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Diocese will likely face no charges



Published: Thu, August 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The church will think it's above the law, said one victim who's now 45.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- After hearing from hundreds of witnesses, a grand jury reportedly will conclude that no criminal charges can be brought against the Philadelphia Archdiocese for its supervision of Roman Catholic priests who sexually abused children.

The grand jury's report documents assaults on children by more than 50 priests, but state laws, including legal time limits, prevent prosecutors from filing charges, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, the message the church receives by no indictments is that they're above the law," said nurse Diane Freedman Drinker, 45, of Conshohocken, Pa., who told the panel she was sexually assaulted by a Philadelphia-area priest from age 10 until she was 16.

At least 11 grand juries nationwide have completed investigations of dioceses in the last three years, but none resulted in criminal charges against bishops concerning their management of priest-abuse cases. They include panels in Los Angeles, Boston and Arizona.

The more-than-500-page report by Philadelphia prosecutors, now in the hands of a Common Pleas judge overseeing the secret probe, harshly criticized church leaders for shielding abusers, the Inquirer reported, citing confidential sources. The report is expected to be made public next month.

Former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who led the archdiocese from 1988 to 2003, was among those who testified.

A partial victory

Victim advocates, while disappointed, say the grand jury probes have focused attention on the clergy abuse problem and have prompted several states to extend time limits for the filing of sexual assault charges.

"I think they accomplished a tremendous amount," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a church law expert who served as a consultant to several grand juries. "They clearly brought out the truth about the extent of sex abuse by the clergy and about the extensive negligence of the leadership to handle these cases properly."

In the Philadelphia area, church officials have said more than 40 priests were credibly accused of sexual assaults over the last half-century. The grand jury reportedly found that Philadelphia archdiocese officials often made only a cursory inquiry into complaints by children or parents and that church officials did not contact police.

An attorney for the archdiocese, C. Clark Hodgson Jr., declined comment Wednesday, as did archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Farrell. A spokeswoman for Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham also declined comment, citing grand jury secrecy.

One arrest

The criminal investigation did lead to the arrest of the Rev. James J. Behan, an Oblate priest who pleaded guilty this year to repeatedly assaulting a 15-year-old boy from 1978 to 1980. He left the state soon afterward, which stopped the clock on the statute of limitations. Behan is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 9.

Lawyer Jay Abramowitz represents about 60 people filing civil actions over alleged clergy abuse, some of whom testified before the Philadelphia grand jury.

"There was a great deal of evidence presented to the grand jury," he said. "It's just a question of the statute of limitations. It's the only hurdle that could have prevented the grand jury from indicting. I don't think anybody disputes it. I don't think the church disputes that."

Abraham convened the grand jury investigation in April 2002 amid a nationwide scandal following the disclosure of widespread abuse in the Catholic Church in Boston.

Drinker and two of her cousins told the archdiocese in 1991 that they had been assaulted by a priest who was a family friend, but the priest remained active for another decade, she said. Numerous other people, including two of her cousins, have also accused him of abuse, she said.

"They had a thick file on him. You just wonder if they had done something back when the original complaints came in, how many people could have been saved," Drinker said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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