Catholics in Crisis: Sex and Deception in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

As the Archdiocese reels from a second grand jury report detailing its cover-up of sexual abuse by priests, the local church faces the biggest crisis in its history. How could a spiritual institution turn a blind eye to evil not just once, but twice? The answer lies in the story of the two men who’ve led the Catholic Church in Philadelphia for the past 25 years

"Is this true?"

In February, at a hastily convened meeting of Catholic Church lawyers and administrators in Center City, that was the first question Cardinal Justin Rigali asked. And he needed an answer quickly.

The district attorney’s office had just released a grand jury report about local Catholic priests sexually abusing minors. It was not, of course, the first such grand jury report—that one, released in 2005, laid out in great detail not only how priests in the city’s archdiocese had abused children, but also how that abuse had been covered up under the direction of tough-minded Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Instead of being reported to the DA’s office, pedophile priests were moved—sometimes repeatedly, from parish to parish to parish. Abusive priests kept right on abusing children.

And now this second grand jury report, six years later, was much shorter than the first, yet in some ways it was more devastating, because the central charge was the same: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia still allowed alleged pedophile priests—37 of them, the report said—to continue ministering to children. What’s more, the DA’s office was charging a monsignor, William Lynn, along with three priests and a parish teacher, with crimes related to sexual abuse. (All five have pleaded not guilty.) The monsignor’s indictment was especially telling. For much of the ’90s, Lynn reported directly to Cardinal Bevilacqua, and he was the first member of Church hierarchy in this country to be indicted as part of the sexual-abuse scandal. The point was inescapable: Something was very wrong with the way the archdiocese had been run. And with how it is still being run.

Which is why Cardinal Rigali, who succeeded Bevilacqua in overseeing the archdiocese in 2003, asked, at the meeting of Church lawyers and administrators in February, “Is this true? Is this true that we have 37 priests that have these credible allegations?”

The cardinal is careful, quiet, polite and, especially, dutiful, so the hideous possibility of this scandal opening up all over again was almost too much. “You could have knocked him over with a feather at that moment,” says one person who was at the meeting.

But the cardinal was immediately assured by several people there: It was most certainly not true about those 37 priests. So he issued a statement. There are, Rigali decreed, “no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”

But then, a month later, after the archdiocese conducted an internal investigation of accused priests, Rigali suspended 21 of them.

When the cardinal made the announcement about those 21, he declined to name them, but he did add something that no one had cause to dispute: “I know that for many people, their trust in the Church has been shaken.”

SEXUAL ABUSE OF A child by a trusted adult—in the case of a priest, a revered adult—is horrible enough. But piled on top of that are two layers­ of egregious behavior that are also mind-boggling. How is it that the Catholic Church in Philadelphia—­part of the most important Christian institution in the world—would cover up sexual abuse by priests? And then, when that was exposed, go right on covering it up?

At this point, a raft of books has been written searching for answers, because the way the Church handles sex generally—and sex abuse in particular—is not a new problem, and it’s not unique to Philadelphia.

Those answers turn out to be both strange and ugly. The Church’s protection of priests who sexually abuse children is a testament to its completely insular control and power apart from civil society. The Church takes care of its own, in other words, and that fact leads to a cruel bottom line: Maintaining the institution’s standing in the world is more important than taking care of victims of sexual abuse.

That’s why the Philadelphia archdiocese is now facing the greatest crisis in its history. It’s a lot to ask of parishioners—to continue kneeling before a classic top-down power structure controlled by men who wear medieval robes and sit on thrones and rule with unquestioned authority. Especially when that authority­ so pointedly fails their children.

And the crisis has spread beyond parishioners, because many priests in the archdiocese are just as enraged at how Church leadership has mishandled the scandal, and the awkward position it has put all of them in. It’s a very sad day when walking down the street wearing your collar has become a questionable decision.

So how did it come to that? The crisis can best be understood not just through the victims, but through the two men who have led the archdiocese through the past quarter century. Anthony Bevilacqua, arrogant and cocksure, and Justin Rigali, timid and duty-bound, reflect quite different sides of the institution and how it operates. Through them, the story of the local Church’s crisis unfolds, and it raises yet another question: Will the Catholic Church as we know it survive in Philadelphia?

