A priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Fr Kevin McGoldrick, is quietly seeking voluntary laicization after that archdiocese investigated a claim he sexually assaulted a young woman who had been in his spiritual charge. The Philadelphia archdiocese determined the allegation to be credible roughly seven months after they received it directly from the victim. The victim had originally taken her complaint to the Diocese of Nashville, where she alleges the incident occurred, but Nashville never opened a formal investigation.
The Catholic Herald has obtained significant documentation corroborating the victim’s claims and raising concerns about the handling of the matter in several Church jurisdictions. The case reinforces longstanding concerns regarding the Catholic Church’s handling of similar matters at every level of the hierarchy and in religious congregations. The main facts of the case are as follows:
These and other irregularities call into question not only the efficacy of safeguarding, reporting, and investigative procedures currently in place, but the commitment of Church leadership to safeguarding of vulnerable adults. They also raise serious questions about the leadership culture in the Church.
The story in brief
The victim alleges Fr McGoldrick sexually assaulted her in late August of 2017, while she was a student and he was chaplain at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. McGoldrick was not only the chaplain, but had been his accuser’s spiritual director and knew intimate details of her life story. She reported the incident to the diocese of Nashville in March of 2019, but Nashville never opened a formal investigation.
The sisters say they received from the Diocese of Nashville a very different version of events from the one Fr McGoldrick’s accuser told their Superior in February of this year.
“We take very seriously any charges of this nature,” the Nashville Dominicans told the Catholic Herald in a detailed statement of their position offered in response to our queries, “and encourage anyone who may have concerns to contact the Archdiocese of Philadelphia directly.”
“In March of 2019,” the Nashville Dominicans’ statement reads, “the Diocese of Nashville informed the Congregation that Father McGoldrick had recently been accused by an adult female, who wished to remain anonymous, of imprudent, unprofessional behaviour during an alleged incident in August 2017.” The statement says the Diocese of Nashville did not describe McGoldrick’s alleged behaviour as civilly or canonically criminal.
“In light of the circumstances,” the statement goes on to say, “the Congregation chose to allow Father McGoldrick’s three‑year contract to come to an end in June 2019 presuming that he then would return to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”
The Nashville Dominicans say Fr McGoldrick’s victim contacted the Congregation in February of 2020 and requested a meeting with Mother Anna Grace. The victim told the Catholic Herald she sought the meeting because of concern the Nashville Dominicans – to whom she felt an especially close bond and had in fact considered joining – were not aware of the true gravity of her allegations against Fr McGoldrick.
“During the meeting,” the Sisters’ statement says, “she relayed to Mother further details about the alleged incident which were more serious in nature than those the Congregation had received in March of 2019, and she shared that she had recently contacted law enforcement.” The statement goes on to say the alleged victim also told Mother Anna Grace about her report to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The Nashville Dominicans say they then contacted the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and were told that the archdiocese had been in contact with the victim and had taken appropriate action.
“The report of the alleged event is the first and only complaint the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia have received concerning Father McGoldrick,” the Nashville Dominicans’ statement says. “The well-being and safety of those whom we serve is of foremost priority to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. We join in prayer for the alleged victim who has made the report and others affected by this situation.”
Fr McGoldrick’s accuser had taken her complaint to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in July 2019 and Philadelphia did open an investigation. In January 2020, Philadelphia found her allegation credible and suspended the priest. McGoldrick elected to seek laicization.
In early 2020, the alleged victim also made a police report and brought a civil complaint against the Diocese of Nashville. The civil dispute was settled in May 2020. The accuser did not pursue the criminal avenue. The police report—obtained by the Catholic Herald—says the case is still open.
In April 2020, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia informed the accuser through her attorney, that Fr McGoldrick had submitted his petition, and that the Philadelphia Chancery had “some work” to do before it went to Rome. On July 16th, however, the Congregation for Clergy, which usually handles such matters, told the Catholic Herald they have no petition from McGoldrick on record and no information about his history or disciplinary status.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia apparently never informed either the Archdiocese of Louisville – the metropolitan see responsible for Nashville diocese – or the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, about Nashville’s evident mismanagement of the matter.
Susanna* alleges that Fr McGoldrick got her drunk and sexually assaulted her while she was alone with him in his rectory on the Aquinas College campus in Nashville, Tennessee, in late August 2017.
