Letter: Church Failing on Sex Abuse
Two Former Prosecutors Told Cardinal Rigali That Children Remain at Risk Because Steps Have Been Inadequate

By David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Inquirer
August 6, 2006

In a blistering letter to Cardinal Justin Rigali, two former city prosecutors have accused the Archdiocese of Philadelphia of failing to seriously address the problem of sexual abuse by priests, thus continuing to endanger parish children.
Read the letter to Cardinal Rigali

The two lawyers, who helped conduct the district attorney's grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse, accused the archdiocese of "demonstrating an all-too-familiar pattern: offering assurances and the appearance of action while failing to take steps needed to prevent sexual abuse."

"Surely, when you consult your conscience rather than lawyers or public relations advisers, you must know that the problem of sexual predators in the priesthood is not fixed in Philadelphia," Mariana Sorensen and Maureen McCartney wrote in the July 26 letter, which they described as representing their own private views and not necessarily those of the District Attorney's Office.

In a written response, the archdiocese countered that it had taken many steps to address the problem, including supporting legislation to remove the statute of limitations on future sexual abuse and creating a Web site listing priests who have been removed or punished for molesting young people.

"We have intensified our safe environment training and enhanced our Child and Youth Protection Web site with more detailed information," the archdiocese said in its statement. "We also wish to make clear that we report all allegations of abuse to the appropriate authorities."

Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Rigali received the letter July 28, just before leaving town for a scheduled event.

The archdiocese, she said, "reiterates that we have taken concrete steps since the grand jury report," which was released last September.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said she was at a law enforcement convention and not available for comment.

Sorensen and McCartney had major roles in a 40-month Philadelphia grand jury investigation of clergy sex abuse within the archdiocese.

Sorensen was a lead author of the grand jury report, which accused former archdiocesan leaders of an "immoral coverup" of clergy sex abuse over many decades.

McCartney was a lead investigator in the grand jury investigation. She interviewed abuse victims, presented evidence to the jury, and cross-examined Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, the former archbishop, whom the report accused of "calculated indifference" to the suffering of abuse victims and their families.

Sorensen and McCartney have left the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. McCartney is on the faculty of Temple University Law School but could not be reached last week. Sorensen said she was spending time with her family.

The grand jury report concluded that the archdiocese and its former top leaders had allowed hundreds of sexual assaults against children to go unpunished and protected the priests who committed the crimes.

The archdiocese denounced the report as "incredibly biased and anti-Catholic." The church officials and lawyers called it "a vile, mean-spirited diatribe."

While challenging the report's conclusions, Rigali, in a letter to parishioners, offered an apology to all victims of abuse.

Sorensen said in a phone interview Thursday that she and McCartney wrote to the cardinal because they were "frustrated by the response of the archdiocese."

"They dug their heels in and said the report was not true," she said. "They're not doing what we think they should, especially after you hear all these horrible stories" of abuse.

Specifically, their letter cited four areas in which the two former prosecutors thought the archdiocese had presented the public with "misleading assurances that belie inadequate action."

These, they said, were "the archdiocese's professed support for legislative reforms, its professed compassion for victims, its professed success in cleansing the priesthood of abusers, and its professed cooperation with law enforcement in response to new abuse accusations."

In their letter, the two former prosecutors reserved their fiercest criticism for what they said was the archdiocese's failure to make clear how it had dealt with scores of priests who had been accused of abusing minors in the past.

The grand jury investigation found that archdiocesan files contained accusations against 169 priests - 121 of whom were diocesan priests as opposed to members of specific religious orders.

The archdiocese has posted on its Web site the names of only 57 priests whom it acknowledges as abusers.

Of the other cases in its files, the archdiocese never made clear to the grand jury why it concluded there was not enough evidence to take action, according to Sorensen and McCartney.

"It is troubling - and telling - that the church has not revealed the names of many accused priests or explained why it has evidently kept them in ministry," the former prosecutors wrote.

They also said the archdiocese had failed to lend full public backing to a set of legislative proposals that would lift the statute of limitations on all future sex abuse and expand the definition of who must report abuse to authorities.

Without identifying their source or offering further evidence, they claimed they had been told that the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which Rigali heads, was "quietly opposing the bills."

"We are confident that if the Pennsylvania bishops backed the five criminal law bills now pending in the legislature, they would pass immediately and with little opposition," they wrote. "If the archdiocese is, in fact, secretly lobbying against this legislation, that is cynical and dishonest."

Asked about the legislation, Kathy McDonnell, chief of the Philadelphia district attorney's legislation unit, said the archdiocese has "not been particularly helpful, either."

"The only thing that will make the legislature respond is public pressure," McDonnell said

Sorensen and McCartney's letter also faulted the archdiocese for failing to provide adequate financial compensation to abuse victims, apart from psychological counseling.

"We have identified well over $250 million worth of unused, vacant or wasteful real estate owned (or recently sold) by the Philadelphia Archdiocese," they wrote.

"The archdiocese's claims to parishioners and state lawmakers that compensation to victims would have to come at the expense of parishes and the church's good works are simply false.

"... It is hard to fathom how stories of hundreds of victims recorded in archdiocese files, and reported by the grand jury, have not moved this administration to try to make it up to these victims, in some way, for the damage done to them by the church they loved and trusted."

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723, or at


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