Perez Dishonors Philly Survivors By Honoring Abusive Priest

Msgr. Philip Dowling ran down the stairs, shoes in hand. A horrified mother had just discovered him half-naked in her young daughter’s bedroom.. That was his first but not last escape from punishment. Years later, the victim and her sister, participated in the first Grand Jury Report into child sex abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. In a disturbing 2005 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dowling admits to abusing one sister, denies other allegations, and seems worried the Church will “find out.” Two sisters from another family also reported that Dowling abused them.

Due to the statute of limitations, he escaped the law. And now, even in death, he escapes the shadow his admitted abuse and clerical restrictions should have cast on his legacy.


Dowling passed away last week. As is customary, the Vicar of Clergy, shared his funeral arrangements in an email sent to the priests and deacons of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. His funeral mass was celebrated this morning by Archbishop Nelson Perez at Holy Innocents Church. The irony of the Church name is not lost on us. A public viewing was held prior to the Mass of Christian burial. The child abusing priest’s faculties had been restricted since 2005. There was no mention of his abusive history in the email to the clergy.

In other dioceses, the highest-ranking bishop would NOT be celebrating the life of an abusive priest. As always the Archdiocese of Philadelphia hits rock bottom and then digs deeper. They are an outlier in every category of child protection and survivor-victim issues. The leadership’s incompetence and ignorance is once again demonstrated by their handling of funerals of abusive priests.


As Catholics, we believe in God’s mercy. Abusive priests, like all criminals, are not denied a Mass of Christian Burial. This is not the issue. The devil is in the details.

In many dioceses, the funerals of abusive clergy are conducted with awareness and sensitivity to the impact on all survivors and especially the victims of that priest. Most guidelines stipulate that funerals should not take place at a parish where the priest had been stationed. In some dioceses, a viewing is allowed but only at a funeral home. In the dioceses of Owensboro and Milwaukee, “a private viewing for members of the immediate family is permissible although there should be no public visitation prior to the mass of Christian burial. The casket should be closed immediately after the family viewing.”

Do other dioceses include the clerical status of abusive priests in a death announcement? Yes. The Archdiocese of Detroit like many dioceses requires the statement “removed from active ministry according to the norms of the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

Do all Archbishops preside at the funerals of abusive priests in their dioceses? Of course not. In many dioceses, the Office of the Archbishop appoints a celebrant. Let’s go over that again. The Archbishop appoints a celebrant, not is the celebrant. The Archdiocese of Seattle states “the Archbishop will not preside or preach at the funeral.”

Several dioceses do not permit eulogies or Mass card photos for abusive priests. The term reverend or father may not be included in any death notice. Survivors are notified of the death. All of this is common sense. Common decency.

Not in Philadelphia. Abusive priests receive a full honors funeral. Survivors get a slap in the face.

A few years ago, I reached out to Ken Gavin, Archdiocese of Philadelphia Office of Communications, and asked about funeral protocol for abusive priests when this issue surfaced under Archbishop Chaput’s tenure. Since my questions were related to sensitivity to survivors, the appropriate contact person would have been Leslie Davila, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, but she had not responded to any C4C inquiries in over a year. Ken Gavin responded with the guidelines – only a couple. Back then I told him there were dioceses with really good guidelines in place.

The Archdiocese could simply ask an intern to copy and paste the protocol of other dioceses so we could have an appropriate way to conduct funeral masses for abusive priests and be sensitive to survivors.

The Archdiocese of Seattle footnotes their funeral policy to include that it was adapted from the Archdiocese of Detroit. Sadly even simply copying the protocol of other dioceses is too much to ask. As Philly lay staff clutch their pearls and their papal honors when we question why things are so bad here, they need to open up their eyes, ears, and hearts. They are behind the times in advocating for better archdiocesan policies for children and survivors. Getting up to speed is as easy as a Google search.

Along with simple internet searches, we have developed relationships with informed and respected advocates, organizations, and diocese throughout the U.S. They are stunned when we share incidents like this. We wish we were.

I reached out to Fr Michael Hennelly, Vicar of Clergy, to provide him with an opportunity to comment on the email that he sent to clergy, and also extended the opportunity for Fr Hennelly to collaborate on improving policy on this very sensitive issue. There was no reply.

Thanks to those from the C4C community who helped us in our research.

18 thoughts on “Perez Dishonors Philly Survivors By Honoring Abusive Priest

  1. Surely an abusive priest would not be buried in his “Priestly Garb?”

    If so, he should be dug up and his clothes changed in to civilian clothing.

    I sure hope the devil know where to stick his HOT POKER!

    1. The cover-ups are the problem! It’s like the “Elephant in the Confessional” They only tell a little portion

      of their sins. ie: Pope Benedict won’t admit to any wrongdoing while in Germany. It’s like him saying,

      yes, I robbed the bank, but I didn’t take all of the money……… -WHAT? ……come-on FESS UP!

      because you know, you’ll be Fessing up one day at the “PEARLIES”

      Even thou, I am not a victim, per se, ……… I say, “we are all victims of their crimes. These priests

      have taken our church away.(but not my faith) -they have robbed us of our perfect church. They are

      so hypocritical, As I also say I didn’t leave the Catholic Church, they left me!

      There are still alot of people in the pews that still have “blinders on” and come to face the reality

      of what really has happened. The bishops are still closing churches and the people in the pews

      accept it as the norm? This is NOT normal. WE need to get to the core of the problem.

      And the bishops continue to ask: Why are our numbers down? and people are leaving the church in
      droves? . …….. and now they have the perfect excuse The Pandemic”……… when in their hearts

      they Truley know it is a completely different answer.