She had gone to the rectory with a friend—also a young woman student—for dinner and drinks. Her friend had to leave early. The friend later attested to these facts in an affidavit obtained by the Catholic Herald.
“Fr McGoldrick asked me if I wanted to do bourbon flight,” which was a normal occurrence, she says, and says she accepted the offer – not her first drinks of the evening. “It was after this that Father began to share with me very intimate parts of his life, particularly how lonely the priesthood was, how miserable he was, and how he longed to be known and loved.” Susanna tells how McGoldrick continued to freshen her bourbon glass all throughout his rehearsal.
It was late, and Susanna was intoxicated. McGoldrick was singing a song – one of his own – about “the state of his heart” as she recalls, when she had to excuse herself. She ran outside to vomit. When her nausea had passed, she says McGoldrick suggested they watch a movie, and poured her another drink.
“He sat on one end of the couch and I sat on the other with my legs on the couch,” Susanna recounts. It was about midnight. “I knew it was strange for me to be there alone,” she says, “I didn’t want to upset him or end our friendship by leaving, not to mention that I was not in full command of my intellectual faculties.”
Susanna says Fr McGoldrick began touching her foot. He told her he “has a thing for feet.” She was seriously disturbed by that – and by the touching – but was drunk and did not know what to do. “So,” she reports, “I did nothing.” Touching feet became touching legs. Then, McGoldrick was on top of Susanna.
“[He was] touching me in very inappropriate ways,” she says, “and kissing my neck.” Susanna specified in answer to the Herald’s questions that she recalls the touching was both above and beneath her clothing.
She says she passed in and out of consciousness during the assault. “Every time I woke up I hoped I was in a nightmare and the chaplain of my college wasn’t on top of me,” she says in a separate first-person account. “I was wrong each time.”
Susanna doesn’t remember how she made it out of the rectory or home to her apartment, but believes she left about 4am, after deciding with Fr McGoldrick to “talk about what happened” – his words, as she recalls them – the following day.
Susanna told the Herald she contemplated suicide on the way home that night, not for the last time during her protracted ordeal.
The following day, Susanna awoke feeling “extreme disgust” over what had transpired – mostly with herself – and in a state of “extreme confusion” over how it happened. She felt guilty. “I hated myself,” she says, “and had convinced myself that it was entirely my fault.” She says she went to confession to a priest in Nashville, who urged her to tell the diocese about the incident.
Then, however, Susanna chose silence.
It would be roughly 18 months before Susanna would report her assault to the Diocese of Nashville. Susanna says one of the things that convinced her to report was the experience of seeing a younger student’s car parked at the rectory where Fr McGoldrick still lived. When Susanna did finally report the assault to Church authorities in Nashville, it was early March of 2019.
Susanna did tell us she saw Fr McGoldrick the day after the alleged assault, after he sent a text message to ask for a meeting.
She went to Fr McGoldrick’s residence and told him she wanted no part of a relationship with him, that he was a priest and that what had happened was wrong. Susanna recalls McGoldrick responding that he understood, but also offered that his life was very hard. He apologized.
“I told him,” Susanna says, “I hoped I was the only person with whom this had happened.” She says McGoldrick gave no response.
Numerous phone calls from the Catholic Herald to Fr McGoldrick went unanswered. Voice messages and emails seeking comment and offering him the opportunity to give his side of the story went without reply.
Susanna recalls that Fr McGoldrick also told her he had thought of calling one of his priest friends to make a confession. She also recalls McGoldrick saying he “couldn’t find anything he needed to confess.” They agreed never to be alone together. Susanna says she did not want to “lose a friend” and felt “an unhealthy responsibility” toward McGoldrick. He hugged her at the end of the conversation, and they parted ways.
About a week later – in early September 2017 – Susanna says Fr McGoldrick again contacted her to say she had left a bottle of vodka at the rectory, which she had brought to the gathering at which the assault occurred. She went to retrieve it. They spoke for a few minutes, and she recalls that he offered her a drink of bourbon, which she accepted.
“We sat in the room between his kitchen and music room at a table and spoke for probably 20-30 minutes,” Susanna recounts.
When she told McGoldrick she would be leaving, “Father hugged me in a romantic way, bent his legs, and very intensely pressed his groin against me as he stood up.” She told him she needed to leave and left.
