A Cardinal, an Archbishop and a Funeral: A year in the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Priest Child Abuse Scandal

Guest blog by Gerald T. Slevin, retired lawyer.

After 16 years of Catholic schools, followed by Harvard Law School, where he worked as a law student for Archibald Cox, the Watergate prosecutor, Gerald Slevin practiced law for over three decades at the Wall Street law firms of Sullivan & Cromwell and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

Barely twelve months ago, the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Cardinal Rigali emphatically, but artfully, denied he had any active priest with “admitted or established ” allegations of child sexual abuse. This misleading statement was in the face of (1) the second devastating Philadelphia grand jury report on his watch describing a widespread priest pedophile conspiracy, and (2) the multiple criminal indictment of the former top priest personnel chief for the Archdiocese.

By Spring, Cardinal Rigali, under intense public scrutiny, reversed himself by suspending 21 priests on suspicion of abuse. Their fates still remain mainly unknown.

By Summer, the Cardinal’s  Child Abuse Review Board lay chairwoman was accusing him of materially misleading her about priests suspected of child abuse.

By Fall, the pope apparently declined to give Rigali more time in Philadelphia by accepting his resignation and replacing him with Archbishop Chaput. Archbishop Chaput promptly threw a private party for Philadelphia priests, where he led the cheers for  the indicted priest personnel chief and several of the suspended priests present at the party.

By Winter, the chief’s former boss, Cardinal Bevilacqua, was interrogated by prosecutors in a video deposition, only to die shortly thereafter. The deposition has yet to be made public by the court.

For  most of the year, the Archdiocese and its apologists strongly denied any widespread priest child abuse conspiracy, as Archishop Chaput lobbied to deny victims legal remedies by opposing Pennsylvania state legislative relief, and blamed victims claims, rather than the Archdiocese’s considerable legal defense expenses, for his decision to close numerous schools and churches.

Last week, an unexpected bombshell exploded as clear evidence emerged that a two decade old cover-up of priest child sexual abuse existed, going back at least to a 1994 shredding of potentially incriminating evidence. Cardinal Bevilacqua ordered the shredding, which was reportedly effected with the support of Bishops Cullen and Cistone.

To date, neither Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop Chaput, Bishop Cullen nor Bishop Cistone have personally publicly spoken about the shredding bombshell.

These fast moving events have at times been dizzying for hundreds of thousands of Philly Catholics that have tried to follow the horrible story in the daily media.

Fortunately, these events have been laid out clearly in a few comprehensive and comprehensible articles available here. They lay it all out and should be read by all concerned about protecting defenseless children and preventing future priest predation.

The early months’ events with Cardinal Rigali are described well in Philadelphia Magazine by reporter Robert Huber in, “Catholics in Crisis: Sex and Deception in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia”. 

The charges against Cardinal Rigali by his Review Board Chairwoman, Ana Maria Catanzaro, are described well in the article, “The Fog of Scandal”.

The description of the Archdiocese’s secret abuse file archives and the operations of transferring accused priests to unsuspecting parishes are covered in detail by Rolling Stone writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article that revealed a high-level conspiracy to cover-up decades of sexual abuse by Catholic priests – “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex-Crime Files.”

The recent revelation confirming the abuse file document shredding operation of Cardinal Bevilacqua and Bishops Cullen and Cistone and the implicit two decades of stonewalling that this indicates is described well in last week’s Philadelphia Inquirer editorial: “Couldn’t Shred the Truth.” 

59 thoughts on “A Cardinal, an Archbishop and a Funeral: A year in the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Priest Child Abuse Scandal

  1. Jerry, I just have to clarify after following the school closings -I have never read anything where the AD blamed the school closings on victims claims/suits. If anything I saw a lot of misinformation on online comments on articles and blogs -people are under the impression that the AD has payed out millions and millions of dollars in civil suits for abuse claims. While that is true worldwide-much more than millions of course,it is not true in Philadelphia due to the statutes.

    1. Thanks for the summary and links Jerry.I was wondering that myself Kathy .Jerry if you have a link to an article that addresses that I would be interested in reading it.

      1. Beth, in addition to the 12/08/11 letter I mentioned in my comment to Kathy, please read, for a further example, the report of Archbishop Chaput’s 10/27/11 interview by the Philadephia Inquirer editorial board about his opposition to statute of limitation reform that would enable some abuse victims to file presently time barred claims.

