Four Philadelphia priests cleared to return to work

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PHILADELPHIA - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the fate of six priests placed on administrative leave after the February 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput decided on the cases after "a rigorous investigative process involving over 20 experts in child abuse," a statement from the archdiocese said July 6.

Of the six priests, four were determined to have unsubstantiated allegations against them, and they have been deemed suitable for ministry.

They include Fathers Paul Castellani, 53; Steven Harris, 57; and Leonard Peterson, 70. Their cases involved alleged violations of the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries, the archdiocesan behavioral guidelines for priests, deacons and all church workers and volunteers formulated in May 2003.

Msgr. John A. Close, 68, also was deemed suitable for ministry after an allegation against him of sexual abuse of a minor was found to be unsubstantiated.

It was unclear at this time whether they would return to their previous clerical assignments or in what ministries they might serve.

Two other priests, Fathers John Bowe, 64, and David Givey, 68, were found to have substantiated allegations of violations of the standards, and are unsuitable to return to ministry.

They will have no public ministry in the archdiocese, according to the statement, but they may appeal the decision to the Holy See at the Vatican.

In the statement Archbishop Chaput thanked the multidisciplinary team that investigated the allegations - after each was submitted to the local district attorney and cleared for the church's investigation - and the Archdiocesan Review Board, which made its recommendations on each case to the archbishop.

The members of both panels "come from various professional disciplines and have dedicated their lives to child protection, to the investigation of sexual offenders and to support for victims of sexual violence," Archbishop Chaput said.

"I'm grateful for their tireless efforts," he added. "The experience of these doctors, police officers, former prosecutors, victims' advocates and others in dealing with the broad societal problem of sexual abuse was crucial to our work."

The statement said that since the multidisciplinary team began its work under Philadelphia's previous archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, in early 2011 in the wake of the scathing grand jury report, it has located, gathered and reviewed more than 400,000 pages of relevant documents; identified, located and interviewed 227 witnesses across the United States and in several foreign countries; and conducted site visits to parishes and schools where incidents were alleged to have occurred.

Many cases involved a search for additional evidence including yearbooks, parish records, photographs and public documents. Some cases dated as long ago as 40 years.

The six cases announced July 6 follow decisions on eight priests announced by Archbishop Chaput last May. Those priests also were placed on administrative leave following the grand jury report, which has since led to the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn on one count of child endangerment.

The former archdiocesan secretary for clergy was found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child June 22 in Philadelphia, stemming from his actions to recommend priest assignments including those of priests accused of sexually assaulting minors.

Having been denied a bid for house arrest until his sentencing hearing scheduled for July 24, Msgr. Lynn remains in a county prison in protective custody.

Of the group of priests last May, three were found suitable for ministry and five were found unsuitable. In one additional case, a priest on administrative leave died before a full investigation could be conducted and a conclusion was not reached.

The process of making the final determination on the priests, including clearance by the district attorney, a thorough investigation, review by the Archdiocesan Review Board and the decision of the archbishop, was followed for both groups of priests, according to the archdiocesan statement.

It said the cases of 12 more priests still on leave remain unresolved. The statement said some cases have not yet been cleared by local district attorneys so the internal archdiocesan investigation has not begun, while others have been cleared and their investigations are ongoing.

In other cases the internal investigation is complete but "the matter is awaiting examination by the Archdiocesan Review Board or a final decision by Archbishop Chaput," the statement said.

The archdiocese did not speculate when the process would be complete.

Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970