National Statement — Catholic League Misses the Point in Philadelphia

NEWTON, Mass., Apr. 27, 2011 – On most occasions the Catholic reform organization Voice of the Faithful does not respond to misrepresentations about its mission, goals and actions. However, when such distortions potentially could endanger innocent children, we have a moral obligation to speak out.

Recently, the Catholic League sent a letter to all priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that distorts both the facts of a survey conducted by the Greater Philadelphia VOTF regarding Pennsylvania statutes of limitations reforms and the facts of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in Philadelphia. Instead of misrepresenting the Greater Philadelphia VOTF survey, the Catholic League would better serve Catholics in Philadelphia and around the world by focusing on the truth.

The truth, as the Philadelphia grand jury reported, is that archdiocesan officials under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua ignored the U.S. Catholic bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was adopted to protect children from clergy sexual abuse. Instead, the archdiocese moved credibly accused priests from parish to parish rather than removing them from ministry. The truth, as the grand jury reported, is that the archdiocesan review board did not properly carry out its responsibilities, and Cardinal Justin Rigali and current chancery officials did not handle abuse claims appropriately. The archdiocese also withheld its records about abuse until forced by the grand jury to reveal files that clearly identified such abusers.

One obvious remedy to such negligence is to reform the statues of limitations that reward such secrecy by concealing abusers until the crimes they committed can no longer be prosecuted. That, in essence, is what statutes of limitations reforms set out to correct, and not just in Pennsylvania.

Ignoring these truths, the Catholic League currently is circulating claims that the Voice of the Faithful has told priests that supporting VOTF’s position on SOL reform is a measure of integrity. What our affiliate in Philadelphia actually said in its letter surveying priests’ opinion of SOL reform is: “A measure of integrity is support of victims of sexual abuse.” The pope himself repeatedly has called on all Catholics, including the clergy, to support victims of clergy sexual abuse. We think applying the label “integrity” to such a position is fully appropriate.

This is not the Catholic League’s only distortion. Voice of the Faithful does not, as the League claims, support SOL changes as a way to harm the Church—our own parishes and dioceses—financially. We do so to protect children from future abuse. Changes to statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse apply to all public institutions, to all churches, to all public and private schools where a child may be exposed to sexual abuse.

The Catholic League also fails to mention that the Philadelphia grand jury itself recommended that its state legislature “enact a two-year window to allow child sexual abuse victims to have their cases heard” and “abolish the statute of limitation for sexual offenses against minors.” We fully support those positions.

The attacks the Catholic League has mounted on Voice of the Faithful appear designed to obscure the findings of the grand jury that led to its recommendation for SOL reform and to ignore the failure of archdiocesan leaders to protect children from sexual predators.

To cite one example, the grand jury report said, “The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy (Msgr. William Lynn), but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again. The procedures the Archdiocese put in place to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers—dozens of them, we believe—remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey.”

Regarding Msgr. Lynn, the report said, “Msgr. Lynn violated that duty of protection. He placed Billy, Mark, and countless other minors in great danger, by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation of the allegations against Father Avery and Father Brennan, and by recommending that both priests be assigned to positions where they would have unsupervised contact with children despite both priests’ histories of inappropriate relations with children.”

These are the facts that should not be obscured by the Catholic League’s misguided distortions of VOTF’s position. The Catholic League would serve the Church community better by supporting survivors—a stance the pope himself has demanded—by protecting children through reformed laws and by calling to task failed leadership that created such a heartbreaking situation in Philadelphia.

Voice of the Faithful

Voice of the Faithful is a worldwide movement of concerned mainstream Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and shape structural change within the Church. More information is at

Nick Ingala, 781-559-3360, 617-291-3495 Cell