Philadelphia Archdiocese Facing Eight New Priest Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia will soon be named in eight new lawsuits alleging church officials covered-up child sexual abuse committed by seven of its priests.   An attorney representing the nine plaintiffs in the lawsuits said they were inspired come forward by the recent conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for enabling an abusive priest.

Details of the lawsuits, which are expected to be filed today, have yet to be released.  In addition to the seven priests, the lawsuits name Lynn, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and his predecessor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, are named as defendants.

Lynn, who served as secretary for clergy at the Philadelphia Archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, was the first high-ranking church official ever sentenced to prison for allowing an abusive priest to continue in the ministry.   In March, that priest, Thomas Avery pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lynn had sent Avery for treatment in 1992 when a 28-year-old man accused the priest of abusing him.  Avery’s name also topped a confidential list compiled by Lynn of area priests he described as “guilty of sexual misconduct with minors.”  Yet in 1995, Lynn recommended that Avery be allowed to return to the ministry, and he was assigned to a parish where prosecutors say he later molested the altar boy on two occasions.  Lynn was charged with endangerment and convicted earlier this summer.

Yesterday, in a motion filed by Lynn’s lawyers seeking bail, it was alleged that Avery had lied about his abuse of the altar boy in order to receive a light sentence.  Avery was only sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years in jail.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced yesterday it was had again suspended a former Northeast Philadelphia pastor over a claim that he sexually abused a minor.  Just last May, Chaput had declared that Rev. Michael Chapman was suitable to return to active ministry.   According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chapman was among two dozen Philadelphia- area priests placed on leave in March 2011 while church officials reexamined past allegations of misconduct. He was preparing to return to work when the Archdiocese received the new accusation, allegedly over an incident that occurred 30 years ago.

The Archdiocese has passed the new allegation against Chapman onto law enforcement and halted his reinstatement.  According to a church spokesperson, he was “never actually returned to active public ministry, did not have access to children, and was not residing in a parish.”

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