Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, announced yesterday that he will suspend 21 priests accused of sexually abusing minors. The suspension follows the release of a grand jury report last month that alleged that the archdiocese was involved in an extensive cover-up of the sexual misconduct of as many as 37 priests. According to Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, “The mass suspension was the single-most sweeping in the history of the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.”
Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, stated, “if some credibly accused predator priests are suspended, it will be a small step forward made terribly late and only due to massive pressure. It’s a very belated and begrudging beginning – nothing more. And we do an enormous disservice to many innocent kids and still-suffering adults if we even begin to feel complacent because of this one small step.”
The grand jury report also accused Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary to the clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, of two counts “endangering the welfare of a child.” This is the first time a high-ranking official in the Roman Catholic Church is facing sexual abuse charges in the US for the failure to protect children. Charges were also filed against three priests and a parochial schoolteacher for raping boys as young as ten-years-old over the course of several years.
In 2005, a grand jury report was filed against the Philadelphia Archdiocese and Monsignor Lynn, accusing Lynn of concealing the sexual crimes of the priests within his laity. However, the charges were dropped due to Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations since the incidents had occurred 11 years prior.