The Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, announced in a statement on Tuesday the suspension of 21 priests following examination of files implicating them in sexual abuse of minors.
The step initiated was in response to a grand jury report that was released last month where 37 priests were suspected of widespread child molestation.
These have been difficult weeks since the release of the Grand Jury Report: difficult most of all for victims of sexual abuse, but also for all Catholics and for everyone in our community, stated Cardinal Rigali.
I wish to express again my sorrow for the sexual abuse of minors committed by any members of the Church, especially clergy. I am truly sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, as well as to the members of our community who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime, he further added.
All the reported 37 cases were subjected to a review under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, the Child Protective Services Act, the Essential Norms from the Charter for the Protection of Young People of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Archdiocese's Standards for Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.
Apart from the 21 recently announced orders of suspension, three priests had already been suspended after the report was released in February.
The Grand Jury Report, presented on 21st January, 2011, contained a graphic description of instances of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The report also indicated that the abuse was known, tolerated, and hidden by high church officials, up to and including the Cardinal himself.
It also stated that there are many abusers who are still on duty in the Archdiocese with open access to new young prey.
Investigations conducted since 2003 reveal many cases where pastors, parochial vicars, chaplains, and retired priests have been accused of abusing children but no action has been taken against them.
In fact, they are not even included on the Archdiocese website's list of known abusers that provides updated list of clergy abusers.
Within a week of the release of the Grand Jury Report, the Archdiocese retained Gina Maisto Smith, a former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney who has prosecuted child sexual assault cases for nearly two decades.
An initial review of all the 37 cases was conducted by Smith with the aid of her team at law firm Ballard Spahr and a forensic psychiatrist.
Cardinal Rigali asked me to assist him in responding to the concerns raised in the Grand Jury Report. I was given the unlimited freedom to do a thorough review with full access to all files and documents, stated Smith.
The New York Times reported that If charges against the priests are upheld, the church could face a payout of millions of dollars in legal settlements.
The Grand Jury, comprising local citizens, has also urged victims injured by sexually compulsive priests to contact law enforcement authorities for assistance.