As of March 21, 2011, four civil lawsuits have been filed against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and various high ranking members of the Catholic Church within the city. The lawsuits constitute the beginning of what I believe will be a flood of civil litigation in the Philadelphia Courts following the release of the grand jury report entitled “Investigation of Sexual Abuse by Clergy II.” The significance of that title is that this is not the first time allegations of sexual abuse and cover up have rocked the Philadelphia Catholic Church through a grand jury investigation. In 2005, a grand jury report from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office alleged that former heads of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Cardinal John Krol and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, were involved in a systematic scheme to cover up allegations of abuse against priests. The alleged cover up included allegations that the aforementioned cardinals, as well as others in the hierarchy of the archdiocese, attempted to cover up allegations of abuse by transferring priests to different parishes after the allegations surfaced. In and around the 2005 grand jury report, the archdiocese, now led by Cardinal Justin Rigali, worked in conjunction with the District Attorney’s Office to cooperate with the investigations into the allegations of abuse. As is well known, the substance of the 2005 grand jury investigation led to several civil lawsuits as a result of the conduct set forth in the grand jury’s report.
Now, fast forward to 2011, and it seems not much has changed. The recent grand jury report accused the Church of failing to do anything to stop the abuse that was outlined in the 2005 grand jury report. Furthermore, the 2011 grand jury report contends that the procedures implemented to help victims were actually designed to help the abusers. Many individuals may not have come forward with their allegations of abuse after the 2005 report out of a blind loyalty to their faith. However, given the actions and the inactions of the Church in the years since the 2005 report, it is likely that many additional victims will come forward. There have already been four lawsuits filed by these victims and my suspicion is that this is only the beginning.