        In the context of expressingto the PI editorial board his opposition to facilitating abuse victims’ claims by legislative reform, Chaput reportedly raised the difficult decision he would face if he had to close more schools, a clear linkage of victims’ claims and school closures.

        If justice required a victim’s claim be paid, that has nothing to do with whether a school is to be closed–so why raise the subject?

    2. Kathy, the Philly AD has expended considerably on defending and settling abuse claims, which is why the Philly AD is lobbying so hard against statute of limitations reform.

      If, for example, you read Archbishop Chaput’s early December 8, 2011 letter to Philly Catholics, his combined references (1) to abuse victims, (2) to preserving the AD’s limited resources, and (3) to closing many schools appear clear.

      The message to Philly Catholics was–if you expend too many resources on abuse victims, it could lead to more school closings.

      Of course, the pre-existing liabilities to the victims are completely unrelated to the future funding of schools, so why mention them together if not to link them in the minds of Philly Catholics who read the letter?

    3. I’m happy to find out where Mr. Slevin hangs his hat! I’ve read his postings, primarily in NCR, and have been impressed with his grasp of Catholic issues, and his substantive contribution to a necessary dialogue which often is only a monologue. Particularly helpful have been the links which afford more context. His is an articulate voice missing from most Catholic publications. Unfortunately, they are self-censoring vehicles, more opaque than transparent. I appreciate Catholics4Change allowed him a guest slot.
      Jerry Slevin brings the best of lawyering skills to distinguish fact from fiction. Reason needs to prevail over emotion, even when issues prick deep emotions.
      Whenever he speaks, one is enlightened and enriched. Truth may set us free, but as someone said, “first it hurts!” Or as Robert Frost noted, “truth is ugly, too.”

      1. Fa. Emmett, I wholeheartedly concur. You said it very well. Eve McFarland, LCSW, former Victim Assistance Coordinator, Diocese of Baker. Oregon

    4. Think Jerry’s review with references regarding the Philly AD situation, was a great idea. Good and necessary job, Jerry!

      So many folks are reading C4C these days, who might not know the whole story. This reprise spells it out!

      I think it might be an idea to note Jerry’s citations in the RESOURCES link, as blogs, like this seem to have a 3 or 4 day shelf life, however meritorious they might be.

      1. Jerry,you do a great service to outline the progression of the story. It’s only the big picture that gets the problem highlighted because the drip, drip stories can be seen by the half blind as a ‘pile-on’. and the long pieces/books are too depressing to get into.

      2. I agree -these articles are excellent for those trying to understand the current situation and how we got to this point.

  2. Thank you for adding Anna Catanzaro’s Commonweal article, The Fog of Scandal. We posted it back in the summer but many who are new to the site have probably never seen it -a must read.

  3. ADDITIONAL LINK: C4C bloggers please note that the first article linked by Robert Huber from Pennsylvania Magazine is in two parts. The above link is to the related part II. You can find the link to part I at the bottom of the part II article . While each part can stand alone, together they provide a fuller picture of the last year’s events.

  4. This is a great post. I want to follow up on all links posted. I need rest first.

  5. Jerry,

    During the investigation of the criminal activity in the AD, Rigali simply dropped off the radar. Jerry, I appreciate your efforts to smoke him out, thanks!

    I’m also happy that the “Inquirer” has is face in the morning paper. He’s been out of sight for so long I was starting to forget what he looked like. Thank you as well Mr. John P. Martin, and please stay on him!


    1. I think the article cited by drwho13 should be posted as a main post.

      Jerry explores the crisis in Philadelphia over the past year. drwho13’s article explores a facet of the crisis over the same time period. They compliment each other as all of us attempt to wrap our heads around what has happened (and not happened) in the past year.

    2. Good timeline and good articles!

      -had to chuckle at the 5th comment under article, “Fates of suspended priests..” :
      “..This thing’s going to get real ugly. Think French Revolution ugly as far as the Church goes…”

  6. Jerry,

    Is it Smith who is leading the independent inquiry into the 27 priests? I wonder what her frame of mind is at the moment.

    Over the years, innumerable people led independent panels and boards of inquiry formed to investigate priestly sexual abuse allegations in various diocese across the country. Name one person who led one of these who did not emerge from it shocked by the allegations of sexual abuse, but, indeed, more shocked and utterly infuriated and frustrated by the way diocesan officials obstructed both the flow of information and the truth. All emerged with the attitude that the Catholic hierarchy was one, big, corrupt organization. Literally, many described their experiences as life-changing.