JOE IS NOW 59 years old; his health is fragile—he’s had two heart attacks. He’s a small man, with straight brown hair combed to the side, like a boy’s. For the past few months, Joe’s been in therapy—ever since he came out with his story, at his church’s men’s group in Manayunk, of being abused. Putting words to his thoughts is not easy for him. His voice seems to escape, barely, from the side of his mouth as he tells his story again in a back booth at Michael’s Ridge Diner in Roxborough.

He was small and quiet and dumb—or at least the nuns at Roman Catholic High School said he was dumb. He was in ninth grade in 1968, barely getting by. Father Schmeer was a guidance counselor. He would call boys down to his office for supposedly skipping English class. One day, it was Joe’s turn. He knew what was about to happen, because other boys had been there. Or he didn’t know exactly, but he was about to find out.

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  • Louis

    Centuries ago Jesus played a huge practical joke on the world and many believed him.

  • Susan

    Finally – a glimpse into the inner workings of the Philly Archdiocese. This rings true with my experience at the archdiocese and there’s so much more. Time to clean God’s house. Sex abuse and cover ups have no place in our faith. Catholics4Change.com

  • david

    Let’s hope that every person who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes and cover ups in Philly will find the courage and strength to speak up, call police, expose wrongdoing, protect kids and start healing. David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell (SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

  • Ed

    The RCC heirarchy will not reform. The only choice is to leave. If fear prevents that at least stop contributing money to their coffers

    • Bill

      Agreed…try to find a Bible-Believing church and find Christ in the Word of God.

  • Patrick

    Great reporting, revealing more of the truth.

    When the priests and bishops in the Catholic church are breaking God’s laws, it’s time for the congregation to remove them. This is just more proof that

    – priests raped thousands of children in the US alone
    – bishops knew and moved known pedophiles
    – they lied and misled the congregation
    – they ignored the victims

    All of these things are clearly and diametrically oppposed to what Jesus would do.

    This isn’t complicated. God wants the congregation to get rid of every bishop and replace them with respectable, honorable ones that will recreate a church that future generations will follow. Otherwise, future generations are going to ignore this church.

    Pick a side – you either side with pedophile priests and lying bishops who break God’s lawa, or you side with God’s laws, and help the innocent child victims. It’s an amazingly clear choice for a Christian.

  • arthur

    I am amazed that the PA Legislature based the facts has refused to act given the record of abuse and cover up by the ‘rcc’ what will it take ? Does it have to happen to a child in their family ? How anyone can continue to contribute to this criminal organization is beyond comprehension. Thank you Mr. HUber for this article.

  • MICHAEL

    But senior counsel to the archdiocese, William Sasso, is designated as an “Innocence Protector” on the website of “Mission Kids”, a Montco children’s agency that supports victims of sexual abuse.

  • Kathy

    A new low even for the Archdiocese. Donna Farrell’s response is a defense of the indefensible. Chilren were raped and the AD is concerned that some things were factuallu inaccurate in an article. When will they get? They won’t- and they continue to make that clearer everyday.

    • Bill

      Exactly! Amen!

  • MICHAEL

    “….readers looking for honest, in-depth reporting….” Sure, Donna, like you would know anything about “…readers looking for honest, in-depth reporting…”

  • MICHAEL

    Mr. Huber chose to omit these perspectives from his piece — which left it “sensational, wildly unfair, and incomplete.” Now here is Ms. Farrell’s area of expertise…”sensational, wildly unf

  • Patrick

    Donna from the Archdiocese,

    Please clarify what is untrue. Those of us that read even the first 6 pages of the Philadelphia Grand Jury report at http://bit.ly/jyfXni were horrified at what we read.

    They made it clear that priests weren’t “inappropriately touching”, but were raping children. The archdiocese knew, yet ignored it and moved known pedophiles.

    Cardinal Rigali made everyone feel safe when he said that “no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”

    A month later, it was clear that he was lying. He may have been misinformed, but it is his job to get the truth. The truth was in the report, and he waited until we all got it a month later to suspend 37 priests.

