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Archdiocese Of Philadelphia Suspends 21 Priests In Renewed Probe Of Sex Abuse Claims

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Philadelphia District Attorney calls the suspension of 21 priests ‘unprecedented.’

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Tuesday the suspension from ministry of 21 priests cited by a Philadelphia Grand Jury report last month as ducking what the panel believed were credible accusations of abuse.

A statement issued by the Archdiocese says Cardinal Justin Rigali has suspended the priests from active ministry pending a further review of allegations of child sex abuse raised against the priests but dismissed by an archdiocesan review board which ruled those complaints not credible.

Read the full statement of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (.pdf)

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams calls the move a good first step.

“Where those investigations go, and how they result will be more definitive of what the actions of the Archdiocese will be,” Williams said.

On February 16th, Rigali announced that three priests — Father Joseph DiGregoria, Father Joseph Gallagher, and Father Stephen Perzan, all of whom were specifically named in the Grand Jury report — were being suspended from public exercise of their ministry pending a second review of their cases.

At that time, Rigali stated that the Archdiocese planned a re-review of the 34 other cases of priest child sex abuse cited by the grand jury’s review of those files as being credible (see related story).

According to the statement from the Archdiocese, five other priests would have been subject to suspension, but one is already on leave and two others are said to be incapacitated and have not been in active ministry.

Two others are members of a religious order which has not been identified and are no longer serving in the archdiocese, according to the statement, but their superiors have been notified as well as bishops of the dioceses where they are living.

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The Archdiocese says the eight remaining priests cited by the Grand Jury will not be suspended and that the initial independent examination of those cases found no further investigation warranted.

Rigali’s actions Tuesday were recommended by Gina Maisto Smith, a former Philadelphia assistant DA who handled sex abuse crimes while a prosecutor. She was hired last month after the Grand Jury report to advise the Archdiocese on these matters (see related story).

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (“SNAP”), calls Rigali’s move a long overdue step which will make children safer in the short term.

But he says much more remains to be done.

“Suspending credibly accused child molesters is just a smart defense move and it’s great PR and it’s something, frankly, that Rigali has no choice but to do,” Clohessy told KYW Newsradio.

Cardinal Justin Rigali’s statement in part reads: “I know that for many people their trust in the church has been shaken.” “The 2011 grand jury report … presented us with serious concerns that demand a decisive response.”

“Most of us who were abused think we are alone,” Barbra Blaine, President of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said.

She is upset with the Archdiocese’s decision to only release the names of the 21 priests suspended to their effected parishes.

The Archdiocese has declined to name the priests who were removed from active ministry. Sources say they began getting notifications Monday morning and were told to clear out of their parishes by 5 p.m. Monday.

“We will be doing that on Ash Wednesday and we will be doing that this following Sunday.” Archdiocese spokesperson Donna Farrell said.

“If names were released (made public) we suspect more victims would come forward,” Blaine said.

Lawyer Gina Maisto Smith has been hired by the church to investigate the allegations.

As a former city assistant district attorney, she prosecuted child sexual abuse cases.

“It’s very difficult before a thorough investigation is done to make a decision and announce a name,” Maisto Smith said.

The announcement came on the eve of Ash Wednesday, the start of the Roman Catholic Church’s 40-day observance of Lent, a time of penance, prayer and sacrifice.

One Catholic journalist who is following the latest developments quotes one veteran priest as saying, “We are in the midst of an earthquake” as news of the removal of the priests began to circulate in the archdiocese Tuesday.

Also, due to the statute of limitations, none of the priests will face criminal charges.

Reported by Mark Abrams, KYW Newsradio; Todd Quinones, CBS 3

Top Content On CBSPhilly

  • Cardinal Rigali Tells Parishioners on Ash Wednesday, 'Protection of Children Is Paramount'CBS Philly

    […] The cardinal says the 21 priests he suspended on Tuesday will have their cases — raised by the grand jury as a cause for concern — re-reviewed by a former child sex abuse prosecutor (see related story). […]

  • Guess Who

    When it comes to sexual perversion, the chosen are overrepresented. And the MSM never mention the White slavery and Ecstasy rings operating out of Itzalie.

  • Cosmokitten

    affected not effected

  • Jay

    This from a Blog. Jewish organization place their internal courts (Beth din) to protect rich, powerful men, silence debate, and oppress women and children. Among the Orthodox, these child and spousal sex abuse and abuse cases rarely if ever never make it to the secular courts. It is considered sinful and punishable if you defame a fellow Jews or seek justice from another, unbiased source.The community will isolate and reject you. Read the Jewish Exponent or follow this link to understand more why Jewish child sex abuse survivors and victims are not getting the justice or support they deserve..

