A Catholic priest accused by the District Attorney's Office of engaging in "depraved and sadistic behavior with many boys" has been defrocked, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced yesterday.

The Vatican approved the Rev. Thomas J. Smith's request to be removed from the clerical state. Smith voluntarily left the active ministry in December 2004, while the archdiocese was investigating an allegation against him of sexual misconduct involving a minor. The allegation was subsequently found credible, and he sought removal from the clerical state, the archdiocese said.

Smith, whose service with the archdiocese began in 1973 and covered many parishes, was cited in a damning 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report investigating allegations of sexual abuse by local clergy. The report, released by the District Attorney's Office, accused the archdiocese of covering up abuse by at least 63 priests over several decades. Smith was one of the case studies.

"On March 12, 2004, the Archdiocesan Review Board unanimously found credible allegations that 'Smith took at least three boys playing the role of Jesus in the parish Passion play into a private room, required them to disrobe completely,' pinned loincloths around them, and then, during the play, encouraged 'other boys in the play to whip the Jesus character to the point where some of the boys had cuts, bruises and welts,' " the report stated. "These actions, the Review Board found, 'occurred in multiple parish assignments with a number of different boys over a number of years.' "

The report goes on to cite testimony from boys who said they had to strip naked in front of Smith, and instances when he touched their genitals.

Smith's whereabouts were unknown yesterday.

Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, said she did not know how to contact him.

The grand jury also criticized former Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua for not doing enough to protect children from Smith.

"When Cardinal Bevilacqua learned of these accusations in May 2002, he chose to leave Fr. Smith in residence, and ministering, at Saint Francis of Assisi parish" in Springfield, Delaware County, the report states.

The archdiocese has denied that it has engaged in cover-ups.

The request approved by the Vatican means that Smith "is unable to function as a priest anywhere," the archdiocese said.

"We realize that this can be very painful for victims," Farrell said. "That's why we always include the numbers of our victims' assistance coordinators in our press releases." That number is 1-888-800-8780.

Rev. Smith's History

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said the Rev. Thomas J. Smith joined the archdiocese in 1973 served in the following parishes:

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Philadelphia; St. Francis de Sales, Lenni; Annunciation B.V.M., Havertown; St. Andrew, Drexel Hill; Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia; and Good Shepherd, Philadelphia.

He also served as regional vicar, Delaware County Vicariate, with residence at St. Francis of Assisi, Springfield, Delaware County; chaplain, Boy Scouts of America; associate director, Conference of Christian Doctrine (Delaware County); chaplain, Archbishop Prendergast High School, Drexel Hill; and associate director, Regional CYO.