Philadelphia Archdiocese Document a Smoking Gun

Fox 29 in Philadelphia first broke the news about a “smoking gun” document related to the Archdiocese’s priest abuse scandal. The document, dated 10/03, appears to have been drafted and promulgated for use in the Philadelphia Archdiocese almost a year after the so-called Dallas Charter was approved by the US bishops. The Dallas Charter mandated that all dioceses report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement and clearly inform sexual abuse survivors of their civil legal rights.
The newly released Philadelphia document clearly contradicts the the spirit and actual directives of the Dallas Charter. In part, the document reads, “I (name of individual) prohibit (name of official from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from releasing to the appropriate law enforcement authorities of (location of law enforcement) any information I provide about alleged sexual abuse by an official or employee of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia unless I disclose information which is mandated to be reported.”
Interestingly, the month in which the document is dated corresponds to the same month that Cardinal Justin Rigali was installed as Archbishop of Philadelphia, succeeding Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
The document is curious in that it states that “I understand that this is contrary to the policy of the Archdiocese.” It’s not entirely clear what “this” refers to. It’s sufficiently unclear so as to create doubt about the possible intent of the document. We’ve seen this before in church documents. Such ambiguity allows church officials the “wiggle room” needed to explain their way out of a delicate situation.
However, it’s clear from this morning’s Catholic media reaction that some see it as an unambiguous attempt at pressuring survivors of sexual abuse from contacting law enforcement. Michael Sean Winters writes in his National Catholic Reporter blog, “But, again, the problem in Philadelphia is not a problem of a one errant hierarch. The problem is a culture of clericalism.”