DON'T BELIEVE the hype.
So says the national leader of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
David Clohessy, the Chicago-based group's executive director, flew to Philadelphia Thursday after District Attorney Seth Williams accused archdiocesan leaders of covering up priest sex abuse, and announced that dozens of clerics suspected as pedophiles continue to work around children in city parishes.
Cardinal Justin Rigali strongly denied that claim in a letter to parishioners Thursday, but Clohessy stood outside the Archdiocese's headquarters in Center City yesterday and blasted Rigali for continuing a coverup.
"Rigali claims that there's no admitted or established abuser in ministry," Clohessy said. "That's not what he promised. That's not what America's bishops promised. They promised to remove credibly accused clerics. For the sake of public safety, the cardinal must identify and suspend these [accused] priests. If we must err at all, we always must err on the side of protecting innocent kids over an accused criminal."
Flanked by several priest-abuse victims and advocates, Clohessy applauded the D.A. for the unprecedented arrest of a church higher-up.
"This is not about a rogue monsignor or an atypical bishop," he said. "This is an incredibly deeply rooted, longstanding, cultural, structural problem in the church. So, frankly, one man retiring, or one man being demoted, that's not going to change it."
Thursday's arrests are believed to be the first time nationally that a high-ranking church official has been held criminally accountable for concealing priest sex-abuse.
Monsignor William Lynn, who was in charge of investigating problem priests under former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Grand jurors described their "difficult dilemma" in debating whether to indict Bevilacqua; they didn't after concluding they didn't have enough evidence to ensure successful prosecution "yet."
Clohessy demanded that Rigali fork over records the grand jury subpoenaed months ago. He exhorted witnesses and whistle-blowers - not only victims - to report abuse to secular authorities, rather than church officials, who have "self-serving, self-preserving" motives.
Further, he charged that the church must open sex-abuse investigations to public scrutiny - a change the grand jury also championed.
Mark Crawford, an abuse victim from Woodbridge, N.J., echoed Clohessy's calls for reform.
"The time for accountability is long overdue," Crawford said. "It will not happen if we simply continue to wait and expect our church to clean this problem up. They cannot do it."
Besides Lynn, two priests, one former priest and a lay teacher were indicted on rape and related charges for abusing two boys in assaults between 1996 and 2000. Charles Engelhardt and Edward Avery, both priests; former priest James Brennan; teacher Bernard Shero; and Lynn all were arraigned yesterday and released after posting bail.
The police chief in Bristol Borough, Bucks County, where Shero lives, told the Courier-Times that Shero swallowed pills in an apparent suicide attempt before his Thursday-morning arrest. He was treated and released at Lower Bucks Hospital, spokesman John Coffman said.