after he had announced he would voluntarily retire.

In a statement expected to be released to parishes across the region Sunday, church officials said an archdiocesan review board had substantiated at least one claim that Paul, 67, sexually abused a teenager more than 40 years ago.

The statement also announced the permanent removal of the Rev. James J. Collins, 75, who had worked as a professor of religious studies at Holy Family University in Northeast Philadelphia.

As has been their practice, church officials offered no further details of the allegations against the men, except to say both involved 17-year-old victims and occurred decades ago. In both cases, local authorities had declined to pursue criminal charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

Neither Paul nor Collins could be reached for comment Saturday.

The Rev. John Babowitch broke the news of Paul's fate to parishioners gathered before Saturday evening's Mass at Our Lady of Calvary. No mention was made during the Rev. William Kirk's homily. Notice of the decision was also inserted in the weekly parish bulletin.

But parishioners said they had grown weary of continued discussion of Paul's alleged misdeeds.

"He seemed like a fine priest," said Mary Gaffney, 54. "I'm upset that it has to come to this."

The parish learned in early 2013 that Paul had been accused of abusing minors as a seminary student at St. Charles Borromeo. However, he was allowed to continue preaching while local law enforcement investigated the claims. During that time, he was barred from unsupervised contact with children, said Ken Gavin, an archdiocesan spokesman.

But that decision marked a departure from practice. After a scathing 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sex abuse, the archdiocese suspended 26 priests while the law enforcement investigations of their individual cases proceeded.

"The decision to restrict Father Paul's ministry instead of putting him on administrative leave was based on the information available at the time," Gavin said in December. "There was nothing there that was leading the review board to believe he was a danger to minors."

Chaput suspended Paul only after "multiple new" accusers came forward late last year, also alleging decades-old abuse, the archdiocese said. Six weeks earlier, he had announced his retirement to the parish, citing "extreme emotional duress" and "heartfelt concern for the families."

Ordained in 1972, Paul had served on the faculty of at least six Catholic high schools before landing at Our Lady of Calvary in 2000.

Collins, too, had worked in parochial schools across Philadelphia before he began teaching at Holy Family in 1976.

Both men have the right to appeal their removal to Rome. If those efforts are unsuccessful, they could be defrocked or allowed to enter a church treatment program.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649

@jeremyrroebuck

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