ARCH Bishop of Philadelphia Justin Rigali has ordered an inquiry into paedophile priests.
A senior Catholic in the US has ordered an investigation into paedophile priests after a grand jury report said as many as 37 men with credible evidence of sexual abuse allegations against them remained in active ministry.
Justin Rigali, also placed three priests – Joseph DiGregorio, Rev Joseph Gallagher and Rev Stephen Perzan – on administrative leave pending a review of their cases.
The grand jury said Gallagher, accused by a former altar boy of fondling him, is retired.
Perzan was accused of fondling two boys while DiGregorio remained a parochial vicar after he was “credibly accused” of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl.
The archdiocese of Philadelphia is the sixth largest in the US and the grand jury revelations have revived the spectre of scandal.
In 2005 a report detailed hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of children by dozens of clergy over many decades, but this report brings criminal indictments for the first time.
In a statement, Rigali said: “Many people of faith and in the community at large think that the archdiocese does not understand the gravity of child sexual abuse. We do. The task before us now is to recognise where we have fallen short and to let our actions speak to our resolve.”
“Sexual abuse of children is a crime. It is always wrong and gravely evil. Protecting children, preventing child abuse and assisting victims are priorities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”
Rigali and his predecessor, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who is retired, were named in a civil suit filed last week by an anonymous 28-year-old man. He accused them of concealing the identity and sexual abuse of paedophile priests from law enforcement authorities to save the church from a costly scandal.
Last week a grand jury recommended charging Monsignor William Lynn, secretary for the clergy for the archdiocese of Philadelphia under Bevilacqua, with two criminal counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The charges against 60-year-old Lynn go back to his conduct as archdiocesan vicar for clergy from 1992 to 2004, when he was responsible for recommending the assignment of priests and with investigating abuse allegations.
Instead, according to the grand jury, he moved accused priests to parishes, putting “literally thousands of children at risk of sexual abuse.”
He is believed to be the only high ranking diocesan official indicted under a criminal statute for charges related to the sexual abuse scandal that came to light in 2002.
A preliminary hearing for the charges will be held on 7 March.
The grand jury report also recommended rape and other criminal charges against three priests and a teacher.