Pope Francis announced Archbishop Nelson Perez as the next leader of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It’s a homecoming of sorts. After graduating St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1989, Perez was ordained by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Bienvenido a casa
During my time at The Catholic Standard and Times, the archdiocesan newspaper, Perez served as the first director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization. Bevilacqua created the institute as a public relations bandaid for the wounds inflicted on the Hispanic community after he closed St. Henry’s Parish in North Philadelphia. There was outcry over removing the Catholic presence in a community where it was arguably needed most.
Perez was tasked with outreach to balance out the abandonment. Then the newspaper was told to cover it. Bevilacqua had his PR consultants review and edit out any negative quotes before we went to press.
While every effort in his role may have been genuine and helpful to the faithful, Perez was a pawn. He was ordained into a clerical culture of power, greed, hypocrisy, manipulation and well-documented secrecy. The clergy sex abuse coverup was in full swing. Memos were shredded, priests were shuffled and victims were silenced. What did Perez know and ignore? Did he merely survive and manage to thrive in spite of it?
Hope needs a plan
An Inquirer editorial on the announcement focused on “hope.” It referenced the theme of hope in Pope Francis’ message on the 53rd World Day of Peace. The pontiff said the year 2020 should be “a journey of hope and peace, not through words, but through daily gestures of dialogue, reconciliation, and care for creation.”
That quote offers important clarification. Hope alone is for the helpless. It can carry the powerless, abused and ill through dark and challenging times. Most of us are not helpless. It is our spiritual and moral obligation to add action to hope so that we can “care for creation.”
In an interview this past June, Perez told a Cleveland news station that he believes since 2002, the Catholic Church has put strict procedures in place to minimize the potential for child sex abuse allegations in the future.
“It goes to civil authorities. It goes to an independent review board. A lot of work has been done in the last 18 years, which makes me feel comfortable,” said Perez.
We hope the bishop hasn’t unpacked that feeling from his suitcase. How can we be comfortable with the state of child abuse prevention in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In just the past year, there have been three arrests. These include a suspended priest accused of raping a teenage girl at a former parish assignment in Roxborough and two Catholic high school lay teachers accused of sexually assaulting students. Yay for the arrests, but let’s talk about better prevention.
All is not well with transparency either. Existing policies aren’t adequately enforced and needed policies aren’t in place. After a wide-spread boundary violation took place on social media that involved an order priest and several female high school students, the Archdiocese didn’t share its knowledge of the incident with the parents of involved students. However, if one of those students had done something damaging to their school’s reputation on social media, the parents’ phones would be ringing within hours.
For years, Kathy Kane has asked Archdiocesan leadership to put a policy in place requiring them to notify the parents or legal guardians of any minors who are impacted by any known boundary violation. Those violations are outlined in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth for a reason. They are the proven gateway to abuse. No action.
There is still a lot of work to be done here in Philly to protect kids and our Catholic faith.
Replacing retiring Archbishop Charles Chaput, Perez will be officially installed on February 18th.
Read more at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Kathy Kane contributed key info and quotes for this article: “Nelson Perez’s appointment as archbishop brings speculation and celebration for Philly-area Catholics” by Justine McDaniel and Anna Orso, January 23, 2020