US Cardinal Removes 21 Priests From Public Ministry

Takes Immediate Action on Sexual Abuse Allegations

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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, MARCH 10, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Justin Rigali placed 21 priests on administrative leave as an immediate response to a grand jury report on allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

The archbishop of Philadelphia announced Tuesday that "while on administrative leave, all of these priests will not publicly exercise their ministry."

"These have been difficult weeks since the release of the Grand Jury Report" on Feb. 10, he said, "difficult most of all for victims of sexual abuse, but also for all Catholics and for everyone in our community."

The cardinal noted that the report, issued by the Philadelphia district attorney's office, "called into question the way in which the archdiocese handles allegations of child sexual abuse and asserted that as many as 37 priests remain in ministry 'after the archdiocese learned of accusations or reports of their inappropriate behavior or sexual abuse of minors.'"

"As we strive to move forward today," he said, "I wish to express again my sorrow for the sexual abuse of minors committed by any members of the Church, especially clergy."

"I am truly sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, as well as to the members of our community who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime," the prelate stated.

Cardinal Rigali's decision to place these priests on leave was made after an initial examination of the files, though a thorough investigation must still be made into each individual case.

The initial review was undertaken with reference to the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, the Child Protective Services Act, the "Essential Norms" from the Charter for the Protection of Young People of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Archdiocese's Standards for Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.

The archdiocese noted that the cases of the clergy placed on leave "involve a range from allegations of sexual abuse of a minor to boundary issues with minors."

Of the 37 cases in the report, three clergy were placed on leave immediately after the release of the report. Then, 21 others were removed from public ministry on Tuesday.

The archdiocese noted that five others would have been subject to administrative leave, but one was already on leave and two who are incapacitated have not been in active ministry. Two others are members of religious congregations and no longer serve in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. However, the archdiocese notified the superiors of the congregations as well as the bishops where the religious are currently living.

The archdiocese reported that the remaining eight priests will not be subject to administrative leave as "the initial independent examination of these cases found no further investigation is warranted."

The initial review was carried out by Gina Maisto Smith, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney with 15 years of experience in prosecuting child sexual assault cases.

Smith, who was retained by the archdiocese in the days after the release of the report, noted, "Cardinal Rigali asked me to assist him in responding to the concerns raised in the Grand Jury Report."

She affirmed, "I was given the unlimited freedom to do a thorough review with full access to all files and documents."

Cardinal Rigali's actions were based on the recommendations of Smith and her team of experts, who will now investigate the cases more fully.

The prelate stated: "I want to be clear: These administrative leaves are interim measures. They are not in any way final determinations or judgments."

"Since 2005, the archdiocese has worked very hard and we believed that we were on the right path, making significant progress in the protection of children and in the investigation and handling of abuse allegations," he said.

"In fact," the cardinal added, "the present investigation of sexual abuse began as a result of reports from the archdiocese to the district attorney's office."

"The 2011 Grand Jury Report, however, presented us with serious concerns that demand a decisive response," he stated.

"As archbishop of Philadelphia, it is my responsibility to respond to this report transparently," he affirmed.

Cardinal Rigali expressed determination "to work for a solution that deals effectively with this issue in the Church" and "to deal definitively with the concerns noted in the report."

"I know that for many people their trust in the Church has been shaken," he said. "I pray that the efforts of the archdiocese to address these cases of concern and to re-evaluate our way of handling allegations will help rebuild that trust in truth and justice."

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On the Net:

Cardinal's statement: http://archphila.org/grandjury2011/grandjury2011.htm