    1. I wondered the same, Hadit.

      If someone remains on a review board, they either tow the line and cover like the rest of them, or they are sickened by what they’ve witnessed.

      Great timeline Jerry!

  7. Jerry,

    As an attorney, please tell me how does an attorney, working on behalf of a diocese or archdiocese somewhere in the US, break out of “the bubble” once they are safely “ensconced” or, as we might be apt to describe “ensnared”, in the world of Catholic hierarchy management, leadership, conduct and decision-making?

    How was Mark Chopko, long-time counsel to the USCCB and Jesuit educated, able to exist for twenty years in such a world that allowed that violation of our children and the destruction of their souls and spirits and defend the action of Church leadership through any legal means during that time? Now that he is the Chair at the Non-Profit Group at Stradley and Ronon, can we expect that he remains in “the bubble” safely ensconced, but now in the world of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia?

  8. I’d urge folks to avoid using the word “independent” to describe Smith or her work. If one is picked and paid by the archdiocese, that hardly qualifies one as “independent.”

    David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell (SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

    1. Even the DA, Seth Williams, can’t really be considered “independent”. The DA’s web site shows that he is very active in many Catholic organizations, and the DA’s web site removed one of the grand jury reports so that the link to it no longer works. This happened around the time of the Jerry Sandusky trial when the public was infuriated at pedophiles and those that hid them.

      I have emailed them, and of course, got no reply, which is what you’d expect from someone protecting the Catholic church.

  9. The time has come for “us”, the folks who sit in the pews, sends our children to Catholic Schools and write the checks to take responsibility for the failures of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. We have forgotten a very simple fact; the church belongs to all of us thus we need to step in and take ownership in order to eliminate the problems. Why do we continue to apologize for group or men who have betrayed our trust? Why to do we place these men is such high esteem? Why do we fear them because they are men of God? The fact is these men, those who have committed crimes and those who hid them are “equally” evil. These evil men bleed just like you and I so why do we fear making waves and going against an establishment that is out to hurt us. Folks, we have pink elephant in our living room and it can no longer be ignored.
    So then, how do “we” take our church back?
    1) Stop your financial support. Cancel all pledges until this mess has been satisfactory resolved.
    2) Support your local parish. Put a Visa, Master Card, Amex gift card in the weekly basket. The parish can pay its bills and at the same time no dollars are going downtown.
    3) Write letters and use social media to make your voice heard from Philadelphia to Rome.
    It will be painful and there will be suffering however in the end “we” will be better Catholics and at the same time we will no longer be blind followers of a faith that utilizes intimidation to keep its followers in check. The days of PRAY – PAY – OBEY need to end.
    Should you question the above ask yourself one question “Would Jesus wear a Rolex of his TV show”? Fact is Christ never envisioned a church like we have today.

    1. WR, certainly agree with your points, but have one question.

      Money is fungible….let’s say most parishioners donate cash or checks, some put in gift cards….what is to prevent folks at the rectory from adding up the total contributions, including gift cards, multiplying by 15% for the AD….and using a larger amount of ‘other’ contributions to send the AD their pound of flesh….

    2. Yes, stop giving money to the bishops.

      Send money to religious orders of men and women who are doing good work… caring for elderly, poor, or homeless. These funds are not taxed by the AD.
      I have been told that if you write a check to the local parish church and restrict it to some specific purpose, it cannot be included in the donations subject to the AD tax on parish collections. It would be illegal for the pastor to direct any of the resticted funds to any other purpose. I would love to hear legal counsel on this.

  10. Fr. Emmett Coyne……I read your notes on this topic and agree that we are blessed to have a person like Jerry Slevin as part of this effort and advocacy. His insight and perspective provide so much and hope his contribution and commitment continue for a long time.

    Fr. Coyne, what I hope for too is that you continue to be a part of the C4C community here in Philadelphia. Having read about your experience, professional and pastoral, yours is a very, very important perspective and understanding. Please continue to read and comment here at C4C because we need your insight and philosophy to keep us focused.

    Okay, Father, I admit it. The primary reason I want you here is that I love that phrase “malign neglect.” Read and really appreciated that article too.

  11. WR:

    2) Support your local parish. Put a Visa, Master Card, Amex gift card in the weekly basket. The parish can pay its bills and at the same time no dollars are going downtown.

    Hey, that reminds me. Clearing out some things in the house, I came across some of those old “S and H” green stamps. For those senior members here, we could use them and cash them in for various items at the “S and H” store.

    I’m grabbing the whole lot of them here and sending them down to 222 N. 17th St. For that crew down there stuck in a time long past, they probably will attempt to cash them in.

