Criminal Prosecutor Hired By Church Speaks Out About Sex Abuse Case
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – For nearly two decades, Gina Maisto Smith prosecuted cases of childhood sexual abuse in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
She is a mother of five. She is also a Catholic, and for the next few months at least, Smith will be investigating possible cases of sexual abuse in her own church.
Cardinal Justin Rigali hired her this week after a Philadelphia Grand Jury found the Church might be turning a blind eye to such cases, despite convincing evidence.
That Grand Jury indicted three priests, a monsignor, and a former Catholic school teacher last week after investigating a new round of abuse allegations. However, the most disturbing finding of the Grand Jury’s report was that the Archdiocesan review board may have been ignoring evidence of sexual abuse, including lie detector tests, to acquit priests.
The Cardinal has asked Smith to reopen 37 cases, including three highlighted by the Grand Jury. The three priests involved in those cases – Father Joseph DiGregorio from Stella Maris in South Philadelphia, Father Stephen Perzan from St. Helena’s in East Oak Lane and retired Father Joseph Gallagher – have been suspended by the Cardinal pending Smith’s investigation.
“I can think of nothing more that I should be doing right now,” said Smith.
She is currently a partner at the Center City law firm Ballard Spahr, having left the District Attorney’s office in 2006. “I am a person that’s made up of many experiences, and [the allegations are] disturbing across the board to any person, not necessarily a Catholic.”
Despite her connection to the Church, she believes she can objectively investigate the cases of possible abuse.
“What’s right is right,” she said. “There are no lines to be drawn. I will not turn my back on child sexual abuse or allegations of a cover-up.”
Members of the Survivors Networks of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said this is still an “underwhelming” move by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Some called on the Cardinal to suspend all 37 priests in the cases involved.
Bishop Daniel Thomas of the Archdiocese said he hopes bringing in a former criminal prosecutor demonstrates “the seriousness with which the Archdiocese takes this.” Thomas said it’s important to remember that the recent Grand Jury report was the result of the Archdiocese alerting the District Attorney to possible cases of abuse.
To this point, the Archdiocese’s board that reviews allegations of sexual abuse has been made up of seven members, but several of them (at least three by the count of Eyewitness News) work full-time for the Archdiocese. Eyewitness News asked Bishop Thomas if that is a conflict of interest.
“Well, the Archdiocesan review board includes a varied different number of people,” he said. “They include some lay people, at least one pastor and some non-Catholics.”
The Archdiocese declined to reveal how much it is paying Smith. She says she does not know how long her investigation will take.
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Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3