Want to Save a Historic Black Church in Philadelphia? You Have Until June 6th

St. Peter Claver Church. Photo courtesy Arlene Edmonds. William Barney Richardson holds a Mass card for the Shrine of Our Lady of Victories inside the church.

St. Peter Claver Church. Photo courtesy Arlene Edmonds. William Barney Richardson holds a Mass card for the Shrine of Our Lady of Victories inside the church. Photo | Sabrina Vourvoulias

In 1986, Cardinal John Krol suppressed it. In 2014, it was formally closed. And now, in 2016, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is petitioning to remove the final bar to its sale — a deed restriction specifying that the real estate at 1212-1222 Lombard Street is held “in trust” for Black Catholics in Philadelphia — unless enough written objections to the petition are received by the Clerk of the Orphans’ Court Division of Philadelphia before a hearing to be held Monday, June 6, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. at Court Room 416 in City Hall.

The property in question is St. Peter Claver, the mother church for Black Catholics in the city since 1892, and a site of real symbolic and historical significance for more than just African Americans.

Although the register of Old St. Joseph’s shows that both free and enslaved Black people attended Mass in the Old City worship site opened in 1733, Masses there were segregated, with just a few Black Catholics believed to have been able to rent pews in the balcony gallery. The Black Catholic community which grew greatly during the 19th century thanks in part to an influx of Haitian emigres, commonly experienced having to sit in the balcony or back pews of churches during Mass, and having to wait for all white congregants to receive Communion before they could go to receive.

St. Peter Claver, dedicated in 1892 in the former Fourth Presbyterian Church on 12th and Lombard Streets, was the first and only Catholic church where Black Catholics could feel comfortable and at home. It had been purchased by members of Old St. Joseph’s, Old St. Mary’s and Holy Trinity churches who formed the St. Peter Claver Union and with the assistance of Philadelphia heiress (and later, saint) Katharine Drexel, they were able to purchase the property that first included a school for African Americans, and later the church and attendant property.   Read more »

Cardinal O’Hara Student Rips School Over “Modesty” Assembly for Girls

Right: Former Miss Georgia USA Brenda Sharman, who led the girls-only assembly at Cardinal O'Hara High School, in a Pure Fashion publicity photo.

Right: Former Miss Georgia USA Brenda Sharman, who led the girls-only assembly at Cardinal O’Hara High School, in a Pure Fashion publicity photo.

Colette Scorzetti is a senior at Delaware County Catholic school Cardinal O’Hara, and she’s not afraid of speaking her mind. Back in June 2015, upon learning of the Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage, Scorzetti posted on Facebook a “Celebrate Pride” rainbow-colored photo of her and one of her female friends wearing rings on their fourth fingers. And now, with graduation just around the corner, she’s taking aim at an assembly that Cardinal O’Hara recently held for girls. Read more »

Billy Doe’s Lawyer Pushes Back on Newsweek Cover Story

Ralph Cipriano, left. Slade McLaughlin, right.

Ralph Cipriano, left. Slade McLaughlin, right.

Billy Doe’s lawyer is pushing back against a Newsweek cover story that questions his client’s veracity in several Philadelphia Catholic Church sex abuse cases.

“I would think Newsweek would do some modicum of investigation of its journalism to make sure it was fair and unbiased,” said Slade McLaughlin. He took particular aim at the story’s author, Ralph Cipriano, a longtime Philly journalist who has covered the case closely for years.

“Ralph has an agenda,” McLaughlin said. “Ralph has his points to make.”

Cipriano this week stood by his reporting. “There’s no reason to believe this kid,” he told Philly Mag. He said criticism of the story amounted to “shooting the messenger” — and avoiding tackling hard questions raised by his reporting.

“My agenda was to expose a suspect prosecution and a fraudulent ‘victim’ who gamed the system,” Cipriano said in response to McLaughlin’s quote. “And he couldn’t have done it without his legal enablers, beginning in the district attorney’s office and ending with Slade McLaughlin.

Newsweek deputy editor Bob Roe also defended the story in an email to Philly Mag, saying Cipriano ” has consistently demonstrated that his loyalty is to the truth, not the players. We stand by the story.” Read more »

Newsweek Questions Credibility of “Star Witness” in Church Sex Abuse Scandal

newsweek

A new Newsweek cover story claims that the “star witness” in the Philadelphia sex abuse scandal that sent Monsignor William Lynn, two priests and a school teacher to prison has credibility problems that undermine his testimony.

According to Newsweek, that witness — known publicly by a pseudonym, “Billy Doe” — offered conflicting stories about the incidents at the heart of his testimony, “bombed out” of a psychiatric test on the eve of a civil trial in the matter, and is a “former heroin user and dealer who had been kicked out of two high schools and been in and out of 23 drug rehabs over a 10-year period.”

Newsweek’s story — “Catholic Guilt? The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy Behind A Lurid Rape Case” — also suggests that District Attorney Seth Williams ignored the conflicts in testimony and errors in a grand jury report on the matter in his zeal to prosecute the case.

“Yes, we do continue to stand by the prosecutions and witness,” Cameron Kline, a spokesman for Williams, said via email Friday afternoon. Doe’s attorney did not immediately respond to a Philly Mag inquiry for comment. Read more »

D.A. Wants New Court Hearing on Lynn Case

In this Jan. 6, 2014 file photo, Monsignor William Lynn walks from the criminal justice center in Philadelphia. The landmark conviction of the Roman Catholic church official imprisoned over his handling of abuse complaints in Philadelphia has been overturned for the second time. A Superior Court ruling, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015 awarded Lynn a new trial.