Susanna informs Church officials
On March 8th, 2019, after unburdening herself to her spiritual director and hearing his assurances that what had happened to her was not her fault, Susanna phoned the Nashville diocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator, Deacon Hans Toecker. The call lasted for 42 minutes, during which Susanna says she gave a complete and detailed account of the attack she suffered.
Deacon Toecker promised to inform the Dominican sisters in charge of Aquinas College, Overbrook School, and St. Cecilia Academy—that last, St. Cecilia, being the all-girls’ secondary school to which Fr McGoldrick was chaplain as well—of the report the diocese had received. It is unclear whether Toecker ever made good on his promise.
“There was no language used with me to suggest an investigation being formally opened or closed,” Susanna said. In response to queries from the Catholic Herald, Nashville acknowledged receipt of Susanna’s report, but said the allegation “appeared to be neither a civil or [sic] canonical crime.”
Nashville’s communications director, Rick Musacchio, told the Catholic Herald, “We received a report from an adult woman of inappropriate activity involving Kevin McGoldrick, a visiting priest living in the diocese to work as the chaplain at Aquinas College.”
Musacchio went on to say, “McGoldrick was not incardinated in the Diocese of Nashville and was not acting as an agent of the Diocese or any of its constituent parishes, ministries, or bodies at the time of the incident or the report.” In their statement to the Catholic Herald, however, the Nashville Dominicans note that it was “the Diocese of Nashville, which had granted McGoldrick the necessary faculties to engage in priestly ministry within the Diocese.”
Musacchio also said Susanna’s report “was immediately referred to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia who own and operate Aquinas College.”
Susanna spoke directly with the Dominican superior, Mother Anna Grace Neenan, in February of 2020. “I told her everything that happened,” said Susanna. “She knew something, but she told me what I was telling her was not what she had heard.”
Between Susanna’s initial report on March 8, 2019, and May 8 of that same year, Deacon Toecker was a difficult man to reach. He was away from the office, undergoing a medical procedure and then recuperating for some of the time. Susanna recalls that she finally spoke with Deacon Toecker on May 8th.
She then learned from Toecker that he had confronted Fr McGoldrick directly, and that McGoldrick denied the allegations. Toecker also told her that McGoldrick’s contract with the Nashville Dominicans would not be renewed for the coming year.
Susanna was disappointed with Nashville’s handling of her allegations, and afraid Fr McGoldrick may continue to harm young women or even girls, which was her reason for reporting the alleged assault in the first place.
From all that I have gathered, we in Philadelphia were not aware of your report until you sent it to Archbishop Chaput in July. – John P. Delaney Jr., the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Eventually, she would file a report with Nashville Metro Police and a civil complaint against the Nashville diocese. Before that, however, Susanna brought her story to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which is McGoldrick’s place of incardination (or “home diocese”).
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia received Susanna’s complaint and opened its investigation.
The Director of its Office for Investigations, John P. Delaney Jr. – a former 1st Assistant District Attorney for the City and County of Philadelphia who had 36 years’ experience in the DA’s office before taking the chief investigator’s job in the Archdiocese – told Susanna in an email dated August 12th, 2019: “From all that I have gathered, we in Philadelphia were not aware of your report until you sent it to Archbishop Chaput in July.”
The Philadelphia investigation in brief
Mr Delaney and Susanna were in regular contact via telephone and email between early July and late September 2019. Susanna’s correspondence with Delaney is peppered with expressions of gratitude for his attention and timely replies. Some of her questions, however, went without direct address. Some of the replies she received raised further questions, only some of which received satisfactory answer.
On July 10th, Mr Delaney wrote to Susanna to schedule a phone conversation and inquire about the status of the Nashville investigation. It is not clear from the exchange whether Delaney had been in contact with Nashville diocese at that point.
On September 20th, 2019, Susanna again wrote to Mr Delaney. She told him she had learned that Fr McGoldrick—his faculties supposedly restricted by Philadelphia—was playing a music festival in the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota. He was presenting as a priest and doing media appearances in the company of young women.
“It seems woefully inappropriate for a priest under investigation for such misconduct to be allowed to interact so closely with young women,” Susanna wrote, adding that she believed it “puts those girls in danger of falling prey to his manipulation and inappropriate actions.”
