PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Five priests will be permanently barred from ministry after the Philadelphia archdiocese substantiated allegations of sexual abuse or inappropriate conduct, a Roman Catholic archbishop said Friday.
Three other suspended priests will return to ministry, and another died during the investigation, Archbishop Charles Chaput said. Another 17 cases remain under review, he said.
"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. "We can't change the past. But I pray — and I do believe — that the lessons of the last year have made our Church humbler, wiser, and a more vigilant guardian of our people's safety."
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 at St. Timothy's Parish rectory in Philadelphia 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 of Exton.
The accuser, now in his 50s, contacted the archdiocese in 2006. He 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. He faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted of helping the church cover up abuse complaints as the secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Defense lawyers say he took orders from the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
None of the accused priests whose fates were announced Friday could be reached for comment. Phone listings rang unanswered or had been disconnected, and their former parishes did not know their whereabouts.
About two dozen other priests were suspended more than a year ago, after a grand jury report again blasted the archdiocese for keeping accused priests in ministry. A 2005 grand jury report had raised the same concern.
U.S. 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. Some might agree to leave the priesthood, while others may be laicized after a church trial. The priests can also appeal the decision.
Chaput inherited the sex-abuse problem when he arrived from Denver last year. He declined to provide details Friday of how old or how serious the cases might be. Most had earlier been deemed not credible by his predecessors.