Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The archbishop of Philadelphia has suspended 21 priests connected to allegations of child sex abuse. Yesterday's move was the latest in a series of actions by the archdiocese to deal with findings in a grand jury report released last month. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Fiedler reports.

ELIZABETH FIEDLER: Cardinal Justin Rigali says he's sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse and is determined to work for a solution that deals effectively with this issue in the church. Rigali says he knows, for many people, their trust in the church has been shaken and he prays his efforts to address their concerns will help rebuild that trust.

Rigali took the actions after a grand jury report accused a monsignor, three priests and a parochial school teacher of abusing kids or failing to prevent abuse by others. It also said that as many as 37 priests remained in active ministry with allegations or reports of inappropriate behavior or sexual abuse of minors.

To review cases of accused priests in active ministry, the archdiocese brought on Gina Maisto Smith, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney, who prosecuted child sexual assault cases.

Ms. GINA MAISTO SMITH: I conducted, with my team and the assistance of a forensic psychiatrist, the initial review, and I made recommendations to the cardinal based on that initial review, and he accepted those recommendations.

FIEDLER: In addition to the 21 suspended priests, three others were placed on administrative leave after the report was released in February. The archdiocese says eight priests were not placed on leave because the initial independent examination of the cases found no further investigation is warranted.

Mr. DAVID CLOHESSY (Executive director, SNAP): It would be incredibly naive for anybody to think that the mere suspension of these men somehow signifies a new day in the archdiocese.

FIEDLER: That's David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Mr. CLOHESSY: Anytime a credibly accused child molester is publicly identified or suspended, kids are safer. However, it's crucial to remember that the grand jury found widespread fault, and deceit, and recklessness by church officials. So while this is a long overdue and welcomed step, it's only a very partial first step.

FIEDLER: Patrick Wall calls this a historic moment. He's a former Roman Catholic priest who is now a canon lawyer in California. He has worked on priest sex abuse cases across the country. He says the Grand Jury report and the moves by the archdiocese are significant.

Mr. PATRICK WALL (Attorney): This report takes it to another level because they go after the Vicar for Clergy. That person who has the authority of the archbishop, Justin Rigali, to, you know, handle priest affairs and priest assignments and that person, now, is being called to justice.

FIEDLER: And, Wall says, the Philadelphia situation could affect litigation across the U.S.

Mr. WALL: It really does change the face of things, because not only can we look to the bishop or the religious superior, but now we can specifically look at how different lower mid-level managers could be charged with child endangerment.

FIEDLER: Gina Maisto Smith will now lead a team of experts to investigate each of the cases, to determine if the priests should be returned to ministry or removed from ministry.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Fiedler in Philadelphia.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.