Five priests will be permanently barred from ministry after the Philadelphia archdiocese substantiated allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct, Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput said.
Three other suspended priests will return to ministry, and another 17 cases remain under review, he said on Friday.
“When a child is harmed, the church has failed. When trust is lost, the church has failed. When the whole community suffers as a result, the church has failed,” Chaput said.
Four of the five cases substantiated were said to involve “boundary” or “behavioral” problems, not sexual assaults. Yet a lawyer for one accuser said one of those four priests had raped his client in the early 1970s.
“How do they define boundary issues, if somebody reports, credibly, that he was sexually raped — both orally and anally — as a 9-to-11-year-old?” said the man’s lawyer, Daniel Monahan The accuser, now in his 50s, met last year with church investigators, a team led by a former child sex-crimes prosecutor and retired detective, and detailed his allegations, Monahan said.
The announcements came as a former archdiocesan official, Monsignor William Lynn, stands trial on child-endangerment and conspiracy charges.
Philadelphia prosecutors unearthed hundreds of abuse complaints from secret church files for a watershed 2005 grand jury report that named 63 credibly accused priests, many still in ministry at the time. However, the alleged crimes were too old to prosecute.
The second grand jury report, issued in February last year charged three priests and a teacher with more recent sexual assaults.
This time prosecutors brought a case against Lynn, on the legal theory that he endangered children by keeping accused priests on the job.
Jurors at Lynn’s trial are hearing a daily drumbeat of graphic sexual assault allegations involving priests whose personnel files were known to the former church official. He faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted of helping the church cover up abuse complaints as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004.
US bishops have had a “zero tolerance” policy for abusers since 2002. Priests removed from ministry can agree to serve a life of prayer and penance in a church-run facility, where they can be monitored.
Chaput inherited the sex-abuse problem when he arrived from Denver last year. He declined to provide details on Friday of how old or how serious the cases still under review might be. Most had earlier been deemed not credible by his predecessors.
At Friday’s news conference, Chaput offered his “heartfelt apology” to all victims of clergy abuse.
In contrast with earlier church policy, he said that all accusations against the 26 suspended priests had been referred to law enforcement.