'The Fog of Scandal'

Just posted, an important article by Ana Maria Catanzaro, chair of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's review board.

Eight years ago, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua asked me to join the Archdiocese of Philadelphias sexual-abuse review board, which he was putting together to help him determine the credibility of allegations against priests. His invitation provided an opportunity and a challenge. If I wanted to be a part of the solution, here was my chance. And so, after much prayingand hand-wringingI accepted.

Given the nature of the cases wed have to review, I never imagined the work would be easy. Board members have worked hard to help the church address the crisisand keep children safe. We thought we were making a difference. So, when a 2005 grand jury strongly criticized the archdiocese for its handling of abusive priests, the board was as surprised and dismayed as anyone. But none of us was prepared for the news that broke this past February, when a second grand-jury report resulted in the indictment of four priests and claimed that it had found substantial evidence another thirty-seven, all still in active ministry, had abused. (Subsequently, twenty-seven priests have been suspended, pending further investigation.)

The February 2011 grand jury criticized the review board for not recommending the suspension of several priests. In cases where the archdioceses review board has made a determination, the grand-jury report states, the results have often been even worse than no decision at all. That sweeping judgment stunned review-board members. The grand jury had never asked us to testify about how we arrived at recommendations. In fact, the board had reviewed just ten cases involving the thirty-seven priests. None of the evidence we saw concerning the ten led us to conclude they had sexually abused minors. But until the grand-jury report came out, the board was under the impression that we were reviewing every abuse allegation received by the archdiocese. Instead, we had been advised only about allegations previously determined by archdiocesan officials to have involved the sexual abuse of a minora determination we had been under the impression was ours to make. The board still doesnt know who made those decisions.

Within a week of the February reports release, Cardinal Justin Rigali, now archbishop of Philadelphia, suspended three priests and announced the hiring of former prosecutor Gina Maisto Smith to review the cases of the thirty-seven priests in the grand-jury report. Meantime, the media had been reporting that the review board recommended leaving the thirty-seven with credible allegations in ministry. So the board requested a meeting with Cardinal Rigali and his auxiliary bishops to voice our concerns. When that happened, about a week after the grand-jury report came out, the bishops were apologetic about the way the media had treated the review board, but, for fear of being misinterpreted, said they would not make any public statements defending the review board.

Even more surprising to the review board, on March 8 Cardinal Rigali issued a press release announcing the suspension of twenty-one priests. The press release seemed to imply that the board had reviewed the cases of all twenty-one priests, which it had not. So we again requested a meeting, this time with Gina Maisto Smith and Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who oversees the Office of Child and Youth Protection. We expressed our displeasure with the implication in the press release, and informed them of our intention to speak publicly about how the review board functions. We agreed not to discuss specific cases and Bishop Fitzgerald agreed to release us from the confidentiality agreement we had signed in 2003.

This article is my attempt to answer the question being asked by Catholics in Philadelphia and across the nation: What went wrong?

Read the whole thing right here.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

Also by this author
Who?

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Politics
Books