Easter is a time of rebirth and renewal. What better time than to repair and renew the Catholic Church in Philadelphia? We ask Cardinal Rigali to begin that hard work by following all the recommendations of the 2011 Grand Jury report. Watch our message on last night’s FOX 29 News.
Here is the section of the Grand Jury report on recommendations:
“The jurors assume, as well, the task of proposing institutional and legal reforms – to address systematic flaws exemplified by this case, and to reduce the likelihood that similar crimes will recur. In particular we recommend that the Philadelphia Archdiocese:
• Fund a victim assistance program that is independent of the Archdiocese and its lawyers.
Our observations of two victims’ experiences with the Archdiocese’s victims assistance program are sufficient to convince us that the program needs to be completely overhauled and removed from the control of the Archdiocese. It is impossible for church employees to wholeheartedly serve the interests of the victims. As Mary Achilles, the consultant who tried to improve the victims assistance program, recognized, conflicts of interest are unavoidable. Victims of sexual abuse suffer today from the assistance coordinators’ split loyalties.
The Archdiocese should either refer victims to the already existing Pennsylvania Victims Compensation Assistance Program, and then reimburse the program for aid that it provides to people harmed by Archdiocese employees, or it should fund an independent nonprofit that would administer assistance to the victims.
The important element would be complete separation between the people who administer the fund and the Archdiocese and its lawyers. Decisions about assistance would be based solely on the needs of the victims. Information about the victims, their mental health, and their treatment would not be shared with the Archdiocese. The fund administrator would have to develop a process to determine eligibility.
• Revise the Review Board process so that credibly accused priests are removed from ministry.
This recommendation is simple: The Archdiocese must revise its review process to assure that the church hierarchy credits and acts on credible allegations. The cases we reviewed reveal a process that reaches the wrong result in the vast majority of cases. Victim assistance coordinator Louise Hagner told the Grand Jury that, out of all the victims she has interviewed, there have been only two whose credibility she even questioned. Yet Bishop Senior rattled off a whole list of priests the Review Board has cleared for continued ministry by finding allegations against them unsubstantiated.
We do not know if the members of the Archdiocesan Review Board are not objective, or if someone has instructed them that the standard of proof is absolute certainty, or if they are considering factors that have nothing to do with whether or not a priest committed the offense alleged. Whatever the reason, their decisions appear devoid of common sense. The Review Board currently betrays victims who muster the courage to come forward with allegations. It approves retention in the ministry of serial child molesters. No Archdiocesan official should be accepting the board’s recommendations.
We do not think the problem lies with the investigators. We read the investigation interviews, and would reach different conclusions from the Review Board based on the same evidence. The Grand Jury urges Archdiocese officials to review their process for deciding when to remove priests from ministry.
Indeed, the evidentiary standard for personnel decisions involving allegations of sexual abuse of minors cannot be the same as guilt beyond a reasonable doubt associated with convictions in a criminal court. Barring clear indication that an allegation has been fabricated, an accused priest ought to be, at the very least, provisionally separated from children. And Archdiocese officials need to act to protect minors upon receipt of evidence that a priest has acted inappropriately around children, even if the allegations do not specify genital sex.
We implore Cardinal Rigali and his staff to review all of the old allegations against currently active priests, and to remove from ministry all of the priests with credible allegations against them. By the Archdiocese’s own account, at least 37 priests remain in ministry despite reports that they have engaged in improper behavior with minors. That should not be acceptable to anyone. (THIS HAS SINCE CHANGED)
• Conduct the review process in a more open and transparent manner. If the Archdiocese wants to change the public’s perception and regain the trust of
parishioners, it should be more honest and open with the public. We saw situations in which the Archdiocese told the public that it cannot conduct an investigation because it did not know the identity of a victim. Yet we saw in their documents that they did.
We believe the Archdiocese should make public its files on sexual abuse allegations, including any “secret archive files.” This should be done in a way to protect the privacy of the victim. At the very least, parishioners deserve to know whenever an allegation of abuse is made against their priest. If the priest is cleared following an investigation, the reasons, along with the evidence, should be shared with the parish.
• Use independent treatment facilities to evaluate and treat priests accused of sexually abusing minors.
The psychologists and therapists the Archdiocese have historically used to evaluate priests and victims have not performed independent assessments nor were the assessments properly documented in the priest’s file. We strongly recommend that the Archdiocese engage an independent organization – such as The Joseph J. Peters Institute (JJPI) – to perform psychological evaluations of persons desiring to enter the priesthood to screen out pedophiles; to provide annual evaluations for mental fitness to serve as a priest; and to provide therapy to priests who are credibly accused of sexual abuse or violations of appropriate boundaries.”
Here is the legislation recommended by the Grand Jury report that we would like Cardinal Rigali to publicly support.
“We recommend that the Legislature:
• Enact a two-year window to allow child sexual abuse victims to have their cases heard.
We recommend that the Pennsylvania legislature suspend for two years the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims. Such a “window of opportunity,” appropriately limited to two years, would allow adults who were victims of sexual crimes as children to have their cases heard in a court of law. The statute of limitations in force when many of these victims were abused required that any civil litigation begin within two years of the time of the abuse. Thus, a 10-year-old rape victim had until he was 12 years old to file suit against his abuser.
It is well established that most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not come forward with allegations for many years, or even decades, after they were molested or raped. For this reason, the civil statute of limitations in recent years has been extended. However, as a result of the law’s past inadequacy, sexual predators who prey on children continue to be shielded from exposure.
The vast majority of complaints received by the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s victim assistance program, in fact, have fallen beyond the statute of limitations. Without a window in which their cases can be heard, victims must depend on the Archdiocese hierarchy’s willingness to validate their allegations, acknowledge their suffering, and compensate them for expenses incurred, such as for psychological counseling or drug treatment.
A two-year window in the statute of limitations might offer the best hope these victims have of finding justice. More than that, the possibility of civil liability would increase church officials’ incentive to make meaningful reforms and institutionalize intolerance of child abuse.
• Abolish the statute of limitation for sexual offenses against minors. We were able to recommend charges against Avery, Brennan, Engelhardt, Shero, and Lynn only because the Pennsylvania Legislature extended the criminal statute of limitations in 2002, and again in 2006. However, we reviewed the files of several other priests accused of sexual assaults on minors who still cannot be charged because their victims were unable to come forward until the statute had expired. We see no reason that sexual predators should benefit because they choose vulnerable young victims who are unable to come forward for many years.
• Amend reporting law so that mandated reporters are required to report sexual abuse of a child even though the victim is over 18 at the time of the report.
The Archdiocese, we learned, already reports to law enforcement any sexual offense committed on a child – even if the victim is an adult at the time of the report. We believe that all mandated reporters should be required to do the same thing. In addition, the amendment we are suggesting would end the Archdiocese’s practice of asking victims – of any age – if they would like to prohibit the Archdiocese from reporting their abuse to law enforcement.
• Demand improved protection for children. Because of the appropriate and constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, Pennsylvania lawmakers would have limited leverage in attempting to influence religious institutions’ policies. Nevertheless, the state has an interest in the safety of students who attend parochial schools well as public schools. The Legislature should consider reduced funding to schools, public or private, that fail to create a safe environment for their children.
We understand that the Philadelphia Archdiocese has a “Safe Environment Program” in place. But the lapses we observed in the hiring and supervising of Bernard Shero indicate that better practices are necessary to protect children in parish schools.”