    WARNING: Jewish Board of Advocates For Children –

    I was recently made aware of an orthodox group posing as advocates for children who were sexually abused.

    The group “Jewish Board of Advocates For Children” is made up of those affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), Agudath Israel of America and Ohel. All three are problematic organizations.

    If you are a parent or a survivor be aware that this new organization is more concerned with protecting the assets of various orthodox organizations then they are with advocating for those who have been abused and or protecting children.

  • Ken

    Here is another story and link. This is within the Muslim culture – but again KYW and the media will not report heavily on this because they fear the Muslims will visit violence on them. Also, I cannot imagine how much of the money the US has sent as aid found its way into support this type of abuse. I wish KYW and the media would handle these cases as abuse of children across all social, political, and religious – and not make it a wholey Catholic issue to the exclusion of Muslims, Jews, and Protestants.
    Maybe this behavior is better tolerated within the Jewish and Muslim communities. I mean I do not see a lot of coverage or outrage from the members of these commmunities about the abuse of their children. Children, regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity deserve equal protection from the police, courts, and social services.

    The Dancing Boys of Afganistan
    It’s an ancient practice, secretly revived–young boys sold by families to ‘entertain’ wealthy merchants and warlords. An undercover investigation into this illicit sex trade…

  • Me

    Supporting the killing of innocents is not living in the state of grace which is what is called for to receive Eucharist

  • Pjmccrwa

    Most convicted child molesters are married white males. In studies 4% of men are allegedly child molesters with 3% of them being married white males. Priests are such a low percentage but due to media they really are under the microscope. Parents, do not assume because your child is sleeping at a friends house and their parents are married that they are safe…….. There are a lot of sick people in this world we live in.

    • Jay

      Very true – But the media’s audience and its editors/owners are unwilling to place their oun dominant religion, race, ethic identity under the same scrutiny. They do not want to alienate their top reader demographic or their advertsers. CNN did a piece on the Israeli lobby, and it was met with such an outcry, wealthy, influential organizations and business pulled advertising cancelled subscriptions, etc. This is the censorship we endore. Apparently the Catholic Church does not have the power, will, or clout to cover up their sins. Other groups, with the complicity of KYW and the media, do a much better job of sweeping this all under the carpet. I am glad to see more posts of those who understant this process

  • Trish

    Now when are they going to go after all the teachers and other chruch denominations that also abuse children? My bet, never.

    • Frank

      Agreed – See below a story of a rabbi in Philadelphia who has a history of child rape – if you search KYW you will not find any story.
      Rabbi Stanley Z. Levitt (AKA: Shmuel Levitt) Accused of Assaulting Another Boy
      Rabbi Accused Of Assaulting Another Boy
      Man To Face Charges In Brighton Incident
      WCVBTV (Boston) – June 30, 2010

      BOSTON — A rabbi who once taught schoolchildren in Brookline was accused of assaulting a child in Brighton more than 30 years ago, bringing the number of his alleged victims to three.

      Stanley Levitt, 64, of Philadelphia, was arraigned Wednesday on one charge of indecent assault and battery on a child, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said. It is the fifth such indictment currently pending against him in Suffolk County.

      Levitt was indicted late last year on four counts of the same offense representing offenses he allegedly committed upon two other boys. The latest victim came forward after viewing media reports of the prior cases, according to Assistant District Attorney Wayne Margolis.

      Margolis said that the alleged abuse took place during the 1975-1976 academic year, when the victim was a student at the Maimonides School in Brookline.

      Levitt, who lived on Chiswick Road in Brighton, taught at that school from 1974 to 1977. He left Massachusetts at some point thereafter, eventually making his way to Philadelphia.

      “The victim recalls that he was invited with several other boys to attend a sleepover and study session at the defendant’s home,” Margolis said. “The defendant instructed all the boys to shower before going to bed. When the victim exited the shower, the defendant was standing there with a towel and said he needed to towel the defendant off.”

      It was at that point that Levitt allegedly assaulted the boy, Margolis said.

      Margolis led the grand jury investigation that resulted in the most recent indictment and the four that preceded it. Last year’s indictments allege that Levitt went to visit one injured student in a Boston hospital and sexually assaulted him and that he assaulted a different boy three times during the course of a weekend visit to Levitt’s home while the boy’s parents were out of town. Those alleged incidents took place in 1975. All of the victims were about 11 years old.

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