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5 priests barred from ministry for sex abuse in Philadelphia

Five priests will be permanently barred from ministry after the Philadelphia archdiocese substantiated allegations of sexual abuse or inappropriate conduct, a Catholic archbishop said Friday.

Three other suspended priests will return to ministry, and another died during the investigation, Archbishop Charles Chaput said. Another 17 cases remain under review, he said.

"When a child is harmed, the church has failed. When trust is lost, the church has failed. When the whole community suffers as a result, the church has failed," Chaput said. "We can't change the past. But I pray -- and I do believe -- that the lessons of the last year have made our Church humbler, wiser, and a more vigilant guardian of our people's safety."

Four of the five cases substantiated were said to involve "boundary" or "behavioral" problems, not sexual assaults.

Yet a lawyer for one accuser said one of those four priests had raped him at St. Timothy's Parish rectory in Philadelphia in the early 1970s.

"How do they define boundary issues, if somebody reports, credibly, that he was sexually raped -- both orally and anally -- as a 9- to 11-year-old?" said the man's lawyer, Daniel Monahan of Exton.

The accuser, now in his 50s, contacted the archdiocese in 2006. He met last year with church investigators, a team led by a former child sex-crimes prosecutor and retired detective, and detailed his allegations, Monahan said.

The announcements came as a former archdiocesan official, Monsignor William Lynn, stands trial on child-endangerment and conspiracy charges. He faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted of helping the church cover up abuse complaints as the secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Defense lawyers say he took orders from the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

About two dozen other priests were suspended more than a year ago, after a grand jury report again blasted the archdiocese for keeping accused priests in ministry. A 2005 grand jury report had raised the same concern.

Chaput inherited the sex-abuse problem when he arrived from Denver last year.

Philadelphia prosecutors unearthed hundreds of abuse complaints from secret church files for a watershed 2005 grand jury report that named 63 credibly accused priests, many still in ministry at the time. But they said the alleged crimes were too old to prosecute.

Chaput offered his "heartfelt apology" to all victims of clergy abuse. In contrast with earlier church policy, he said he that all of the accusations against the 26 suspended priests had been referred to law enforcement. It's not clear if any are recent enough for police to contemplate charges.

David Clohessy, executive Director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was disappointed that so few cases have been resolved.

"It leaves priests accused with little or no supervision, living among unsuspected neighbors, and no clarity whatsoever among Catholics or citizens," Clohessy said.