Catholic Mothers to Bishops: Step Up Against Abuse

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

Catherine Coleman Murphy, of Lansdale, Pa., center, and Jack Wintermyer, of Silver Spring, Md., outside Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, protested church mishandling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Caption By Matt Rourke, AP

Catholic Bishops, look into the eyes of the future of the Church and step up.

That’s the message behind a campaign by two mothers in Philadelphia. That’s,where an excruciatingly detailed grand jury report has led for the first time to a criminal indictment of a high ranking church official for transferring known pedophile priests from one unsuspecting parish to the next.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Monica Yant Kinney wrote Sunday about two outraged Philadelphia moms, Susan Matthews and Kathy Kane, are asking people to mail their archbishop pictures of their children, the face of the future, and then make radical change to bring in lay voices in the fight to clean up the clergy sex abuse mess.

“If I just sit in church and hand in my money,” Matthews said, “I’m an accomplice to these crimes.”

“My faith was handed to me like a present with a bow, but I feel like I’m handing my kids a battered box,” added Kane. “As a Catholic parent, I resent that.”

Long letters from outraged churchgoers, they agree, could be easily brushed aside with a form response from Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali. That’s why the photo campaign seems so brilliant. Who could ignore thousands of innocent faces — girls in Holy Communion dresses, boys playing baseball, babies being baptized?

If you need horror-by-horror details, the Inquirer’s coverage and links will give you the sad story:

Msgr. William Lynn, the pastor of St. Joseph Church in Downingtown, was put on administrative leave Friday, more than a week after he was charged with “purposely” shielding abusive priests and endangering children in the late 1990s, the Philadelphia Archdiocese announced Sunday.

With his arrest on Feb. 10, Lynn became the first Roman Catholic Church supervisor nationwide to be charged with covering up the sexual abuse of minors, authorities said.

It was the second time in less than six years that a grand jury castigated the archdiocese for its mishandling of sex-abuse cases. The new grand jury report flatly stated that the current leadership under Rigali has not lived up to its promise to protect children by weeding out predatory clergy, keeping as many as 41 priests “in ministry despite solid, credible allegations of abuse.”


Monsignor William Lynn, shown leaving court in Philadelphia, March 14, faces charges that he moved known child-abusing priests from parish to parish.

Lynn will go to court and, as Religion News Service notes,

… Lynn faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted. The archdiocese will continue to pay his legal fees, even though the judge warned Lynn that his legal strategy may come to conflict with the church’s…

“Their interests may not align with yours,” Judge Cardwell Hughes told him Friday, “if you reach a point where the archdiocese says, ‘We don’t want you to do X because X exposes the archdiocese to liability, criminally or civilly, or X exposes the archdiocese to negative publicity.'”

And what does the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have to say about Philadelphia? Nothing.

As the Associated Press points out, the nation’s Catholic leaders have

… “renewed their 2002 pledge to oust predator priests, while stopping short of rebuking the Philadelphia archdiocese over allegations by a recent grand jury that it kept 37 dangerous priests on the job.

The AP called it a “mildly-worded statement” that vaguely alludes to “recent disclosures about the church’s response” to sex-abuse complaints.

Indeed, as the New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein points out, the rules established in 2002 and the annual audits since then completely missed the mess in Philadelphia:

Now the bishops are hearing parishioners, abuse victims and the church’s own child protection workers voicing a sense of betrayal.

Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan did come on stronger in his March 20th interview on 60 Minutes where he said,

“When you think what happened both that a man who proposes to act in the name of God would have abused an innocent young person and that some bishops in a way would have continenced that by reassigning abusers, nothing less than hideous. Nothing less than nauseating.”

But… not enough for any bishop except Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston, the epicenter of the scandal in 2002, to step aside in shame. There may be fewer than one in three of the men who were bishops then, still in office but, the mothers in Kinney’s story raise a challenge to them all.

But is the bishops group as a whole seems impervious to this?

A Catholic father tried this once before. Last year, Rod Dreher, then blogging at Beliefnet, wrote about Dave Spotanski, an official in the Belleville, Ill., diocese when Bishop Wilton Gregory headed the bishops’ group.

Spotanski wrote to Gregory a passionate letter about concern for his children ( The St. Louis Beacon made the text public last spring)and Gregory kept it with him as he steered the recalcitrant bishops to their 2002 pledge. Now, who will hold their feet to the fire? Will the photos do it?