Susanna went on to ask: “Was anyone in the Archdiocese aware that Fr McGoldrick would be doing such a thing? Why is more care not being taken to protect other young women from experiencing the trauma that I experienced with that man?”
Susanna also asked why McGoldrick did not appear on any of the Philadelphia Archdiocesan clergy registers.
In his reply, Mr Delaney wrote, “Father McGoldrick does not appear on the internet listing of Archdiocesan priests with full faculties because his faculties have been restricted during the investigation.”
The diocesan communications director in Duluth, Deacon Kyle Eller, responded to email queries from the Catholic Herald on July 15th, saying that the diocese knew nothing about the allegation or the investigation.
“This is news to us,” he wrote. “The organizer of the event, Marie Mullen, and its emcee, Father Ryan Moravitz, had no knowledge of any restriction on Father McGoldrick, and we have a letter of suitability on file for him from the time of the event,” he explained. In response to a follow-up query, Eller said the letter of suitability was dated January 4th, 2019 – some two months before Susanna lodged her original complaint with Nashville.
“The investigation proceeds,” Mr Delaney also wrote in response to Susanna’s September 20th email, “I hope you can understand why it is not possible or advisable to inform you of every step that is being taken. You should know that this is being looked at, carefully and thoroughly. The fact that it is taking time should not be interpreted as any comment on its importance.” He said he would notify Susanna when the investigation was concluded.
On December 18th, 2019, Susanna wrote to ask about the status of the preliminary investigation Delaney had told her was underway. She mentioned that a canon lawyer she had consulted had apprised her of her right to be informed regarding the status of the investigation. She also asked whether the investigation “fell under the parameters” of Pope Francis’s sweeping 2019 reform law, Vos estis lux mundi, designed to encourage and facilitate the reporting and investigation of abuse and coverup, and streamlining ecclesiastical processes in those and related regards. The next day, Delaney replied:
We have completed the investigation and submitted the report to the Vicar for Clergy. Under the Archdiocesan policies, he is to prepare a recommendation for the Archbishop. The investigative report and his recommendation are provided to the Archbishop for his review and decision. As soon as I am informed of that decision, I will inform you.
Delany also noted that he expected to have a decision “sooner rather than later” but had no more precise time frame. He also told Susanna: “The investigation was into a possible violation of the Archdiocesan Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries. It was not pursuant to Vos estis.”
It is difficult to grasp how Vos estis lux mundi would not apply either to Susanna’s case or to the handling of it at various levels of Church.
The assault Susanna alleges took place before Vos estis came into effect, but the Church’s foremost authority on sex crimes, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, told the Catholic Herald in May of last year: “[Vos estis] applies as from June 1, 2019 for the reporting and investigation of misconduct whenever [it] may have happened.”
The failure of Nashville diocese to inform the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and other serious irregularities in Nashville’s handling of Susanna’s complaint, were things that Vos estis (cf. Art. 1§1b, Art., 2§§1&3, Art. 3§3) appears to require Churchmen to report to proper authority.
In Susanna’s case, Vos estis would appear to have required Nashville to inform the Archdiocese of Philadelphia regarding the allegation they had received against Philadelphia’s priest. It also would appear to have required the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to inform the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Apostolic Nuncio, Christophe Pierre, regarding Nashville’s failure to investigate and report to them.
“These norms,” reads Vos estis in Article 1, “apply to reports regarding clerics or members of Institutes of Consecrated Life or Societies of Apostolic Life and concerning … (b) conduct carried out by [bishops or religious superiors] consisting of actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious,” suspected or accused of “forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts,” or, “performing sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person,” when “vulnerable person” is defined as, “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offence.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville told the Herald that our queries, sent July 15th, were the first they had heard of the matter involving Susanna, Fr McGoldrick, Nashville diocese, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“We have not received any report and have no information about this situation,” wrote Louisville’s chief communications officer, Cecelia H. Price.
Susanna meets Archbishop Chaput
Susanna came face to face with Archbishop Chaput on the sidelines of a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. It was January 2nd, 2020. Chaput had preached at the morning Mass for conference participants. Susanna sent a message to a confidant, who encouraged her to try to see him. Susanna reached Archbishop Chaput during a break in a receiving line after the Mass.