    Worse yet, he didn’t say which priests or why, which is consistent with the Catholic church policy of hiding the truth. You make us dig for the truth. We find it (in the report) and its uglier than we could have imagined.

    Rigali says trust in the church “is shaken”.

    Trust in the church is gone. We don’t trust you with our…

  • Ellen

    The abuse was awful, no denial. But whoever wrote this doesn’t seem to know much about the church. Doyle in line to be a cardinal? Very, very few American who work in the nunciature in DC have become bishops. That was very unlikely, regardless of who he is (now an ex priest). A small thing, but one example of many statements that tells people who know the Church the author does not. I think this is a serious topic, but the extended, and unsubstantiated rumors about a woman, etc. made no sense, and didn’t relate to the article. I think this was a piece of trash. I’m really surprised Philadelphia printed it. It’s a serious topic and deserves a thoughtful article, not TMZ.

  • jim

    Did or did not Tony spend alot of time with that women? That is all the article said. The AD was asked to comment and refused! IF the article in incorret, then the AD should sue for slander. Wouldn’t that be a great trial? We could all find out the truth. Donna Farrell it is time to put up or shut up. Sue or stop saying the article is wrong.

  • Scott

    Anyone taken in by this reporter is extremely gullible, it is just too apparent that this is agenda, sensationalistic reporting of innuendos. There is plenty to criticize about the Archdiocese and the handling of the sex abuse scandal but this report is laughable.

  • James

    I am NOT Catholic… I do NOT in any way excuse the acts of bad priests and bishops. I do however see how poorly written this piece actually is- This article is completely based on unsubstantiated facts, rumors and opinions. Helen Keller could have seen the glaring agenda from this article a mile away! The problem with the sex abuse crisis in Philadelphia is that people are either furious and blinded by their already present hatred towards the catholic church -OR- they have their heads buried in the sand and believe that the hierarchy could “never” do anything wrong. There must be a middle road. I have only read a few articles that present the crisis in a fair, balanced and actually ACCURATE light. But what did i expect from a magazine that is 9.00 for a two year subscription.

    • Bill

      Yet here we are now almost a year later and things are hitting the fan inside the court room. The transcripts should make everyones skin crawl. I for one am glad that this article was written. We need to stop beating around the bush. This is only one tip of many icebergs. These men who pose as Men of God and raping children deserve what they get…and the Fraternity that aids and abeds these Pedophile Imposter Priests really need to be put away in the slammer…sooner than later.

  • Rich

    How about the crisis for the victims? How horrible do you think our lives have been? Where are the Catholics who are demanding the truth from their leaders? http://www.Victims4Jusice.org

  • arthur

    Yes what about the VICTIMS and the STRANGLEHOLD that the catholic conference of bishops the lobbying group headed by ‘rigali’ has on the PA Legislature , ‘rigali is doing everything that money can buy to prevent the ‘rcc’ from being held accountable for ABUSE and COVER UP ? Everything else is just smoke and mirrors !

  • George

    Having been in seminary in the early ’80’s the claims about obedience do not ring true. My experience from the 70’s to now is that clerics act disobediently with abandon. No priest I know ‘fears’ acting against a bishop, cardinal or pope. On the other hand, only recently have I seen bishops who seem to act out of anything but self-interest. The article is seriously flawed, but that does not make the problem any less devastating.

  • L

    After receiving no support from the Archdiocese and from parish council, St. Martin of Tours School in New Hope closes. Yet somehow the support remains for Schmeer. The archdiocese has failed in its mission to educate and protect our children. Why would any parent choose to send a child to a diocesan school?

  • Kate

    Regardless of the fact that many of the comments in this article can be substanitated, there are plain facts revealed. Children were abused, people were abused, POWER was abused, and things were covered up. It’s a real shame. And I think the article was written beautifully. Like the one commenter said, if this is all false, and by all means sue for slander.

