Chaput apologizes for church’s role in sex abuse scandal

By Bob Warner, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: March 23, 2014
PHILADELPHIA Archbishop Charles J. Chaput apologized Saturday to victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy and referred to “the negligence of the church’s pastors” in allowing it to occur.

“I apologize on behalf of the church,” Chaput said in his homily at a late-afternoon “Mass for Healing for Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse,” attended by some 250 people.

Similar Masses have been held elsewhere for victims of clergy sex abuse, but this was the first in Philadelphia, coming at a time when the archdiocese and Chaput have been strongly criticized by some groups of victims.

Chaput’s formal public apology on behalf of the church, as opposed to past acknowledgments of wrongdoing and personal responsibility, struck at least one person who attended as something new.

“I thought it was significant that he was talking about it and acknowledging the church had been wrong, talking about the church being in need of repentance,” said a woman who said she was a victim and asked not to be identified.

“That’s something I think has been missing.”

“We need to repent and ask the forgiveness of those who have suffered,” Chaput said. “We ask God in His mercy to lift up the victims and also lift up the rest of the church.”

Kenneth Gavin, the archdiocese’s director of communications, said it was not the first time that Chaput had apologized for the church’s responsibility in the sex-abuse scandal.

“The archbishop has publicly apologized before on several occasions, as did his predecessors,” Gavin said, referring to Cardinal Justin Rigali.

The archdiocese had invited more than 200 people who had identified themselves as victims of sexual abuse by priests in Philadelphia and the four suburban counties. The Mass was open to the public, and there was no way to tell how many of those in attendance were victims.

Outside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, about 20 victims and their families protested the Mass and refused to attend, saying the archdiocese and Chaput had done too little, too late.

One of the protesters was State Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat who has been trying to extend the state’s statute of limitations to permit criminal prosecution of child abusers whenever their victims choose to come forward, and to provide a window for victims to file civil lawsuits, whenever the abuse occurred.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, a powerful Harrisburg lobby led by Chaput, has opposed the bills, Rozzi said.

“You would think an organization that preaches taking care of its own would step up and take responsibility,” Rozzi said. “The church is turning its back on victims.”

Chaput is leaving for Rome on Sunday, part of a delegation including Gov. Corbett and Mayor Nutter that hopes to persuade Pope Francis to visit Philadelphia for the World Meetings of Families in September 2015.

David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national organization, criticized the Mass in advance in a statement Friday.

“At worst this is a cynical public relations move,” Clohessy said. “At best it misses the mark.”

Two recent situations came in for particular criticism.

One was the disclosure late last year that Chaput had allowed a priest at Our Lady of Calvary Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, the Rev. John P. Paul, 67, to keep working, without any notice to the parish, for nearly a year after abuse allegations were lodged against him.

Paul was allowed to announce in November that he was retiring voluntarily. He was permanently removed from the ministry last month after an archdiocesan review board substantiated a claim that he had sexually abused a teenager more than 40 years ago.

“They made a choice to leave him in the ministry during the investigation,” said Susan Matthews, a writer who follows the archdiocese for her blog, “They notified the principal but not the parents. . . . That’s not transparent and accountable.”

The other situation involved the archdiocese ending an eight-year-old practice of paying parochial-school tuition bills for the children of a small number of clergy sex-abuse victims.

Several victims and advocates told The Inquirer they had never been told about the program, even though the archdiocese had described it in literature outlining their services for sex-abuse victims.