Philadelphia archdiocese dismisses priests accused of abuse

By Michael Rubinkam
Associated Press
February 22, 2002

Philadelphia — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has found what it calls "credible evidence" that 35 priests committed child sexual abuse over the past five decades. Several priests were relieved of their duties within the last few weeks, the archdiocese said Friday.

The incidents involved a total of about 50 victims, diocesan spokeswoman Catherine Rossi said.

The church reviewed records dating to 1950. The investigation was prompted by a sex-abuse scandal at the Archdiocese of Boston, where church leaders admitted they knew about molestation allegations against a priest but did little to stop him.

Rossi could not say how many of the 35 had been turned over to police at the time the allegations were made. But she said the archdiocese has always followed state law governing when abuse allegations are required to be reported.

The archdiocese will not turn over the names now, Rossi said, because in every case the statute of limitations has expired.

"We will follow the letter of the law 100 percent, but we are not going to go back and release the names of priests from years ago. We don't see any good that would come from that, for either the victim or the priest," Rossi said.

Rossi said an unspecified number of accused priests were shuttled from parish to parish, but she said that practice stopped in the early 1980s.

"Most of these 35 priests had one victim. There were three or four of them who had about three or four victims," Rossi said.

There have been no allegations against any diocesan priest in the last three years, Rossi said.

But in light of the problems in Boston, the Philadelphia archdiocese has within the past few weeks barred several priests from ministry and asked them to step down from the priesthood, Rossi said.

The priests, who number fewer than 10, faced "credible" abuse allegations many years ago and had been working in administrative positions, she said.

Of the remaining 35, four were medically diagnosed as pedophiles in the late 1980s and early 1990s and either left the priesthood or retired. The others were either relieved of their duties, retired, left the priesthood or died, Rossi said.

One priest, the Rev. Michael Swierzy, 53, pleaded guilty in 1998 to one count of corrupting the morals of a minor after a boy came forward in May 1997 with allegations of abuse.

Swierzy entered a treatment facility after the allegations were made and did not return to his parish, St. John the Evangelist in Lower Makefield, Bucks County. The boy is suing the church and Swierzy, who is on probation, Rossi said.

During the 1990s, the archdiocese paid about $200,000 to settle a handful of abuse cases. An insurance company paid the claims.

In the past, some priests facing credible allegations of abuse have been placed in a "limited ministry" - essentially an administrative position that is closely supervised and does not involve contact with children, Rossi said.

However, the archdiocese has changed its policy and will no longer place accused priests in limited ministries, she said.

The archdiocese publicized the results of its investigation in response to media inquiries.

There are about 800 diocesan priests in the archdiocese, which serves about 1.5 million Roman Catholics in the five-county Philadelphia area. Since 1950, about 2,100 priests have served the archdiocese.

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua plans to make a statement about sexual abuse in the archdiocese sometime next week, she said.

In Boston, church members are demanding the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law after he admitted he knew in 1984 that a priest had molested children.

A Boston Globe investigation revealed that leaders of the Boston archdiocese knew about child-molestation allegations against former priest John Geoghan over the past three decades but did little to stop him.

John Geoghan, a former priest accused of molesting 130 boys, was sentenced Thursday to nine to 10 years imprisonment for groping a boy in a swimming pool. Geoghan awaits trial in two more cases and faces more than 80 lawsuits.

In recent weeks, Law has given prosecutors the names of more than 80 active and former priests accused of abuse over the past four decades.

"The tragic situation in Boston gives the church great concern and great pause," Rossi said. "Sadly, there is a ripple effect. The faith of many good Catholics becomes adversely affected; the morale of many good, virtuous priests is also affected."

















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