  12. Yo! Just a little joke. I was having trouble posting to another hot topic yesterday and , ‘yo’ is all that came out of it. Didn’t even know about it until last night when my husband pointed it out after his nightly ritual of reading all things reported in the church today, including this blog.

    In any event, my experience is that the finances are all intermingled when ‘they’ want them to be, and separate when it suites ‘their’ purpose. For example, parish support affecting school tuitions, etc. I agree with Jerry on what Chaput’s implied message in December regarding victims, schools and finances.

    Yet in the face of it all, Chaput will be in Downingtown to bless the sight of a brand new church next weekend (on an empty lot right next to the existing church). Does anyone know what kind of protocol there is for the destruction of a church? Do you curse it before tearing it down? That may sound flippant, but I am serious. I know of no known church’s voluntarily demolished. Most of those that I speak with in this parish are outraged by it, yet remain silent. The year in review has been confusing to say the least.

    1. Deidre, what is the reason for the new church being built? Do the parishioners fund the construction 100% or does the Ad contribute also?

    2. yo deidre– so true! Why is your church being demolished? Our church school built a half-million dollar addition to it’s administration office and library about 8-9 yrs ago, and now it’s closing! Great planning there… I’m sure glad I donated to that one! The AD’s financial moves are mysterious. So what do we expect,–financial accountability?- When nobody ever even asks for any?!

      In his “We’re broke, folks!” letter in December, Chaput mentioned that the AD resources belong to us all — Anyone know how I cash in on my share now?

      1. Crystal -you crack me up. I thought the same thing about the AD resources belong to us all -then why can’t I know where those resources went and why we are broke. I think the school closings has awakened a sleeping giant in Philadelphia, people are finally starting to ask about the financial situation although Michael Ski has been on a one man crusade for years!

    3. Yo Deidre,
      We watched an old church being demolished a little while ago. I don’t think anything happens, other than they remove as many items from the church as possible and then knock it down.

      I thought of all those immigrant settlers who donated their estates and sacrificed savings so their names could be on stained glass windows.

  13. Going to Downingtown? Will there be a photo op with the Pastor of St. Joseph’s, Monsignor Lynn?

  14. They say that the current one is not large enough. As for whether or not the AD is funding, I don’t know. But quite frankly, Kathy, I don’t believe much of what I am told anymore. All I know is that there has been a long campaign to fund the building of the new church. There have been numerous amounts of mailers, phone calls to get us to contribute; more to the church, more to the school…more, more, more. It’s endless.

    But I had to add this to the long list of ‘The PAD year in review’, if for no other reason it makes no sense. But so little makes sense to me anymore. I guess it’s why I keep looking here for some answers. Because it’s ‘my’ parish, I guess you could say I feel guilty about the fact that so many other communities in our AD are experiencing such hardship, that flaunting this just seems, well, wrong.

    Michael, no I wouldn’t imagine Lynn would be there. Though the group that will turn out, would probably welcome it. Being the faithful, and all. But the kids in the school can be nominated to hold one of the 50 shovels for the ground breaking….

    1. Deidre, in a very different diocese, our parish got to vote on a proposed addition. I voted against it, and when called by someone ‘who wanted to come and get our check,’ I suggested they stay home and told them I would have far preferred that the monies raised be given to an inner city poverty parish. The structure was built and the parish now has half the folks, and no need for the structure. Inner city poverty has never been worse.

      1. Theresa, I always like fussing with Jerry on an issue, never boring, always instructive, definitely not dull!

      2. .. not exactly on task, … but while on the subject of old Phila. church structures, this site is so interesting:


        (For me, these crumbling, old places shamefully still tug at the heart, despite all. Check out the interior of Ascension of our Lord! – a sad symbol of the condition of the AD?)

  15. Yes, and ditto to remarks about how Jerry Slevin rocks this blog. And, also kudos to the presence and commonsense commentaries of MICHAEL SKIENDZIELEWSKI. His humor appears all of a sudden, and, on this blog is very much appreciated. Michael, keep on keepin’ on.

    1. Good for you Theresa for writing out Michael’s full last name. He lets me call him Michael Ski because I have given up on the spelling and pronunciation. Michael is near and dear in the hearts of the advocates working on these issues in Philadelphia.He is always close by with an encouraging word and always..his humor!

  16. YES… question:

    Where is Rigali hidding out lately… ???

    For us ordinary human beings, we would be put in jail for all the crimes committed against innocent kids.

