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

“When you spend that much time in the Vatican,” a St. Louis priest said of Rigali a decade ago, “you’re like one of the Bernini columns, just one of many holding up the place. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself.” Rigali is gentle and caring, quick to show up at the bedside of an ailing priest. But he is not dynamic. “Justin Rigali wouldn’t have enough inner authority to say in a homily, ‘Love your neighbor,’” said the priest. “He would say, ‘As the Pope said when he was in Toronto: Love your neighbor.’”

Bishop Danny Thomas was presented to me by the archdiocese to speak for Rigali, high up in the archdiocese office building.

The bishop is a pleasant and very healthy-looking man; he is 53 years old, with short, swept-back stark-white hair and stunningly white teeth. Thomas grew up in Manayunk and worked under Rigali during part of the almost two decades he himself spent at the Vatican. I first ask what his reaction was to the 2005 grand jury report.

Bishop Thomas asks that his answer not be quoted directly, but he allows me to capture his thinking:

Thomas first notes that molesting children is a horrible sin and then spends some time making another, broader point: The Church and society in general were on a learning curve on this issue, he says. Psychologists themselves didn’t know what pedophilia was, precisely, or how to deal with it. He says that psychologists would treat an accused priest and sometimes conclude that he could go back into ministry. It was a learning curve, the bishop concludes, that all of society was on.

Certainly, Thomas is right: We know more now. But I remember a SNAP meeting at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Philadelphia back in February. Eight or 10 victims stood and told their stories. Their suffering began when they were molested, often when they were quite young, by a priest. But there was another problem just as devastating: Their church turned away from them, denied their claims, offered no help; in fact, the Church often took down their statements to use against them in case they would sue, which made victims feel violated all over again. Meanwhile, the priests went right on ministering to children. All that is in the 2005 grand jury report, with this year’s report detailing more of the same.

At this point, victims, their families and parishioners are beside themselves with confusion and rage over how their church could be so morally bereft, could turn away from this crisis and let it continue. To say that the Church was on a learning curve, as Bishop Thomas does in speaking for Cardinal Rigali, simply doesn’t cut it.

I ask Bishop Thomas about anger among diocesan priests toward the hierarchy for its handling of this crisis—toward, that is, people in his position.

He brags about the large turnout of diocesan priests on Holy Thursday, preceding Easter, at the Mass traditionally held for priests to renew their vows. Three hundred fifty priests, Thomas says, turned out—a good showing.

Was it more than last year?

No, he says, but it was significant.

A Catholic friend of mine, active in his parish and close to his priest, later told me how local clerics are enraged by how they’ve been hung out to dry by the archdiocese. They’ve been given few guidelines for dealing with confused parishioners, or for protecting themselves. They’re vulnerable and angry, and they’ve been meeting, discussing their rights. Bishop Thomas, my friend’s priest told him, got wind of this. He called some priests in, and he was not too happy with their efforts to organize. But the priests didn’t back down, not even to a bishop—a highly unusual lack of obedience.

When I ask Thomas about his reaction to organizing priests, he portrays it differently. Once he heard priests were getting together, he says, he immediately reached out to the brotherhood, ready to assist.

As for Cardinal Rigali, he has inflamed the crisis by not stepping up, by not radically changing the way abusive priests are handled. But radical change is diametrically opposed to Rigali’s nature. A St. Louis priest was asked, many years ago, if there were one thing he could change about Justin Rigali, what would that be?

“I’d want him not to be afraid,” he said.

Yet there are whispers that even timid Justin Rigali may have gotten into a bit of hot water in Rome. He was working as secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, which is the number two position in the second-most important congregation in the Vatican; that congregation recommends candidates for bishop.

The secretary almost always serves at least five years. But Rigali was moved out after four years and one month—that’s when he was sent to St. Louis, to oversee the archdiocese there. One theory has it that Rigali may have gotten too aggressive in pushing his choices for bishops—that he might have, in other words, crossed someone in the Vatican with enough power to undermine his career.

There are also repeated, though unsubstantiated, rumors—ones cited by several Vatican or Rigali observers I spoke to—that there might have been another reason he left Rome. While at the Vatican, Rigali became chaplain for the Swiss Guards, the ex-military guys, young and unmarried, who provide security there. Uncharacteristic of a man dedicated to carefully building a Vatican career, Rigali befriended them, drank with them, and was involved with them to an extent that appeared unseemly to many. “Princes of the Church do not drink with the hired help,” one longtime Vatican observer says. (The archdiocese also said it will not dignify questions about Rigali and the Swiss Guards with a response.)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 < Previous Next >View as One Page

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • 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.