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Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Sex-Abuse Chair Blasts Cardinal

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(Cardinal Justin Rigali conducts an Ash Wednesday mass in 2011.  Image from Archdiocese of Phila. TV)

(Cardinal Justin Rigali conducts an Ash Wednesday mass in 2011. Image from Archdiocese of Phila. TV)

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) – The head of the Philadelphia archdiocese’s panel on priest sex-abuse is blasting the cardinal’s response to the pedophilia crisis, and pulling back the curtain on the panel’s long-secret operations.

Cardinal Justin Rigali and his bishops “failed miserably at being open and transparent,” review board chairwoman Ana Maria Catanzaro wrote this week in the lay Catholic magazine Commonweal.

“What will it take for bishops to accept that their attitude of superiority and privilege only harms their image and the church’s?” Catanzaro wrote in an article titled “The Fog of Scandal.”

A grand jury this year criticized the panel and church officials for leaving dozens of problem priests in ministry.

But Catanzaro said the lay board never saw most of them because the archdiocese prescreened which cases they reviewed.

“She should feel very, very used,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a Duquesne University law professor who once served as counsel to the Pittsburgh archdiocese. “They’re being asked to give credibility to a process that is supposed to involve them but didn’t.”

The Philadelphia grand jury charged two priests, an ex-priest and a teacher with rape and a monsignor with endangering children through priest transfers. The report said 37 suspected abusers remained on duty.

Rigali, in response, said he knew of no priest still working in the archdiocese with “an admitted or established accusation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.” But he later suspended about 24 priests.

The archdiocese said Friday its review of abuse complaints against priests continues to evolve. The church has hired a second former city prosecutor, Albert Toczydlowski, to ensure that complaints are thoroughly investigated and sent to the review board in a timely fashion, the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese also said it wouldn’t investigate a complaint until law enforcement authorities had completed their investigation.

“The observations of Dr. Catanzaro and other review board members are critical to implementing the best possible methods,” the church said in a statement.

Catanzaro has spent eight years on the review board, which makes recommendations to Rigali on whether priests should remain in ministry. She faulted church officials for focusing on lawsuits and liability concerns instead of ridding the church of pedophiles.

Catanzaro also complained that the panel is told to weigh church, or canon, law on the subject of sexual abuse, not civil law, leading to what she called heated arguments between panel members and three canon lawyers who assist the panel.

“We should expect better from the church and from our bishops. Although concerns about liability can be legitimate, addressing the abuse scandal from a legalistic perspective focused on protecting the archdiocese from liability is simply wrong,” she wrote.

Catanzaro earned a doctorate in nursing at Catholic University and a master’s degree in moral studies from the archdiocese’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. She directs the graduate nursing program at Holy Family University. She did not return messages from The Associated Press on Friday.

Rigali’s predecessor, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, named her to the panel when it was formed along with others across the country. She remains the chairwoman, despite what she described as recent soul-searching by her and other panel members about whether to resign.

She said the panel never saw psychological reports or other files on the accused priests, which she said might have helped the panel discover patterns of inappropriate behavior.

An earlier grand jury report in 2005 said 63 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese had been credibly accused of sexual abuse over several decades. None were charged with crimes because of the time that had elapsed.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment Friday on the Commonweal article because of a gag order in the criminal case.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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