THINK ABOUT IT: Have Catholic lay people — the vast majority served by good and faithful priests — wearied of the whole mess? Is this an issue for all parents, all Catholics, or just the victims? Could — or should — the USCCB step up to pressure members to resign?

8 thoughts on “Catholic Mothers to Bishops: Step Up Against Abuse

  1. The fact the USCCB had so little to say about the grand jury report in Philadelphia is not surprising at all. The 2002 policies, while a good first step, are not impeccable and certainly can be improved. There is plenty of courage when it comes to speaking out against politicians and whether or not they should be receiving Communion, but did any one really think, that there would be enough courage to speak out against one of the brethren, especially one has powerful in the church as Justin Rigali?

  2. The general counsel of the USCCB for many years was Mark Chopko, who is now the head of the non-profit group at Stradley and Ronon, long-standing primary counsel to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Chairman of this illustrious group is William Sasso, who is part of Gov. Corbett’s transition team.
    For answers to the questions re what USCCB did, didn’t do, or should have done, contact Mr. Chopko in the Washington office of Stradley and Ronon? I’m sure he’ll fill you in with all of the details you are seeking.

  3. Dan:

    Check with the long-term counsel to the USCCB, Mark Chopko. He is currently chair of the non-profit group at Stradley and Ronon (Chairman, William Sasso).
    Stradley and Ronon has been primary counsel to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for many years. With such fine legal counsel, maybe there’s a third Grand Jury Report and Investigation in our Philadelphia Church’s future.

  4. I visited your site after reading Ms. Kinney’s article and will follow it. I guess my outrage comes from having lived in two parishes, Nativity BVM in Media and St. John Chrysostom in Wallingford. In these two parishes over 25 years my children were in contact with three pedophiles.

    Part of my outrage is directed at myself because the pastor at Nativity was not really interested in children, so the two priests who did take an interest were a welcome relief. Unfortunately, they were also serial pedophiles. Fortunately, they were not interested in my children. I feel some guilt at not identifying them.

    At St. John’s the pastor now is one of the most saintly men I have met, and he is responsible for preserving my faith. The man who preceded him was a typical priest in this diocese. When I wrote him seeking counsel after the Boston scandal blew up he sent me a post card saying “It would be a shame to lose a lot of good men over one mistake.” I am a physician and I asked him if he would consult a physician who had assaulted one patient and he said he would not, but that it was different. Of course the Cardinal at the time, who had a doctorate in both civil and canon law said there was no obligation to report abuse.

    A few years ago when it was time for Confirmation at St. John Chrysostom, Bishop Cistone was assigned the job. As he preceded the recently indicted Msgr. Lynn as the vicar for assignments, a number of parishoners expressed concerns about this. When the pastor asked for an alternative assignment, Cardinal Rigali would not consider a change. As one parent observed, “If my son was Baptized by a pedophile, why shouldn’t he be Confirmed by his enabler?”

    I see it differently. I am reminded of the old commercial for Hebrew National
    Hot Dogs. In the commercial an actor dressed as Uncle Sam is holding a hot
    dog and the voice over says “The government says that we can use frozen meat
    in our hot dogs,…..but we don’t. The government says that we can use meat
    fillers and additives in our hot dogs,….but we don’t. The government says
    that we can use artificial coloring and flavors in our hot dogs,….but we
    don’t. At Hebrew National we answer to a higher authority. The archdiocese
    could take a lesson from these sausage makers.

    I guess what this is all leading up to is a concern I have about the authority of the Church. In school I was taught that the bishop spoke with authority on matters of faith and morals. I was also taught that this authority allowed them to distinguish which acts are sinful from those that are not. In light of their acts of commission and omission in this current scandal, I wonder if our current leadership is still able to speak with authority on moral matters, and if they cannot speak with authority, why doesn’t the Vatican name someone who can?

  5. I think that we are all kidding ourselves if we believe that the ‘rcc’ will change if given another “CHANCE”. The only way to insure this “CHANGE” is by legislation. I hope the PA Legislators are going to give the VICTIMS a CHANCE by eliminating the Statute of Limitations and Opening a Two Year Window so that we can all move on with some assurance that if the ‘rcc’ doesn’t address this issue the LAW will ! Sometimes the only way to encourage cooperation is by Penalty of Law !

  6. I wrote to the Pope about my disgust of what has taken place here in the Phila. archdiocese. These are not men of God, they are predators. Being a Catholic all my life I do not want to have to go to a new Church because of this. I want them to do the right thing and fix the problem. I may not have the answer but something needs to be done in order for any sense of trust to be reestablished.

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