How You Can Protect Children and Renew the Church

Many may be visiting our site for the first time today. Thank you and welcome. Please visit the About page to find the mission of this site. We also urge every Catholic to read the 2011 Grand Jury Report.

How You Can Help:

In PA, there is no statute of limitations on murder. Yet, there is one for child sex abuse. It is SOUL MURDER. Help change legislation. It’s been done in other states. Why not here?

House Bills 878 and 832 must go through the Pennsylvania Judiciary Committee before they go to the whole House for debate. Please contact members of the Judiciary Committee and your own state representative. These bills would protect ALL abused children – not just those related to clergy abuse. Contact information for the Committee and your state legislator can be found on our Resources Page.

Add Your Voice:

Catholics4Change urges Cardinal Rigali to protect children and renew the Church in Philadelphia by following all the recommendations of the 2011 Grand Jury report.  They are:

•    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.”

•   Fund a victim assistance program that is independent of the Archdiocese and its lawyers. (This is now under “consideration.” No timeline or commitment has been made.)

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.

•    Revise the Review Board process so that credibly accused priests are removed from ministry. (This has been revamped since the report. However, history makes it hard to trust. The Philadelphia Archdiocese has not been forthcoming or transparent in the past – Read the Review Board Chair’s criticism.)

•   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 Been Done.)

Here is the legislation recommended by the Grand Jury report that we would like Cardinal Rigali to publicly support. Currently, the public affairs arm of every Diocese in the state is actively opposed to this legislation.

The Grand Jury Recommends 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…

•    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.

•    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.” (Please See Kathy Kane’s post.)

Please leave your comments. We want to hear from everyone.

9 thoughts on “How You Can Protect Children and Renew the Church

  1. If the ‘rcc’ is sincere in the protection of children and wanting change it will embrace this legislation, anything less is just lip service.

    National Catholic Reporter
    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish SNDdeN

    Many, probably most, Catholics in the five counties that make up the Philadelphia archdiocese believed Cardinal Justin Rigali in 2005 when he promised that things would change, that there would be no more cover-ups and that those who were raped, sodomized or sexually exploited by predatory priests and church workers would be treated humanely instead of being intimidated, harassed and bullied.

    I was not one of them.

    Since 2002 I have tried to do everything I could possibly think of doing to bring attention to what I perceive to be an entrenched pattern of deceit and dishonesty orchestrated by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church to protect its image, hold onto its power and authority, and keep known sexual predators in ministry while failing to even consider the welfare of untold numbers of children.

    February’s release of a second grand jury report on the Philadelphia archdiocese shows just how futile it is to put one’s faith in church leadership.

    Philadelphia’s hierarchy has failed the People of God. Cardinals Krol, Bevilacqua and Rigali have failed us and they have betrayed us.

    They failed to protect children and they failed to deal appropriately with those known sexual predators who used and abused the spiritual gifts that were so trustingly and lovingly bestowed on them when they were ordained.

    And speaking of ordination, where are the “good priests?”

    They, like many of us in ministry and mission, have been judged guilty by association while bishops have done little to help. Yes, we all have known, worked with or have had friends whom we now know are sexual predators but there is no more outrage coming from the “good” priests of Philadelphia than what has been coming from the pew-sitters.

    In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer piece, “A docile tradition protects the church,” pastor emeritus of St. Malachy Church, Fr. John P. McNamee, commented on 300 Chicago priests who spoke out against their then new archbishop for “publicly rebuking local pastors for minor infractions” during pastoral visits, saying that “in Philadelphia, not three of us priests would lodge such a complaint” against the archbishop.

    “Fearful, mute submissiveness?” Yes, all that and more.

    In the name of God, where is the structural reform that is so sorely needed in the institutional Roman Catholic church?

    Signs of reform in the Philadelphia archdiocese are conspicuous by their absence and yet it has been almost 10 years since the Boston archdiocese imploded.

    Do rank and file Catholics realize what has happened in the Philadelphia archdiocese?

    Have they read the grand jury reports?

    Because of what has been revealed in the second grand jury report on the Philadelphia archdiocese, not only has church leadership lost all credibility but Cardinal Rigali’s failures have shown the actions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for what they really are, more window dressing and PR spin than substance.

    For years, bishops in the United States have followed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as they saw fit with no real independent oversight.

    The failures of Philadelphia’s episcopal leadership, now documented in two grand jury reports, have resulted in putting the lie to the bishops’ much praised “zero tolerance” policy. It simply is not the reality that exists. It was not true in 2002 or 2005 and it is not true in 2011.

    With it all, however, Cardinal Rigali wants Catholics to trust episcopal leadership; to trust him. Do you?

    I do not. In all good conscience I cannot.

    However, I would give serious consideration to revising my opinion if Cardinal Rigali did the following:

    Held a press conference on the steps of the archdiocesan office building at 222 North 17th Street or outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and announced his unconditional support for Pennsylvania House Bills 832 and 878, to abolish the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases and to suspend the statute of limitations for adult victims of childhood sex abuse by anyone.

