The Archdiocese of Philadelphia last year paid a six-figure settlement to a man who alleged he was abused by the Rev. John J. Bradley at St. Charles Borromeo parish in the 1980s. But the accuser’s lawyer and church officials couldn’t agree Friday on which John J. Bradley was accused.
The issue, a church spokesperson said, is that two priests by that name worked at the Drexel Hill parish — one between 1963 and 1968, the other between 1977 and 1996. The archdiocese maintains that its victim compensation fund settled the case over the alleged conduct of the latter priest, who died more than two decades ago.
But at a news conference outside the archdiocese’s Center City offices Friday, the accuser’s lawyer and an activist blamed the other priest, who is still alive, and criticized the archdiocese for letting him retire quietly to an archdiocesan home in Darby Borough.
Three hours later, they admitted they had accused the wrong man after The Inquirer raised questions about the discrepancies between their account and that of archdiocesan officials.
“I believe that the sexual abuser in this matter was the late Father John J. Bradley and not any other priest, given the recent admission by the representative of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” Mitchell Garabedian, the accuser’s attorney, said three hours after the news conference.
Either way, neither Bradley appears on the archdiocese’s public list of credibly accused priests, raising questions over how comprehensive and transparent it is.
“We would hope that the archdiocese would have gone to those parishes where that priest was and told them about the settlement, to alert them,” said Robert M. Hoatson, cofounder and president of Road to Recovery, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that assists victims of sexual abuse and their families. “But they didn’t, so we said, ‘Well, we’d better do it ourselves.’”
Still, the misidentification was a very public mistake by Garabedian, one of the nation’s foremost plaintiff’s attorneys representing clergy sex abuse victims, who was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight.
His client — now 50 and a divorced father of two — did not attend Friday’s news conference. He first lodged his allegations in a claim with the compensation fund for clergy sex abuse victims, launched in 2018. The man alleged he was fondled, forced to perform oral sex, and sodomized on about 10 occasions from about 1982 to 1984, when he was serving as an altar boy at St. Charles Borromeo and was between the ages of 12 and 14.
His settlement is just one of the roughly 180 the independently managed compensation fund has issued over the last two years — at a cost of nearly $40 million. The fund has not announced any individual settlements and has opted to discuss payouts in aggregate.
Ken Gavin, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, did not immediately answer questions Friday about whether the names of priests accused through fund claims are being added to the public list of credibly accused priests maintained on the archdiocesan website.
In an email, Gavin said the archdiocese “has not made proactive statements regarding settlements with victims of clergy abuse, as we would not take it upon ourselves to speak on their behalf.” He added that the allegation involving Bradley, who died in 1997, was brought to the attention of church officials two years ago. It was forwarded to law enforcement in accord with archdiocesan policy, he said, without specifying which agency.
“It will not be possible to proceed with a canonical investigation of the claim against Father Bradley as he is deceased and therefore unable to answer to the allegation,” Gavin said.
During the news conference on the sidewalk, Garabedian — who spoke from Boston via speakerphone — and Hoatson, a former priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., called on the church to make future settlements public. They implored the archdiocese’s new leader, Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, to release the names of every priest who has been credibly accused of child sexual abuse, to protect the parishes where they worked.
“It is very important that incoming Archbishop Pérez list the names of all credibly accused pedophile priests who have not been listed publicly before, and that includes John J. Bradley,” Garabedian said.
He added later: ″My client is now a survivor. He is trying to remain stable emotionally. This has affected his belief in the Catholic Church to a great degree.”