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Phila. Archdiocese suspends priest over sex allegations

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday the suspension of a priest who it had allowed to continue working for nearly a year after multiple accusers alleged he had sexually abused them.

The Rev. John P. Paul is accused of sexual abuse of children.
The Rev. John P. Paul is accused of sexual abuse of children.Read more

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday the suspension of a priest who it had allowed to continue working for nearly a year after multiple accusers alleged he had sexually abused them.

It was only after "multiple, new allegations" surfaced within the last two months against the Rev. John P. Paul, formerly of Our Lady of Calvary Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, that church officials decided to place him on administrative leave last week.

As has been its practice, the archdiocese declined Sunday to release any details about either the old or new allegations against Paul except to say that in all cases, his accusers said they were abused more than 30 years ago.

Paul, 67, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The news of Paul's suspension came a day after parishioners across the region began learning the fates of seven other previously suspended priests who faced investigation by an archdiocesan review board over claims they either sexually abused or acted inappropriately around minors.

But unlike Paul, they were all suspended before a full vetting of the accusations against them.

Paul, instead, was allowed to continue preaching at Our Lady of Calvary while local law enforcement investigated him. During that time, he was barred from unsupervised contact with children, church officials said.

Authorities ultimately declined to prosecute him. But late this year, the new accusers came forward, prompting Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's decision to suspend Paul last week, said Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

"The decision to restrict Father Paul's ministry instead of putting him on administrative leave some time ago was based on the information available at the time," Gavin said. "There was nothing there that was leading the review board to believe he was a danger to minors."

Paul, who had served on the faculty of at least six Catholic high schools in Pennsylvania, retired from Our Lady of Calvary last month.

But his case follows seven years of turmoil for an archdiocese whose top hierarchy has repeatedly faced accusations of responding sluggishly - or not at all - to charges against predator priests.

In 2005, a Philadelphia grand jury excoriated then-Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and other church leaders for leading an "immoral" cover-up that allowed sexual assaults against children to go unpunished. The cardinal vigorously denied the panel's claims.

Six years later, a second grand jury accused church officials of continuing to fall short. It recommended criminal charges against Msgr. William Lynn, then the archdiocese's secretary of clergy, for failing to adequately respond to accusations against other priests. He was convicted of one count of child endangerment last year and sentenced to three to six years in prison.

After that 2011 report, 26 priests were suspended for purported sex abuse or misconduct involving minors. The archdiocesan review board has since substantiated claims against more than half of them and permanently removed them from ministry.

That number includes five whose fates were announced to parishioners at Masses over the weekend. They were:

The Rev. Michael A. Chapman, last of Ascension of Our Lord Parish in Kensington. Chaput had cleared him to return to work in May 2012. New sex-abuse allegations surfaced four months later, prompting another suspension.

The Rev. Stephen B. Perzan of St. Helena Parish in North Philadelphia. Grand jurors cited his case in the 2011 report, noting he was initially allowed to keep his ministry after failing a lie-detector test about claims he molested two boys in the 1990s.

The Rev. Mark E. Fernandes of St. Agnes in Sellersville.

The Rev. Joseph M. Glatts, of SS. Simon and Jude in West Chester.

The Rev. Peter J. Talocci of St. Patrick's in Malvern.

Reaction at their parishes Sunday ranged from reluctant resignation to outrage.

"This is a moment which offers us an opportunity to choose Christ amid all the confusion," the Rev. Christopher Redcay counseled congregants at Talocci's former church.

"He was a fine priest," parishioner Carole Ortney said later. "I'm very sad to hear this happened."

In Perzan's old parish, new pastor Msgr. Joseph T. Trinh started off Sunday greeting his flock with a "good morning," only to correct himself later when it came time to announce the news.

"Today is not a good morning at all," he said. Asked later about the decision involving Perzan, a woman who asked not to be identified said only, "It stinks."

The review board also cleared two other suspended priests to return to work last week - the Rev. Francis J. Schlett, retired from Our Lady of Grace in Penndel; and Zachary W. Navit of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Doylestown.

Though in Navit's case, the board noted although it was "more likely than not" that he violated ministerial standards, it concluded he posed no danger to children.

"The archdiocese is and remains firmly committed to protecting children and young people," said Gavin, the church spokesman. "It has taken various steps since 2011 to strengthen and reinforce those efforts."