Susanna recalls telling Archbishop Chaput she knew he would be making a decision about Fr McGoldrick soon. “I told him I was the woman Fr McGoldrick had hurt,” Susanna recalls. The Herald invited Chaput to share his recollection of the conversation, but the Archdiocese responded that “the Archbishop does not discuss private conversations or correspondence publicly.”
Susanna recalls that Archbishop Chaput was familiar with the case, and was sorry he only had short time for her, because he had a meeting with Cardinal Müller, but wished he’d known she was coming, so he “could have given [her] an hour.”
Susanna recalls telling him, “I beg you not to let McGoldrick hurt anyone else.” Susanna says Archbishop Chaput told her she “didn’t need to beg him [not to] let McGoldrick hurt anyone else,” and that Chaput gave her his word he would not let that happen.
Susanna took her leave of Archbishop Chaput. Then, she collapsed, sobbing, against a wall in the crowded hallway. A kindly cleric noticed her distress, and asked if Susanna wanted to tell him what was wrong. “It would take all day,” Susanna recalls telling him. “I’ve got nothing for the next six hours,” came the reply.
Susanna recounted her story to the priest, bringing him in broad strokes from the beginning up to the present. The priest told her: “The Nuncio needs to hear about this,” and went on to say that the Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, was in the building. Susanna, however, was exhausted.
The priest, Fr Thomas Whittingham of Philadelphia, spoke with the Catholic Herald and confirmed Susanna’s account, though he could not recall his precise words regarding the Nuncio. He recalls Susanna being “very reluctant to name anyone.” Between the geographic location of Susanna’s school and her connection to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Fr Whittingham deduced that McGoldrick was the priest in question. He named Fr McGoldrick, and Susanna confirmed.
Fr Whittingham said it seemed to him that Susanna “desired to do the right thing and did not seem vengeful at all.” She was evidently upset with the way Church authorities had handled her complaint, but recalls that she took comfort in the words Archbishop Chaput had spoken. “Her main concern,” Whittingham said, “appeared to me to be that McGoldrick not be able to hurt anyone else.”
Philadelphia rules on the complaint
A few days after her unscheduled meeting with Archbishop Chaput in Phoenix, Mr Delaney – Philadelphia’s chief investigator – called Susanna to tell her that Archbishop Chaput had decided her accusation was credible, and that a canonical process for Fr McGoldrick’s removal would begin. Susanna was incensed to learn that one possible avenue for Fr McGoldrick would be to seek voluntary laicization. She felt that was unacceptable – essentially a dodge – but it appears to be the avenue the Archdiocese pursued with regard to McGoldrick.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia confirmed that Archbishop Chaput had found the allegations credible, and if correct would constitute a violation of the Archdiocesan Standards of Ministerial Behaviour and Boundaries. “Based on the facts,” Archdiocesan director of communications Kenneth Gavin told the Herald, “Archbishop Chaput found the allegation to be credible.”
“As a result,” Gavin explained, “Father McGoldrick’s faculties were removed and he was restricted from the public exercise of his priestly ministry. Later, Father McGoldrick voluntarily requested to be removed from the clerical state.”
On February 14th of this year, Mr Delaney responded to an email from Susanna’s attorney to say: “Father McGoldrick has no faculties (i.e., authorization to minister) in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia or the Diocese of Nashville. The canonical process to formally suspend had [sic] begun.”
Two days earlier, Susanna had written to Mr Delaney to ask for Fr McGoldrick’s last known address and current telephone contact, so that she could take out a protection order. She had discussed that option with Ben Weinstein, the Nashville municipal Sexual Assault Center caseworker who was assisting her at that point. Susanna needed the information in order to file the request. Susanna also asked Delaney to inform the Nashville Dominicans that McGoldrick had been found credibly accused.
Susanna says her concern for the Nashville Dominicans was to see that the parents of lower school and Academy students, as well as the Aquinas College student body and alumni, were aware that the man who served as their chaplain was credibly accused of grave misconduct. She thought there might be other victims.
“If Mother Anna Grace would like information, please ask her to call or email me. I am happy to respond to her request,” Delaney replied on the same day, a few hours after receiving the request. He also offered the last address he had for McGoldrick: a Nashville P.O. box.
