GINA MAISTO SMITH spent nearly 20 years as a Philadelphia assistant district attorney, prosecuting child sexual-assault cases. She trained prosecutors who work with child-abuse victims locally and nationally. She has advised institutions on how to handle these shocking crimes.
All of this, she said, has prepared her for her latest role: Re-examining the cases of dozens of priests accused of molesting children to determine if they should remain on the job.
"It's my belief that it's my life's work that has prepared me to take on this role with confidence," Smith, a partner with the Ballard Spahr law firm, said in an interview yesterday. "I will not look away from evidence of child abuse or the coverup of child abuse."
Smith's appointment by Cardinal Justin Rigali comes one week after a grand-jury report alleged that Archdiocesan officials covered up cases of clergy sex abuse, including those involving more than 30 priests still in active ministry. Smith will now re-examine those cases.
If Smith uncovers anything to suggest sexual abuse, that information will be given to the District Attorney's Office.
Smith, a Catholic and a mother of five, said that she has no time frame for completing her investigation but that she would move "swiftly and efficiently because the cardinal has asked me to."
In a statement, D.A. Seth Williams said he respected Rigali's choice of Smith to lead the case review.
But David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), questioned any appointment.
"No lawyer or consultant is independent in any way, if they're picked and paid by Rigali. He can bring in a dozen more lawyers, but if he does what he did five years ago with the expert child-safety consultant and ignores every single recommendation, it's just going to be more empty promises and public relations," Clohessy said, referring to the work of Mary Achilles.
In 2006, the Archdiocese hired Achilles, the state's first victim advocate, to review its treatment of victims after a 2005 grand-jury report highlighted abuse by more than 50 priests over 50 years.
Archdiocesan officials ignored all of Achilles' initial recommendations, according to last week's grand-jury report.