In this Jan. 6, 2014 file photo, Monsignor William Lynn walks from the criminal justice center in Philadelphia. The landmark conviction of the Roman Catholic church official imprisoned over his handling of abuse complaints in Philadelphia has been overturned for the second time. A Superior Court ruling, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015 awarded Lynn a new trial.

District Attorney Seth Williams said Monday he will ask the Pennsylvania Superior Court to re-hear arguments in the case of Monsignor William Lynn, the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to be convicted in the church’s sex abuse scandal.

Last week, a 2-1 panel of the court ordered Lynn to receive a new trial in the case, saying that evidence from the church’s “Secret Archive” — material that included evidence of acts that took place decades before Lynn became secretary of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — unfairly tainted his original trial. He was convicted of endangering the welfare of children.

Williams will ask the entire superior court — not just a three-person panel — to hear the appeal. Read more »

Superior Court Orders New Trial for Monsignor William Lynn

In this Jan. 6, 2014 file photo, Monsignor William Lynn walks from the criminal justice center in Philadelphia. The landmark conviction of the Roman Catholic church official imprisoned over his handling of abuse complaints in Philadelphia has been overturned for the second time. A Superior Court ruling, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015 awarded Lynn a new trial.

In this Jan. 6, 2014 file photo, Monsignor William Lynn walks from the criminal justice center in Philadelphia.

Msgr. William Lynn, the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to be convicted of endangering the welfare of children by allowing sexual abuse by priests to continue unchecked, will get a new trial under a ruling issued by the state Superior Court today.

In a 43-page opinion for the court majority, President Judge Emeritus John T. Bender wrote that by allowing the admission of the “Secret Archive,” a trove of previously unreleased records documenting child sexual abuse by Catholic priests over the years, the prosecution in the original Lynn trial prejudiced the jury against the defendant and that the judge’s instructions to the jury did not remove the prejudice. Read more »

Chaput: More Big Families, Please

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, listens to a speaker during a news conference Friday, March 7, 2014, in Philadelphia.  Vatican officials say Philadelphia is scheduled to host a large gathering of the Roman Catholic church called the World Meeting of Families in Sept., 2015. Chaput and others are scheduled to visit Rome this month to invite the pope to the eighth World Meeting of Families. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The huge Catholic family is something of a cliché — and these days something of a thing of the past: A reported 98 percent of American Catholic women use birth control, after all, despite church doctrines against doing so.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, in Rome for a controversial synod of bishops advising the church on how it should approach marriage and family issues in the future, misses the old days. He gave an interview to the French Catholic magazine Famille Chretienne, reprinted at CatholicPhilly.com, lamenting tiny, two-children families. Read more »

Pope Says Those Responsible for Sex Abuse Will Be Held Accountable

Photograph by Tom McGrath

Photograph by Tom McGrath

Saying he had just come from meeting with childhood victims of sex abuse, Pope Francis this morning spoke out strongly against the abuse by the clergy. “God weeps,” he said.

Speaking emotionally and with sympathy for the victims, the Pope said sexual abuse can no longer be covered up. “I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorry of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart. I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.

“The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all.

“You survivors of abuse have yourselves become true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. We humbly owe each one of you and your families our gratitude for your immense courage to shine the light of Christ on the evil of the sexual abuse of children.”

The Pope made the remarks before 300 bishops and cardinals at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary on the Main Line.

At the very beginning of his remarks, the pontiff announced that he, along with Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput, had met with the abuse victims before this morning’s gathering of bishops and cardinals, most of whom were on hand for the World Meeting of Families.

Francis focused the remainder of his remarks on a critique of consumer culture, the reluctance of many young people to marry, and the pastoral role bishops should play.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the following account of the Pope’s meeting with victims this morning:

This morning between 8 and 9 a.m., at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Pope Francis received five adults —three women, two men — who experienced sexual abuse as a minor by clergy, family members or teachers. Each was accompanied by a family member or support person. The group was accompanied by Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and chairman of the commission set up by the Pope for the protection of minors, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bishop Fitzgerald, head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s commission for the protection of minors. The Pope spoke with visitors, listened to their stories, greeted them individually and prayed with them. He told them that he shared in their suffering, and he had pain and shame in particular in the case of injury caused by clergy or church workers. He renewed the commitment of the Church to the effort that all victims are heard and treated with justice, that the guilty be punished and that the crimes of abuse be combated with an effective prevention activity in the Church and in society. The Pope thanked the victims for their essential contribution to restore the truth and begin the journey of healing. The meeting lasted about half an hour and ended with the blessing of the Holy Father.

Pope Francis’s prepared remarks from the meeting with victims are below:

Follow Philadelphia magazine’s live coverage of Pope Francis’s historic visit all weekend long.

In Homily, Pope Francis Calls for Greater Role for Laity … and Women?

Photograph by HughE Dillon

Photograph by HughE Dillon

Follow Philadelphia magazine’s live coverage of Pope Francis’s historic visit all weekend long.

Pope Francis began the Philadelphia portion of his U.S. visit today in noteworthy fashion, noting changing times for the Church and calling for a greater role for the laity, and perhaps women, in the future.

In Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul that was attended largely by bishops, priests, nuns, and deacons, the Pope called on the Church to foster in its faithful a greater sense of “personal responsibility” for the institution’s mission. “This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations,” he said.

“We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for much more active engagement on the part of laity.” Read more »

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