Susanna renewed her request for a phone number, reiterating that she needed a number for him or someone responsible for him, in order to file the request for a protection order. “I do not have a phone number for him,” Delaney replied. “I am not aware of anyone ‘responsible for him’,” i.e. McGoldrick, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
On April 2nd, 2020, Mr Delaney wrote to Susanna’s attorney—Susanna was by this point involved in her civil dispute with the Diocese of Nashville—to tell him that Fr McGoldrick “has submitted a petition to be laicized.” Delaney explained: “Some work will need to be done by the Chancellor here in the Archdiocese, then sent to the Vatican for review and decision.”
On May 15th, 2020, Susanna settled the civil dispute with the Diocese of Nashville, which she had begun in February. She settled for $65,000 and undertakings from Nashville to “communicate” with her of progress in the processes of “updating and revising certain diocesan norms and policies concerning sexual misconduct involving adults.”
She does not recall whether the Diocese of Nashville ever offered any other assistance, but is confident no such offer would have come before a February 11th meeting with Nashville’s new Victim Assistance Coordinator, Vicki Lawson. Susanna says she “tuned out” of that meeting after it became clear to her that Lawson was not familiar with the details of her case. When the Herald asked Nashville diocese about the meeting, and whether any offer came from them then, Musacchio replied that they do not discuss details of conversations except with those directly involved.
Regarding the civil dispute, and the settlement, the Diocese of Nashville said, “in an effort to work toward a level of healing as a matter of pastoral concern for the person making the report, we entered into settlement discussions.” Nashville diocese also said the settlement proposal they received “initially included a confidentiality agreement,” but Nashville, “insisted that any potential settlement avoid having a non-disclosure requirement.”
“The parties,” Nashville further explained, “acknowledged the settlement agreement was not to be construed as an admission of liability or an admission of validity or the merits of any claim or allegation made by any party. Any and all liability was specifically denied.”
What does Rome know and what are the next steps?
On July 14th, the Catholic Herald asked the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal Beniamino Stella—in writing—whether his dicastery had received the petition, and if so, requested to know the contents of it. Cardinal Stella’s secretary promised that His Eminence would review the matter and be in touch with all possible speed.
The Congregation for Clergy responded on July 16th, saying: “In response to your query concerning Reverend Kevin McGoldrick, you should be aware that this Congregation is not in possession of any documentation on this cleric in our archive, and is unaware of any presentation of a petition for dispensation from the obligations arising from Holy Orders in his case.”
In its statement on Thursday afternoon to the Catholic Herald, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said, “[Fr McGoldrick’s] petition for laicization is in process with the Vatican at this time.” When the Herald wrote again, asking to which dicastery Philadelphia had sent the petition, the Archdiocese responded, “Based on information from our Chancery, it may be more accurate to state that his petition for laicization is in process.”
The reply further specified that Fr McGoldrick has submitted his petition to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and that it is addressed to Pope Francis. “As you know,” the reply continued, “it needs to be submitted through the Ordinary,” who is now Archbishop Nelson Pérez. “The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is currently gathering the other documentation required to accompany the petition before it is transmitted to the Holy See.”
Philadelphia experienced the unsettlement of a leadership transition—Archbishop Nelson Pérez succeeded Archbishop Chaput in February of this year—just as the coronavirus emergency was emerging as a global threat. There are outstanding questions about both the mechanics of Vos estis reporting and investigating, especially in cases involving vulnerable adults. In addition, there are few very clear indications regarding how both existing Church law and recent reforms are to be understood both theoretically and practically.
A handbook published by the Vatican on Thursday regarding procedures for graviora delicta—the most serious crimes at Church law—can only go some ways toward clarifying some of those questions.
Even granted all that, an ecclesiastical leadership culture that understands “safeguarding” to mean carrying out the bare minimum requirements of law may keep bishops out of trouble, but it will certainly get the Church more Susannas.
When Churchmen are largely free to interpret the laws by which they abide, and higher authority is reluctant to use the laws made for good order and better government, real cultural change cannot happen.
If nothing else, Susanna’s case illustrates how far Church leadership has to go before they achieve anything like the Responsibility, Accountability, and Transparency to which Pope Francis dedicated the whole Church at every level of governance, in the work of which he called all Catholics in every state of life and all persons of good will to assist according to their abilities.
*Susanna is not the victim’s real name.
Some dates have been added to the bullet points at the top of this story, for clarity.
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