PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is placing three priests on leave, investigating them and 34 others, and making more changes in response to last week’s scathing grand jury report on clergy sex abuse.
Fathers Joseph DiGregorio, Stephen Perzan, and Joseph Gallagher have been placed on administrative leave. Their alleged misdeeds are detailed in the grand jury report (see related story) and are now being held as examples of 37 priests still in active ministry, despite what the grand jury found to be “credible” abuse accusations against them.
“I’m confident that both the archdiocese and the Cardinal (Justin Rigali) are committed to responding to this issue properly to protect children,” says Gina Smith, a veteran former Philadelphia prosecutor of child sex assault cases who has been hired by the archdiocese to take another look at sex abuse allegations against priests in the Philadelphia area, and review the church’s response. Church investigators had previously said they could not substantiate the allegations.
Smith says she has been given the “freedom” as an outsider to do that job.
In a statement, Cardinal Rigali admits “there is still much to do” to prevent abuse and help victims, but he says the church does “understand the gravity” of these crimes against children.
A city grand jury last week charged four current or former priests and a teacher with raping boys in the late 1990s or endangering children by covering up the crimes.
Smith is a veteran of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, which issued last week’s grand jury report.
Following today’s announcement by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, an advocacy group for victims of priest sex abuse calls the steps outlined by the archdiocese “very belated and begrudging.”
“We would feel much more reassured if Rigali did what he and his brother bishops promised to do long ago, which is to suspend the credibly accused priests first — all of them — and then look more closely at the allegations,” said David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP (“Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”).
He says the sex abuse prevention policies and reporting procedures at dioceses across the country have a history of rarely guiding the behavior of church officials, and he says today’s moves by the archdiocese merely reflect a pattern of church officials acting only when pressured to do so by bad publicity.
“Based on months and months of research and evidence and testimony, these 37 men are in fact credibly accused child molestors, and should be removed from ministry — and should have been removed a long, long time ago,” said Clohessy.
Reported by Ian Bush, KYW Newsradio 1060.