What is significance of Philadelphia Archdiocese placing 21 priests on leave?

The Archbishop of Philadelphia has placed 21 priests on administrative leave in connection to the sexual abuse of children.  The move yesterday is the latest in a series of actions by the Archdiocese to deal with abuse allegations in a disturbing grand jury report released last month.Cardinal Justin Rigali says he’s sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse and is determined to work for a solution that deals effectively with this issue in the Church.  Rigali says he knows for many people their trust in the Church has been shaken and he prays his efforts to address their concerns will help rebuild that trust.  Rigali took the actions after a Grand Jury report accused a monsignor, three priests and a parochial school teacher of abusing kids or failing to prevent abuse by others.  It also said that as many as 37 priests remained in active ministry with allegations or reports of inappropriate behavior or sexual abuse of minors.  To review cases of accused priests in active ministry, the Archdiocese brought on Gina Maisto Smith, a former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney, who prosecuted child sexual assault cases.  “I conducted, with my team and the assistance of a forensic psychiatrist, the initial review and I made recommendations to the Cardinal based on that initial review, and he accepted those recommendations,” said Smith.In addition to the 21 suspended priests, three others were placed on administrative leave after the report was released in February.  The Archdiocese says eight priests were not placed on leave because the initial independent examination of the cases found no further investigation is warranted.”It would be incredibly naive for anybody to think that a mere suspension of these men somehow signifies a new day in the Archdiocese,” said  David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.   “Anytime a credibly accused child molester is publicly identified or suspended, kids are safer,” Clohessy said.  “However, it’s crucial to remember that the Grand Jury found widespread fault, and deceit, and recklessness by church officials.  So while this is a long overdue and welcomed step, it’s only a very partial first step.”Patrick Wall calls this a historic moment.  He’s a former Roman Catholic priest who is now a canon lawyer in California.  He has worked on priest sex abuse cases across the country.  He said the Grand Jury report and the moves by the Archdiocese are significant.”This report takes it to another level because they go after the Vicar for Clergy,” said Wall.  “That person who has the authority of the Archbishop Justin Rigali, to handle priest affairs and priest assignments and that person now is being called to justice.”And Wall said the Philadelphia situation could effect litigation across the US,”It really does change the face of things because not only can we look to the Bishop or the religious superior, but now we can specifically look at how different lower mid-level managers could be charged with child endangerment,” he said.

Gina Maisto Smith will now lead a team of experts to investigate each of the cases, to determine if the priests should be returned to ministry or removed from ministry.  

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.