  2. People who abuse children are criminals, degenerates who should have a funeral for their families. Archbishop Perez should have respect for victims of abuse. No wonder ppl have been leaving in droves. Such a beautiful liturgy, a beautiful church that has been tarnished beyond repair. Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist…. all liturgically based church who do not hide offenses against children.

  3. Wow! Here is yet another hard core validation that our archdiocese has completely abandoned us. Especially, AB Perez. His actions speak louder than any words. His loyalties lie with these predators. May God forgive him, because I certainly struggle with doing so. As always, my heart and love goes to the survivors. I admire your strength and courage. All of us owe you a debt we can never possibly repay, for being brave enough to tell us your story!

  4. Since you are not G-d you have no right to judge the actions of this man. Since you are not a Bishop you cannot offer forgiveness to this man. You do on the other hand have an obligation to forgive the action of the sinner whether you like it or not. That is G-d’s command and the directive of Jesus Christ.
    As for the process of the Mass of Christian Burial, you have no right to say anything about it. The man was a Catholic. Flawed as we all are. No one except the Bishop can direct otherwise and you have no place to condemn anyone since this action is a spiritual one and is the practice of the Church for ALL sinners. If you have a problem with the law, work to change it. But the fact is the Church allows every Catholic to receive the Grace of G-d’s forgiveness and have a Mass proclaimed for the deceased.
    It quite frankly is none of your business.

    1. Going to go out on a limb here and take a guess that reading comprehension was not your strong point in school. We did not challenge that the Church allows every Catholic to receive the grace of God and have a funeral mass. The post is regarding how other dioceses manage to provide funeral masses for abusive priests in a manner that is aware and sensitive to the survivor community. We are working to change that here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia so thanks for that advice.

      1. Well said, Kathy Kane. I was getting fired up to answer V Myer but saw your response and realized you said it precisely. Seems as if he/she was looking for a fight and just hadn’t read the initial article carefully at all. Thank you to you and Susan Matthews for keeping people informed about what’s going on–which certainly isn’t a priority for the Philadelphia archdiocese.

    2. If you embezzled money from your employer and we’re terminated, I doubt you would get a happy hour send off. The invitation to the company holiday party would probably not come nor the Xmas bonus. Most likely you would end up in jail. Because you committed a crime. That is how the real world works.
      But we are learning that the AOP is not the real world.
      Crimes as called sins.
      You are banished to a life of prayer and penance – paid for by dollars contributed by faithful Catholics.
      You still receive your pension.
      And, when you die, the Archbishop says your funeral.
      Explain to me how this feels right?

    3. So if I murder the bastard Jesuit who raped me at age 11, you nor anyone elsecan judge me, you and everyone are required, in your words “by God ” to forgive me, and the Archbishop will celebrate my Requiem Mass ?

      1. If you were a practicing Catholic you would be entitled to Mass by your pastor. The Archbishop is the normal celebrant for a ordained priest. If the priest has been removed from this office, as a priest, then no the Archbishop would not be the celebrant but then parish priest would be. As the man was not removed, the archbishop then has the duty to be the celebrant as is common practice.

        1. Gerald,
          V Roberts is probably more judgmental of someone who cuts him off in traffic than he is of a child rapist. Obviously he/she did not even read the blog post where it cites dioceses where the Archbishop appoints the celebrant, but does not celebrate the funerals of removed priests.
          When you see how V Roberts responded to you technically ( and incorrectly) and ignores the fact that you have stated your own abuse…you pick up on the personality of this individual. His/her comments that we moderate into the trash are condemning, judgmental, and lack any horror or compassion of child sex abuse ….that always sets my radar high. Disgust of child rape is a knee jerk reaction of 99% of most people. You’re
          interacting with the 1% with V Roberts.

          1. Sorry you feel the way you do. My response is because of the hate you and others feel. It is not your place to judge the spiritual position of a person and their relationship. with G-d.
            I did read the post. Kathy has no respect for men of the cloth.
            She can have her opinion but as I can. I will not condemn a man or Bishop who wants to celebrate Mass for a fallen priest. If that is what he wants to do, so be it.
            As for what the practice is in other places, that is not my concern. N it does Kathy have the right t I bring it up too cause people to lose faith in the Church n it then bishop.
            Scripture does not give me the right to judge the priest spiritually.
            I am not going to tell the bishop in a blog that can cause a loss of faith for others.
            If I have something to say I will write a letter or send an email to him not undermine his authority in a blog.

      2. If a blog post will cause people to lose their faith, or faith in the Archbishop, then there is a larger problem at play. You certainly give me a lot of power VRobert/ V Myer. I had no idea some thoughts on a blog and some good policy of other dioceses would be so threatening. Actual policy of other dioceses that allows for funeral mass while doing so in a discreet manner.
        Policy which I have suggested in emails for several years to the Archdiocese.
        No need to comment under various names and every 5 minutes like you did one night. The hold the blog has on you is certainly fascinating.

  5. Thank you Kathy for keeping us informed This coming on the heels of the disgusting cover up of a serial abuser by Benedict. Of course the secular press and cable news ignored this horrible story. The investigation of this cover up was commissioned by archdiocese of Munich so people can’t say the facts were slanted. God bless those thousands of victims worldwide.

  6. Thank you Kathy for shining a light on this callous, selfish move by Perez. Like so much that the Catholic hierarchy does, this deliberate decision (the funeral, the honors) only makes it harder for victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to speak up and thus makes more abuse and cover up likely.

Leave a Reply