Five Philly Priests Removed For Sex Abuse Allegations

The Archbishop of Philadelphia announced on Friday that five priests were unsuitable for ministry because of substantiated sexual abuse allegations — or other inappropriate conduct. Those named on Friday were among some two dozen suspended last year, pending the Archbishop's investigation into abuse accusations.

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The Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia announced today that he is removing five priests from ministry. Charles Chaput said investigations into other priests accused of abuse will continue.

But as NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, victims' advocates are not satisfied.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, BYLINE: Last February, a grand jury in Philadelphia issued a scathing report, saying that 37 priests had been allowed to stay in ministry after they had been accused of abusing or acting inappropriately with children. Some of the priests had moved or left the diocese or were already out of ministry. But the archdiocese suspended 26 of them while it investigated.

Today, Archbishop Chaput announced the preliminary results. Five priests are being removed from ministry for abuse or crossing boundaries. Three priests have been exonerated and will return to ministry. One priest has died. As for the rest, Chaput said those investigations are not complete, and he'll decide their fates in the next few weeks or longer.

The archbishop said this won't remove the pain and he apologized.

ARCHBISHOP CHARLES CHAPUT: When a child is harmed the church has failed. When trust is lost the church has failed. When the whole community suffers as a result, the church has failed.

HAGERTY: Gina Maisto Smith, a former child abuse prosecutor, is heading the church's investigation. She said her team reviewed more than 400,000 documents and interviewed more than 225 witnesses. She said the church did not try to influence or direct their investigation.

GINA MAISTO SMITH: I was given total freedom, constant support, and unfettered access to both individuals and documents at every step of the process.

TERRENCE MCKIERNAN: This was really a dog and pony show with very little nutritional content.

HAGERTY: Terrence McKiernan is at BishopsAccountability.org, a watchdog group.

MCKIERNAN: People need details about these allegations. People need to know the reasons why a person has been kept in ministry or removed from ministry.

HAGERTY: Instead, the archbishop listed a few names and vague details, whether there was evidence of either abuse or violating the quote, "standards of ministerial behavior and boundaries," but nothing more.

The archbishop said he was being careful to protect the alleged victims, and to abide by a gag order in a criminal trial already underway; explanations that McKiernan does not buy. Chaput also promised vigorous reforms so that priests do not slip through the cracks in the future, although watchdog groups say those, too, seem a little vague.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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