  • DavidPierre

    ‘Is it true?’ That indeed is an important question. There is evidence showing that the Philly grand jury report is FALSE and MISLEADING.
    http://www.themediareport.com/mar2011/philadelphia-grand-jury-report.htm

  • DavidPierre

    ‘Is it true?’ That indeed is an important question. There is evidence showing that the Philly grand jury report is FALSE and MISLEADING.
    http://www.themediareport.com/mar2011/philadelphia-grand-jury-report.htm

  • Arthur

    david pierre, if there is evidence that the Phila Grand Jury Report is ‘false and misleading’ then you need to take action ! I look forward to see if any action you will take !

  • Ron

    I am hoping that your magazine printed the comment by Dan Landis re: Catholics in Crisis: Sex and Deception in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to show his ignorance on the difference of being gay and being a pedophile. Adults that sexually abuse children (boys and girls) are pedophiles. Men and women attracted to someone of their own sex would be considered gay. Gay priests could easily have affairs with other gay priests, both being consenting adults. Why would they be interested in children? Gays are still struggling for equal rights in most of the world. These closed minded bigots don’t help our cause. Get a dictionary out and get enlightened Mr. Landis.
    Ron Presby
    Gay, Formerly Catholic

  • tag1111

    * For all the claims that everything in the article is false and “unsubstantiated,” its sources predicted Rigali’s forced resignation very accurately. The comments on his personality also matched very closely those other observers made in postmortem articles after he was moved out.
    * Also, the Church’s PR representatives need to realize that “we’re not going to dignify that with an answer” has become PR shorthand in the past decade’s political scandals for “I know my client is guilty, but I do not want to get caught in a lie with him as well, so I will not even pretend to address the question.” It makes your client look more guilty, not less.

  • Douglas

    “The smoke of Satan has entered the Sanctuary”
    Pope Paul IV – 1963

    “The cultic acts of Satanic pedophilia in the Catholic Church are considered by professionals to be the culmination of the rites of ‘The Enthronement of the Fallen Archangel Lucifer’ in the Vatican”
    Fr. Malachi Martin – 1990

    Los Angeles, Alta California – 5/10/2002 – (ACN) The contemporary state of apostasy in the Catholic Church was accurately predicted by the renown Jesuit Priest Malachi Martin in his 1996 book “Windswept House: A Vatican Novel”. On page 492 of his book, Fr. Martin writes, “Suddenly it became unarguable that now during this papacy, the Roman Catholic organization carried a permanent presence of clerics who worshipped Satan and liked it; of bishops and priests who sodomized boys and each other; of nuns who performed the “Black Rites” of Wicca, and who lived in lesbian relationships . . . every day, including Sundays and Holy Days, acts of heresy and blasphemy and outrage and indifference were committed and permitted at holy Altars by men who had been called to be priests. Sacrilegious actions and rites were not only performed on Christ’s Altars, but had the connivance or at least the tacit permission of certain Cardinals…

  • neil

    Catholics protect their pedophile priests like parents protect their children.

    Parents – keep your children away from Catholic priests and schools.

  • Bill

    This international corporation of Fraternity Brothers is a conglomerate that mainly answers to it’s heirarchy…not civil laws around the world. Cardinal Law from Boston wasn’t considered a flight risk and boarded a plane to Rome…there he was promoted and worked along side Pope John Paul 2nd. This was after the Boston authorities discovered the Sexual Molestation going around the Boston arch diocese for decades. These MenChildren are Deviates. This Corporation goes around doing ‘good deeds’ around the world but rapes children and the ‘good deeds’ are supposed to excuse this blasphemous sinful behavior. Let God be the Judge. I pray that Jesus flips over these expensive tables all over the world and turns Rome inside out.

  • Peg Volz

    When Christ chose His 12 apostles, He knew that they were human. 25% of His first Church hierarchy betrayed or abandoned Him right there, at the VERY BEGINNING, with Jesus actually choosing them! Does this show us that as a HUMAN RUN (ON EARTH) organization, we can be BETTER THAN our Founder, JESUS CHRIST?! We have to deal with human slime in every walk of our lives, every day; the coaches going after the kids in their care; the Cops who use the druggies and prostitutes; the politicians who take our tax money and live high on the hog while the rest of us shop at the dollar store for food! The human element brings the bottom of the barrel in every walk of life! Unfortuneately, the church, run by humans was a very lucrative field for perverts seeking victims. The lay people put too much trust in the running of OUR church, to individuals who had the NAME to SAVE! Like Penn State had to keep the lid on Sandusky and Paterno; keep the future open to the alumnis kids and the big bucks from the entertainment industry! We, as humans, can only be as good as our weakest link, in any walk of our lives, we need the Holy Spirits’ guidance and for that we need good people, true believers, not people who loose their faithe due to the actions of weak and perverted human beings! We have to start over again, with the basics. Number one, LET MY CHILD BE ABLE TO TALK TO ME; don’t give perversion a place to grow! P. Volz

