Philadelphia tries to recover from sexual abuse morass

July 2, 2012

The clergy sexual abuse scandal "has caused terrible suffering for victims, demoralized many of our clergy, crippled the witness of the Church and humiliated the whole Catholic community" in Philadelphia, says Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Chaput made his remarks during a June 20 keynote address in the Catholic Media Conference in Indianapolis.

Archbishop of Philadelphia for the past year, Chaput said "As a bishop, the only honest way I can talk about the abuse tragedy is to start by apologizing for the failure of the Church and her leaders – apologizing to victims, and apologizing to the Catholic community. And I do that again here, today."

At the same time, Chaput praised Cardinal Justin Rigali, his immediate predecessor in Philadelphia, for his efforts in 2011 "to reach out to victims and prevent abuse in the future (which) is strong by any professional standard."

Chaput went to argue that the clergy sexual abuse crisis "masks other problems that also run very deep" in a "troubled Catholic culture."

The problems, he said "began building decades ago" when "the Church in the United States became powerful and secure. And Catholics became less and less invested in the Church that their own parents and grandparents helped to build."

The blame for this problem, he said, can be assigned both to Church leaders "for a spirit of complacency and inertia, clericalism, even arrogance" and to lay Catholics who "have been greedy to lose themselves in America's culture of consumerism and success."

"The result," Chaput said, "is that Philadelphia, like so much of the Church in the rest of our country, is now really mission territory again – for the second time."

The day after his talk, Chaput announced a reorganization of the archdiocesan administration that will result in the loss of 40 jobs and the closing of The Catholic Standard & Times, the 117-year-old archdiocesan newspaper.

The archdiocese faced a shortfall of $17 million between expected revenue and expenses, not including more than $11 million in legal fees over the past year.


A day later, June 22, a Philadelphia jury found Msgr. William Lynn guilty on one charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

Lynn becomes the first high-ranking Catholic clergyman in the United States to be convicted of a crime associated with the handling of priests accused of child sexual abuse, though he himself faced no charge of abuse.

Lynn faces a sentence of six months to seven years for his conviction.

The charge of child endangerment for which the jury found Lynn guilty stemmed from the case of former priest Edward Avery, 69, who was earlier convicted of sexual assault on an altar boy.

Jurors declared, in effect, that Lynn should have done more to prevent the abuse.

The jury acquitted Lynn of the charge of conspiracy with Avery and other archdiocesan officials and of a second child endangerment charge concerning the case of Father James Brennan, 48.

The position of secretary for clergy that Lynn held from 1992 to 2004 reported up a chain of command in the archdiocesan administration to the former archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died in January.

In March 2011, a group of 26 priests in Philadelphia were placed on administrative leave following a grand jury report that revealed the Philadelphia Archdiocese's failure to address allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse of minors by some priests.