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Survivors' advocate says apologetic words aren't enough

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Sex abuse scandal roars to life
  • NEW: An advocate for abuse survivors says the archdiocese is still not doing enough
  • NEW: Parishioners in Pennsylvania say they're relying on faith amid the scandal
  • NEW: Philadelphia District Attorney says statute of limitations has expired in most cases
  • Archbishop Rigali cites "grave sins of sexual abuse" against minors

(CNN) -- An advocate for sexual abuse survivors was unmoved by the words of the archbishop of Philadelphia, after the cardinal asked during an Ash Wednesday Mass for forgiveness from victims of sexual abuse by the clergy.

"Asking for prayers is fine. Asking victims, witnesses and whistle blowers to call police is better," said Peter Isely, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "That's what protects kids, when adults overcome their fear and shame and help law enforcement catch criminals. That's what Rigali should be prodding his flock to do."

Before a capacity-crowd Wednesday at Philadelphia's Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Cardinal Justin Rigali asked "forgiveness of all those whom we have offended in any way" and said the church is re-evaluating the way it handles sexual abuse allegations.

But Isley says that's not enough. He said the cardinal should also be housing "proven, admitted and credibly accused predator priests in a secure, remote, independent treatment center so kids will be safer."

"And he should be joining with us in pushing to reform Pennsylvania's archaic, predator-friendly state child sex laws so that crime victims, not bishops, can decide whether and when child molesters are publicly exposed through the open, time-tested U.S. judicial system," Isley added.

Church abuse protesters in Philadelphia

RIgali's homily Wednesday cited "the grave sins of sexual abuse committed against minors, in particular by members of the clergy. We experience the need to ask God's forgiveness repeatedly in our liturgy and to offer prayers of reparation for the sins and for all the sins of the world."

"Protection of children is paramount," Rigali continued, "We express once again our sorrow to God for all our sins and for the sins of others. I personally renew my deep sorrow to the victims of sexual abuse in the community of the church and to all others, including so many faithful priests who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime."

Rigali announced Tuesday that 21 priests had been placed on administrative leave following a review of suspected child sexual abuse cases. The church mounted it's investigation after a grand jury report released in February said some 37 priests remained in "active ministry with credible allegations of child sexual abuse,"

In a written statement, he said that three other priests had already been placed on administrative leave after a grand jury report report released in February. Five others would have been subject to administrative leave, Rigali added, but one was already on leave and two others are considered "incapacitated" and have not been in active ministry. Two other priests no longer serve in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, but the church has "notified the superiors of their religious orders and the bishops of the dioceses where they are residing," he said.

"I want to be clear: These administrative leaves are interim measures," Rigali added in his statement. "They are not in any way final determinations or judgments."

Attendees of the Mass Wedneday on the first day of Lent spoke to CNN about the ongoing scandal.

"It's going to be a long time before I can face my priests and the people who run my parish," said Mary Scott. The allegations didn't impact her belief in God, she said, but she's still thinking twice about the leadership in her parish.

"I know that they weren't involved or didn't have some say in what happened," she continued, "So I think that's where it rattles me most. It's a hard topic."

But faith is what sustains parishioner John Ivan. "My faith is much more than what's happened with the awful and shameful thing that has happened," Ivan told CNN. "But my faith is much broader than that, and what the Catholic Church does in so many ways is much, much broader than that. It is a horrible thing, it's a shameful thing, but it's something that we'll get through."

However, it's unlikely charges will be filed against any of the 21 priests placed on administrative leave on Tuesday.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams acknowledged that much of the information authorities have them is "beyond the statute of limitations." But his office is reviewing files and will prosecute if it can, he said.

The archdiocese also has retained a lawyer with a background in child sexual assault cases.

Gina Maisto Smith, who was retained in February, is a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney who prosecuted cases of sexual abuse against children.

"This leadership team has put the protection of children as a top priority by bringing me in," she said. "They've given me the power to call it as I see it, and to communicate it in putting children first."

In February, three Philadelphia priests and a parochial school teacher were charged with raping and assaulting boys in their care, while a former official with the Philadelphia archdiocese was accused of allowing the abusive priests to have access to children, according to the city's district attorney's office.

CNN Senior Vatican Analyst John Allen said the charges against the former church official appeared to be unprecedented and could have national implications.

"This is apparently the first time that a Catholic leader has been charged criminally for the cover-up as opposed to the abuse itself," he said. "It sends a shot across the bow for bishops and other diocesan officials in other parts of the country, who have to wonder now if they've got criminal exposure, too."

Edward Avery, 68, and Charles Engelhardt, 64, were charged in connection with the alleged assault of a 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome Parish from 1998 to 1999.

Bernard Shero, 48, a teacher in the school, was charged with assault in connection with the same boy there in 2000, Williams said at a news conference in February.

James Brennan, another priest, is accused of assaulting a different boy, a 14-year-old, in 1996.

Monsignor William Lynn, who served as the secretary for clergy for the then-Philadelphia Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assaults, Williams said.

From 1992 until 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children, the district attorney's office said.

The grand jury found that Lynn, 60, endangered children, including the alleged victims of those charged last week, by knowingly allowing dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to kids.

Avery, Engelhardt and Shero were charged with rape, indecent sexual assault and other criminal counts following the results of the grand jury investigation of clergy sexual abuse, Williams said. The names of the alleged victims, who are now in their 20s, have not been publicly released.

The grand jury believed that more than 30 priests remained in ministry in Pennsylvania despite solid, credible allegations of abuse, according to Williams.

Williams on Tuesday said Rigali's actions "are as commendable as they are unprecedented."

"Going forward, in cases involving allegations of abuse by clergy, my office and the Philadelphia police will investigate, and where appropriate we will charge and prosecute. I intend to use the resources of this office to the greatest extent possible to protect the children of Philadelphia," Williams said in a prepared statement. "In those cases where allegations are not prosecutable because of the statute of limitations or some other reason, we encourage the archdiocese to take the necessary and proper steps to protect the children for whom they are responsible, as they have done here."

CNN's Sarah Hoye contributed to this report