    • http://www.windwalkerphotography.biz/ Frank LaFerriere

      As a priest rape victim…I find you disgusting.

      Typical of you Apologists for the Unholy Roman Catholic Church of Pedophile Pimps, Priests and the Parishioners whom love and follow them.

      Listen Peg Volz…Jesus said before you attempt to remove the mote from your brothers eyes…first remove the log from your own.

      So how about using this mouth of yours to speak out for us victims of priest rape instead of going off on tangents about others whom rape. First fix your own house….put it in order…get rid of the Pedophile Pimps, demand that Pope Francis defock and have arrested and prosecuted the following Cardinals, Bishops and Archbishops of the church whom did in fact participate in the cover ups of the rapes of children by pedophile priests and moved those pedophile priests…so they could rape more children.

      Pope Emeritus Benedict

      Cardinals: Timothy Dolan, Roger
      Mahony, Bernard Law, Donald Wuerl, George Pell, Justin Rigali, Adam
      Maida, Angostino Vallini, Angelo Scola, Angelo Sondano, Anthony
      Bevilacqua, Dominick Duka, Franc Rode, Francis George, Humberto
      Mederios, John Krol, Juan Ciprani, Keith O’Brien, Leonardo Sardi,
      Marc Ouellet, Norberto Rivera, Oscar Andres Rodriquez Maradiaga,
      Partick O’Malley, Peter Turkson, Richard Cushing, Sean Brady, Tarisco
      Bertone, Thomas Winning, William Leveda.

      Archbishops: Andre Richard, Charles J Chaput, Denis Hart, Diarmuid Martin, Ernest Leger, Jerome Hanus, Jerome Listecki, John Clay Neinstedt, John Meyers, John Roach, Josef Wesolowski, Mario Conti, Peter Gerety, Peter Sartain, Rembert Weakland, Robert Carlson, William Cousins.

      Bishops:Anthony O’Connell, Bill Wright, Carl Mengeling, Christopher Foster,
      David Zubik, Edward Cullen, Eugene Laroque, Gabino Miranda, George H.
      Guilfoyle, George Leo Thomas, Henry Kennedy, Howard Hubbard, James
      Garland, James Hoeppner, James Murray, Joseph Cistone, Joseph Devine,
      Joseph Imesch, Kenneth Povish, Laurence Glenn, Leo Clarke, Michael
      Bransfield, Michael John Brown, Michael Malone, Patrick Cooney,
      Raymond Lahey, Richard Sklba, Robert Finn, Robert Rose, Seamus
      Hegarty, Thomas Curry, Thomas Daily, Vincent Leonard, William Lynn,
      Wilton Gregory, and many others.

  • Peg Volz

    Christ chose 12 apostles. 25% of them betrayed or abandoned Him right when He needed them! Maybe He tried to let us know that the human element is the problem! Sports, religion, law enforcement, ploitics…all are brought down by the weakest links! Then the organization has to try to “protect” their own by covering the situations up, so that the NAME stays clean, for future members or contribtors etc. Lay people have to take some of the blame; why wasn’t there more observation of the clergy especially involving children? Why couldn’t these kids go to their parents? Parents who hide their heads in the sand are a disservice to their family and to the good of the whole organization. That kind of faith is not faith at all, just “do my job for me, it’s hard and Fr. so and so helps ease the burden…” BALONEY! Everyone is to blame in this whole slimy business! Just like Penn State trying to brush the Sandusky, Paterno thing under the rug. Human beings are good, but only when watched and checked up on, DUH! P. Volz

  • David A. Burgoyne

    I am deeply saddened by the entire situation and pray for all victims of sexual abuse by clergy.