EDITORIAL: The Daily Times
Published: Monday, July 09, 2012
It probably would be a fair statement to say that in the last 10 years, there hasn't been much love lost between the Philadelphia District Attorney and officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
In 2003, after the clerical sexual abuse scandal broke nationwide as a result of the 2002 child molestation conviction of a Boston priest, then-Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham launched a grand jury investigation.
Two years later her grand jury report revealed that 63 priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia allegedly abused children as far back as the 1940s. Forty-three of them had ties to Delaware County. None could be criminally charged because the state's statute of limitations, which has since been expanded, had expired.
The report documented repeated transfers of suspected pedophile priests from one parish to another, giving them access to more, unsuspecting children. The grand jury members noted that much of the abuse occurred under the watch of Cardinal John Krol while he headed the archdiocese from 1961 to 1988 and his successor, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who they maintained used his legal expertise to further bury the abuse and shield the archdiocese from lawsuits. Bevilacqua, a civil and canon law attorney who was Philadelphia's archbishop from 1988 to 2003, told the grand jury he did not turn suspected child abusers over to police simply because Pennsylvania law did not require him to.
The response of archdiocesan officials to Abraham's grand jury report was appalling.
They called the district attorney's grand jury investigation "discriminatory," "mean-spirited" and filled with "mistakes, unsupported inferences and misguided conclusions" and melodramatically compared it to anti-Catholic sentiments of the 1840s "Know Nothing" movement in the United States.
Their righteous indignation aside, archdiocesan officials and their priests emerged unscathed thanks to the statute of limitations then in place for alleged victims of sexual abuse.
Their luck ran out last year when current Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams revealed the findings of a second grand jury report that not only documented more incidents of clerical sexual abuse, but continued mishandling of abuse complaints by archdiocesan officials.
Because the Pennsylvania statute of limitations was expanded in 2006, the second grand jury report resulted in the arrest of Monsignor William Lynn, who as secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004, was in charge of handling abuse complaints. Also arrested were two other priests, a defrocked priest and a Catholic school lay teacher accused of abusing boys. The defrocked priest, former Haverford resident Edward Avery, pleaded guilty to abusing an altar boy in 1999 just four days before the trial started March 26. He is serving two-and-a-half to five years in prison. On June 22, Lynn was convicted of endangering the welfare of a child because he knew of Avery's history of suspected pedophilia and did not turn him over to police. He became the first church official in U.S. history to be convicted of such a crime. The monsignor is in prison awaiting sentencing.
Although Cardinal Justin Rigali, then archbishop of Philadelphia, initially insisted that all priests suspected of abuse were out of active ministry despite the second grand jury's assertion otherwise, he eventually did suspend 26 named in the report. Their cases have been reviewed by an archdiocesan team headed by a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney. To date, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has announced substantiated claims of abuse or inappropriate behavior with minors against seven priests, and cleared seven others.
It is obvious that none of these abusers would have been brought to justice were it not for the efforts of Abraham and Williams and their teams in the Philadelphia District Attorney's office.
In fact, in the last year, archdiocesan officials may have grown to respect the intrepid efforts of the Philadelphia District Attorney's office. Williams' investigators have worked with archdiocesan officials in bringing to justice former Archdiocese of Philadelphia Chief Financial Officer Anita Guzzardi who, on June 29, pleaded guilty to stealing $906,662.93 between October 2004 and July 2011 from the archdiocese. Williams' economic and cyber crime unit members have been able to retrieve $250,036.59 from Guzzardi and have returned it to the archdiocese.
In this theft case, the Philadelphia District Attorney was as much an advocate for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as he has been for the victims of its abusive priests. It should put to rest the disingenuous outcries of anti-Catholicism against Williams — himself a Roman Catholic — for doing his job and prosecuting pedophiles.
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