A recent report revealed that for decades, hundreds of Catholic priests sexually abused over 1,000 child victims in Pennsylvania. The abuse was often reported, but was largely ignored by the Church, which participated in covering up predator priests’ transgressions.
Priests were either shuffled from parish to parish, or sent to non-English speaking immigrant communities where they could potentially continue their criminal behavior but were less likely to be reported. Some of these predator priests have still not been removed from the priesthood and therefore continue to be paid by the Catholic Church.
Pennsylvania bishops may remove priests from the ministry, but the Pope must sign off on the cessation of their monthly stipends – a process called laicization. Also referred to as defrocking, and the “loss of the clerical state”, laicization is the removal of a priest’s use of powers, rights and authority – to render as a layperson. It either can be done at the priest’s request or applied involuntarily.
Priests who breach church policy or who are convicted of crimes may be subject to involuntary laicization.
Laicization does not happen often; according to church statistics, only 850 out of 3,400 priests who were accused of abuse in credible reports between 2004 and 2014 were laicized.
Diocese officials explain that the Vatican is hesitant to remove abusive priests if they have health issues or are advanced in age. A priest may also avoid removal if the bishop allows him to retire so that he may receive church-funded retirements.
The church’s alternative to removal from the priesthood is A Life of Prayer and Penance, a program that houses and cares for priests guilty of child sexual abuse. Some of these group homes for retired priests are closer to schools and parks than would otherwise be allowed for convicted sex offenders because their crimes are subject to canon law, which supersedes both state and federal law.
According to the chief of communications officer for the Archdiocese of Pennsylvania, the average age of the 16 priests who are in one such home in Darby, Delaware County is 77.5 years old. Although many of their crimes were reported decades ago, the predator priests were not brought to justice before the statute of limitations had run out.
One former priest of the Harrisburg diocese is still being paid by the Catholic Church, even though he admitted to many acts of child abuse spanning almost four decades. He was not suspended from ministry until 12 years after he retired, despite the diocese having received multiple complaints about the priest’s abuse.
According to diocese records, all priests in the program are recorded by cameras and monitored by a former probation officer. A former Harrisburg bishop points out that, although the program is not perfect, if the priests are dismissed from the priesthood, they are not monitored at all.
If you are a survivor of clergy abuse, contact a compassionate Allentown clergy abuse lawyer at Williams Cedar to discuss your legal options. Contact us online or call 215-559-0099 to arrange a free and confidential consultation. We have offices in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey to represent clients in South Jersey and Pennsylvania, including those in the communities of Allentown, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Johnstown, Eerie, Scranton, and Wilkes-Barre.