Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said Friday that he had permanently removed five priests from active ministry for sexual abuse or misconduct with minors, and reinstated three others after an investigation could not substantiate similar claims against them.
The decisions, which followed a 14-month review, marked one of the largest ousters of active priests in the archdiocese's history. It also validated a February 2011 grand jury report that accused local church leaders of ignoring evidence of clergy sex abuse and stirred new outrage among area Catholics.
"We can't change the past," Chaput said. "But I pray, and I do believe, that the lessons of the last year have made our church humbler, wiser, and a more vigilant guardian of our people's safety."
Chaput would not discuss details of the priests' cases, including when their misconduct occurred or how many accusers came forward. He cited what he said was the need to protect victims' privacy.
Also unresolved is the fate of 17 other clergy suspended last year so the church could reexamine past claims against them, including three priests whose cases were cited by the grand jury.
Chaput said nine of those internal investigations were complete and awaited action by him or the civilian review board that recommends action against wayward priests. A further six suspended priests are still under investigation by local prosecutors, he said.
His rulings in the eight other cases stunned - or in some cases, buoyed - Catholics in parishes where the affected priests had been stationed. And it drew fresh criticism from activists who accused the church of failing to put victims first.
The clergy who were removed include the Rev. George Cadwallader, 58, most recently of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Richboro, Bucks County; Msgr. Francis Feret, 75, of St. Adalbert Church in Philadelphia; the Rev. Robert Povish, 47, chaplain at the Graterford State Correctional Institute in Montgomery County; the Rev. John Reardon, 65, of St. John of the Cross in Abington Township, Montgomery County; and the Rev. Thomas Rooney, 61, chaplain of Immaculate Mary Home, a nursing facility in Northeast Philadelphia.
Just one, Reardon, was removed because investigators had substantiated allegations that he sexually abused a minor, the archdiocese said.
The news drew a mixed reaction at his former parish. Church members had waited a year for answers but had hoped for a different one.
"I'm concerned about the well-being of the parishioners - about the stability and well-being of this parish," said the Rev. David Fernandes, who was transferred to the church last year.
Each of the priests could appeal the decision to church leaders in the Vatican, opt to be formally laicized from the priesthood, or choose to live a supervised life of "prayer and penance" in a facility such as a clergy retirement villa the archdiocese owns in Darby.
None will be allowed to serve anywhere as a priest, Chaput said. Those who accept the restrictions will be monitored. "We have a duty to the whole community, not just the church," he said.
The others were cited for ministerial or boundary violations, which officials have previously said included conduct such as talking about sex or showing pornography to minors.
Gina Maisto Smith, the former sex-crimes prosecutor hired last year to oversee the internal investigation, said some of the removed priests had been accused of both abuse and boundary violations.
An alleged victim of Feret, one of the priests cited for boundary violations, told The Inquirer on Friday that Feret raped and assaulted him at least 100 times.
The investigation into another accused priest, the Rev. Daniel Hoy, was deemed inconclusive because Hoy died last July, Chaput said.
The priests cleared of wrongdoing were the Rev. Philip Barr, 92, who has been retired since 1995; Msgr. Michael Flood, 72, of St. Luke's Church in Glenside, Montgomery County, and the Rev. Michael Chapman, 56, whose last assignment was at Ascension of Our Lord in Philadelphia.
None of the exonerated priests will immediately return to his post, and they could opt not to return at all, Chaput said. He also said the priests could tell their parishioners as much or as little as they chose to about the allegations.
"There's no rules," Chaput said.
For Flood, pastor of the Glenside church since 1995, the accusations have been public for three years, since a New Jersey man claimed in a lawsuit that Flood sexually assaulted him in the 1970s. Last fall the accuser withdrew the lawsuit amid questions about his credibility.
"He endured almost three years of these false charges, and his name will be forever marked by the accusations," said Flood's attorney, Kathleen Reilly.
Those allegations were among the few to come to light since the grand jury claimed last February that the archdiocese had failed to properly investigate or take action against priests named in credible abuse claims.
In all, Cardinal Justin Rigali suspended 26 priests who had previously been accused and hired Smith, from the Ballard Spahr law firm, to reexamine the complaints.
Smith said her investigators reviewed 400,000 pages of documents and interviewed 227 potential witnesses in multiple states and countries. "I was given total freedom, constant support, and unfettered access," she said.
But an investigation that initially was projected to last six to nine months took twice as long.
The archdiocese planned to launch a restoration program, including counseling, in the affected parishes starting this weekend. The program is based on a community crisis response model, said Mary Achilles, the former victims advocate for the state who designed the program.
"As an archdiocese we have been painfully aware of the destruction of trust that may have occurred," she said.
Repairing that trust could be difficult. St. John of the Cross has had four priests rotate through since Reardon was placed on leave last year.
"No one from the archdiocese ever came to speak to us," said Chris Marsh, the current youth minister. "We felt like we were an afterthought. It has worn people down."
As Chaput announced his decisions at the archdiocese's Center City offices, protesters picketed outside and issued statements condemning him.
"He has given us absolutely no information about the alleged crimes or about how they were investigated, said Terence McKiernan, president of Bishop Accountability, which tracks clergy sex-abuse cases. "Chaput needed to describe in detail the allegations, the investigations, and his decisions. He has not done so."
Staff writers Dan Hardy and Alfred Lubrano contributed to this article.