Five priests accused of sexually abusing children last year would be barred from ministry and could be defrocked, while three were cleared of charges and allowed to return to their duties, Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput said last Friday, as the archdiocese nears the end of an investigation of 26 suspected priests, which began in Jan. 2011.
Chaput also apologized to the sex abuse victims.
The archbishop announced eight decisions in these 26 cases of alleged sex abuse within the archdiocese in a press conference Friday. Six of the 26 cases have not yet been cleared by law enforcement, Chaput said, so the church's "internal investigation" has not yet begun. The outcome of the investigation as pertaining to the remaining cases should be known within a few weeks, he added.
"Five priests will not return to ministry although they retain the right to appeal this decision to the Holy See," the archbishop said in a press statement. A ninth priest is now deceased, and his case cannot be concluded, he added.
"The process of reviewing these cases was designed to ensure that the decisions announced today reflect our commitment to protect children, assist victims, restore the integrity of the Priesthood and provide evidence to the broader community that it can have confidence in these outcomes," Chaput said.
"No lesson from the abuse scandal is more important than the understanding that the people who suffer most are the victims," he added. "Over the years, as part of my ministry as a bishop, I have met personally with many victims and this humbling experience has taught me that no words can sufficiently describe the hurt a victim feels. I have in the past and again today share my deep sadness and again offer a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Archdiocese to all victims of clergy sexual abuse."
In 2011, a grand jury report challenged the archdiocese to review certain cases of past allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy as well as some cases involving violations of the Archdiocese's Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.
Among those under investigation was also a priest who was not accused of direct abuse but of covering up for clergy molesters, Monsignor William J. Lynn. He faces 28 years in prison if convicted of all counts, according to Reuters. The statute of limitations on most of the accusations has reportedly expired, leaving law enforcement with little power to sanction any alleged abusers, the news agency reported. Lynn is reportedly standing trial on charges of child endangerment and conspiracy over accusations he covered up abuse allegations against priests, many of whom were simply transferred to unsuspecting parishes.
Meanwhile, clergy sex abuse victims and their supporters held a small vigil outside the Philadelphia Archdiocese headquarters Thursday.