Monday, March 07, 2011

The "Bloodbath" Cometh?

SVILUPPO: On Tuesday afternoon, as foreseen below, 21 Philadelphia priests were placed on administrative leave. Their names were not released.

In happier times, Mardi Gras in the Philadelphia church has traditionally been looked forward to, thanks to a well-renowned annual party for the presbyterate.

This year, though, something far different is said to be in the offing.

As previously foreseen in the explosive aftermath of the second grand jury report into the Philadelphia curia's mishandling of clergy sex-abuse allegations, what promises to be the largest single banishment of accused American priests in the scandals' long history is now reportedly set.

According to multiple indications, tomorrow is likely to bring the removal from ministry of a significant number of the 34 clerics who, in the grand jury's finding, have remained in ministry despite being deemed by the panel to have "credible" accusations against them.

All the cited allegations were either denied by the accused, or the archdiocese's internal processes deemed the claims unestablished, over recent years.

While preliminary estimates range considerably, the higher end of the reports tip the number of imminent suspensions in excess of 20 -- a staggering "body-blow" of such a degree that no source has been able to recall anything comparable in the quarter-century since the crisis' first eruption on these shores.

As of December, the archdiocese counted 591 priests, 426 of them on "active assignment." In recent weeks, however, the personnel crunch has become so pronounced that a retired cleric was returned to full-time ministry on being named administrator of a parish.

As of press time, it remains unclear as to whether the expected mass suspension will be the sum total of the "second review" conducted by a chancery-tapped civil attorney with extensive experience in prosecuting rape cases, or whether more of the files remain to be examined. In the wake of the grand jury's findings, the redo of the cases was announced by the archdiocese 17 days ago, as the second civil investigation into the administration of the 1.1 million-member church -- which charged four clerics, including the first US church official to be indicted on allegations of a cover-up -- plunged Philadelphia's once-legendary Catholic "empire" into its most seismic crisis in nearly two centuries.

With the decisions on several of his priests looming, the city's archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, was said to have looked unusually "drawn" and "exhausted" at a weekend appearance. At one parish Mass the cardinal celebrated on Sunday, the 75 year-old prelate's presence brought out a protest from victim-survivors, who have pushed for the cancellation of Friday night's penitential service for the abuse committed, calling the rite -- at which Rigali will preside -- "a meaningless gesture that will not protect a single vulnerable child."

Their identities the focus of no shortage of interest since the report's release, only the three clerics of the 37 whose contested cases were detailed by the grand jury have been named -- and, in that instance, the names were revealed by the panel itself. The trio having been suspended a week after the report emerged, one of the men took to a local talk-radio station shortly after being removed to declare his innocence, and was strongly supported by several of his former parishioners who called in.

In other late developments, with the story having played earlier tonight on one of the national evening news broadcasts, a second civil-suit was filed today against the chancery, alleging that, instead of a prime concern for survivors, the archdiocese's victim-assistance program was principally geared "to protect church interests." And after two grand jury reports that, while stopping short of charges, have "lambasted" the city's retired archbishop and "all but branded him a criminal," Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's handling of cases is coming under even further scrutiny as the district attorney of Allegheny County -- i.e. Pittsburgh, where Bevilacqua served as bishop from 1983-88 -- announced that his office had opened a review of the files that came to light during the future cardinal's tenure there.

Notably, the Pittsburgh DA, Stephen Zappala, is a member of the US bishops' National Lay Review Board on sex-abuse, which was founded in the wake of the scandals' coast-to-coast emergence in 2002.

SVILUPPO: The "tsunami" having been carried out, a formal announcement is expected Tuesday afternoon.