    Direct Catholic Conference president, Bishop Joseph McFadden, along with the pastors and the priests of Pennsylvania to publicly pledge their support for PA House Bills 832 & 878 from the pulpit, directing parishioners to call their state representatives and mount postcard campaigns if necessary.

    If he would do this and whatever else becomes necessary to move these bills into laws as expeditiously as possible, then I might consider revisiting my opinion.

    Such a clear statement of justice and concern for all children, past, present and future would go a long way toward restoring my faith and trust in church leadership but only if Cardinal Justin Rigali’s words were followed by action.

    No such actions have been forthcoming from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia only “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals,” 1 Corinthians 13:1-2.

    [Maureen Paul Turlish is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. She is a founding member of the National Survivor Advocates Coalition, a member of the steering committee of the Greater Philadelphia Voice of the Faithful and a member of the Child Victims Voice Coalition. She has taught and chaired departments at both Archbishop Wood and Lansdale Catholic High Schools in addition to teaching at St. Bernadette, Drexel Hill and St. Albert the Great, Huntingdon Valley.]

    Also published in the Springfield (Montgomery County) Sun under another title:

  3. Do you think it is time for a change in legal counsel at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia? In this regard, consider the following statements:

    Our Philadelphia Archdiocesan legal counsel surely doesn’t discriminate—whether the victims are young children brutalized by pedophilia or the elderly church attendees, they are dispatched in the same cold, dispassionate, and un-Christlike manner. This archdiocesan legal tradition exists solely to protect our archdiocesan leaders, lay and religious, from any accountability and liability.


    (1) In the National Catholic Reporter 1999, the current Philadelphia archdiocesan counsel states:

    “No matter how vigilant a pastor or principal is, he or she may still face a lawsuit, said Timothy Coyne, who represents the Philadelphia archdiocese and various religious orders. “The little old lady who says her beads daily in church will sue you if she slips and falls in church,” he warned. Coyne told priests to regard lawyers as their friends and to “call your lawyer even before you call the chancery or your insurer.” One wonders if Mr. Coyne ever sits next to elderly women when he attends Mass.

    (2)C. Clark Hodgson, long-time counsel to the Philadelphia Archdiocese was quoted in the Northeast Times (Philadelphia) shortly after the release of the First Grand Jury Report in September 2005:

    “Church officials were not obligated by state law to report sex-abuse cases to civil authorities unless the actual child victim notified the church personally. If the child’s parent filed the complaint with the archdiocese, however, church officials did not have to notify police.”

    Mr. Hodgson was subsequently awarded the St. Thomas More Award 2006 from the St. Thomas More Society of Philadelphia (Catholic lawyers). Remarkably, St. Thomas More was martyred for his faith because he was a champion for following the “spirit of the law”, not the “letter of the law.” What is the likelihood that a young, innocent and vulnerable school age child who was subject to the humiliation, degradation and physical sexual abuse by a clergy member would have the strength to come forward when this same victim would feel so ashamed, broken, horrified and bewildered? Our archdiocesan attorneys were sure to exploit the legal loophole re reporting such pedophilia to authorities. This conduct was KNOWINGLY, DELIBERATELY and CONSCIOUSLY performed by Church attorneys at the expense of the child’s physical, emotional, psychological and moral well-being and survival. What else can be said?

    (3) William Sasso, Chairman, Stradley and Ronon, according to the firm’s website:
    “Attesting to Stradley Ronon’s strength in this area, we have long served as general counsel to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

    An attorney for the archdiocese, William R. Sasso accused the report of exhibiting religious bias because it did not investigate allegations of child sex abuse in other denominations.

    “As a lawyer, as an individual who has seen similar reports, I find it to be biased and anti-Catholic,” Sasso said.
    Interestingly, on the firm’s website, there is a picture of Mr. Sasso and Bono at a dinner where Bono was honored for his humanitarian efforts and compassion to those children at risk in Africa. And what did Mr. Sasso do when archdiocesan children were not only victimized and/or abused over the years but others put in danger when the abusing priests were moved from one location to another?

    (4) Mark Chopko, former counsel to US Bishops, and now head of the non-profit group at Sasso’s law firm. I particularly liked reading a summary of one of his legal arguments where he claimed that diocesan management was not liable for clergy sexual abuse behavior because the priest’s religious functioning was protected behavior by our constitution.

    In light the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s duplicity, treachery and chicanery that has been clearly documented and substantiated, I personally would like the answer to the following question:
    How are Archdiocesan attorneys like William Sasso, C. Clark Hodgson and Mark Chopko actually able to sleep at night knowing that former-priest predators are living throughout our communities and pose a “clear and present danger” to the youngest, most innocent and vulnerable in our communities?

    1. In addition, Seth Williams, the District Attorney, is a hard core Catholic.

      Therefore, he is unlikely to prosecute Rigali unless he gets a lot of pressure by voters.

      Rigali clearly endangered children by saying there were “no credibly accused priests” in Philadelphia a week before the Grand Jury report came out.

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