Priests To Hear From Abuse Victims

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Cardinal Justin Rigali is calling together hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese to hear from two people who were sexually abused by Roman Catholic clerics.

The priests will meet at a seminary, where they'll be addressed by two adults — one man, one woman — who were abused by priests as children, and from a parent of two other victims.

Such gatherings are unusual, though not unheard of, since the Catholic sex abuse crisis erupted in 2002. Abuse victims addressed a meeting of the nation's bishops that year. But the meeting in Philadelphia is significant as it comes a year after a Philadelphia grand jury issued a scathing report concluding that archdiocese leaders covered up abuse.

The grand jury probe identified 63 archdiocesan priests as abusers since the 1950s. Seventeen of them have been defrocked and others have been relieved of pastoral duties. But prosecutors have bitterly concluded they could not file criminal charges because of the state's statute of limitations on such crimes.

Lawyers for the archdiocese reacted to the probe with equally strong words, calling the panel "a sword to attack the church and build support for insidious pre-judgments."

The meeting Friday is being organized by a victims advocate the archdiocese hired this year.

"If they're going to lead these people through the crisis, they need to stand and experience the pain," advocate Mary Achilles said Wednesday.

"This event on Friday is just a step," Achilles said. "It will not solve the problem. Its goal is simply for those who operate in the church currently to witness the pain and suffering of victims."

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Catholic priest and author who has been a leading voice for institutional reform, said the church needs to do more than hold meetings, including lobbying to extend the statute of limitations. Doyle has served as a consultant to Philadelphia prosecutors.

"Is this all he thinks is necessary, is an evening of listening? That's nothing," said Doyle, referring to Cardinal Rigali. "My skeptical suspicion is it's a public relations move, and that things aren't really going to change for the victims."

As a result of the legal restrictions, the archdiocese has largely avoided the huge financial settlements that have bankrupted some other dioceses. Nationally, the clergy sex abuse scandal has cost the church more than $1.5 billion.