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.
MISLEADING & TONE-DEAF ANNOUNCEMENT
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.
OTHER DIOCESES GET FUNERAL RITES GUIDELINES RIGHT
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.