    How do they sleep at night..?

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, snapjudy@gmail.com

    1. Judy Jones,

      I’m doing everything I can flush-out Rigali, as well as encouraging others to do the same. Do you have any suggestions?

      He was a major player in the Vatican (30 years), as well as in St. Louis, and Philadelphia. His uncanny ability to become invisible, along with the fact that he receives very little press is intriguing.

  17. We will see
    RICO has been tried:

    There is so much involved – Wilmington diocese is located in both MD and DE and has a strong connection to the Philly area. Hermeley was a priest in Philly “who liked boys too much” – was moved to DE and is mentioned in the DE civil case Just like the purge of “gays” because of an incident at a camp – these occurred in the 60’s and 70’s but the relationships may have some inpact on this trial.(probably why I have problems with the apology posted on a certain religious group’s website) Don’t think the abuse that happened in MD has been addressed – only some of the DE abuse.

    “In a separate case today, The Boston Herald reported that Bishop Daily intervened in 1977 after police officers in Nahant, Mass., caught a priest, The Rev. Edward T. Kelley, engaged in sexual activity with a teenage boy in a car.”


    Yes, authorities knew of these problems along with gay activists and they alerted the public – Shanley article (1978).

    The influence of the church and politics in the 70′. Shanley,Ritter and possibly Hagan(mentioned in the RICO case – from Philly) dealt with disadvantaged youth, like Sandusky and the problems at Hershey School. GJR does mention that one person wanted what the other got. When I left, man-boy relationships where mentioned by several religious(70’s and 80’s). I hope that some of the relationships are mentioned in the upcoming trial – those relationships I had verified and reported to the proper persons – a blog is not the proper place to disclose certain types of info. I was in DC and know of the “GAY bar” in Georgetown(Doyle) where the sems hung out. I also know that the bishops then and still are struck on that “gay” issue. It wasn’t helped by a very few gays advocating these man-boy relationships and the ACLU supporting their right to express their ideas – most G &L have healthy relationships – or as healthy as heteros. Yes, those who were doing the therapy for troubled priests did quote the “Gay Report” as a source for their ministry Our miltary is afraid of Gays, but have a serious rape problem. Politics – drum up the gay card but don’t address the actual problems. so many are still looking up at that glass ceiling

    Just a little history of what we were facing in the 60’s and 70’s and sex abuse. It wasn’t until the mid 80’s when we had the protection in reporting – wasn’t easy getting parents, children and others together for a”meeting” with suspected incest.

  18. Question: Given the global scope of the clergy abuse tragedy….Any thoughts about the following practice? :
    An elderly friend (who lives on SS) frequently sends checks to Cath. Missionary orders who solicit donations through the mail. From what I can tell, they’re probably legitimate orders such as Franciscans and orders ministering abroad, and to Native Americans in the West. They send her trinkets in return to thank her. It makes her feel good to help.

  19. Thank you, Mr. Slevin, for that clear analysis and your generosity with this work.

    This website is a wonderful place to rest and recharge. Thank you all.


  20. Chrystal, the RCC has a very troubling record of abuse with Native Americans, and I hate to think what goes on in poor nations where the clergy are even more protected than here. Your friend may or may not be supporting good works.

  21. I just reread the Phila. Magazine” article, “Sex, Deception…”
    .. I remember the alleged, child-molesting Bishop John Graham of St Helena’s in Olney very well. I remember his god-like, resonant voice. He was Superintendent (and/or asst.) of our Phila. Catholic schools and Special Ed schools for DECADES. What a perfect position for an alleged child molester. Yuck.

  22. After loosing my 20 yr old son, my first born, my only son, to suicide after being sexually abused by Oblate Fr. Carlos Lozano. I say , Catholic Hirarchey, shame on you! My loss is 17yrs ago, it seem like 17 days ago. My pain will be a life time…My sons name is Eduardo.

    1. Barbara,
      I’m sorry.

      I will honor your son by never allowing this crime to be brushed under the rug.


    2. So sorry for your loss! I loss my son by suicide 3 yrs. ago after he posted on Facebook that Bryzski abused him!

  23. You’re right! Collectively I view the Catholic hierarchy as a group of despicable thugs. I also want to know why Rigali’s name doesn’t come up very often.

    1. Drwho13…I have been wondering about Rigali too….Think he was overseeing Lynn for a year…or so 2003-4 after Bevil resigned.

      It would be very interesting to know what Lynn might say, when facing 28 years in jail.

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