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Activists raise questions about what local cardinal knew in wake of Pennsylvania scandal

In 2011, Cardinal Justin Rigali retired to the Knoxville Catholic diocese after leading the Church in Philadelphia. After a grand jury report implicated hundreds of priests across Pennsylvania, local activists are raising questions about what Rigali knew.

A grand jury report into sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania is prompting new questions about a retired cardinal living and working in Knoxville.

Justin Rigali oversaw the Catholic church in Philadelphia from 2003 to 2011. Now he's retired in Knoxville with an office in the diocese here.

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But in the wake of a third grand jury report into abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, local activists are raising questions about what Rigali knew when he was in office and whether he did enough to stop so-called "predator priests" and support their victims.

John Delaney, a Knoxville resident, said he was abused by a priest in Philadelphia when he was an alter boy in the 1980s, before Rigali became cardinal.

"I don't know that Cardinal Rigali did anything himself as far as covering up or anything like that," he said. "But it landed on his plate, and he did nothing about it."

Susan Vance, an activist with the Tennessee chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said she wants Catholics to focus on why he did not fix the problem once it came to him.

"Catholics need to ask, 'Why did he not fix what his predecessors had so badly done and criminally done?'" Vance said.

The Catholic Diocese of Knoxville told 10News that Rigali is a good man who faced a difficult situation in Philadelphia.

"During his tenure as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Rigali faced the difficult task of addressing an abuse crisis there that preceded him by decades," a statement from the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville said. "His Eminence was vigilant in his investigations and cooperated fully with civil authorities, including district attorneys in 2005 and 2011, and he endeavored to take appropriate action when allegations could be substantiated. Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Stika are both grateful that the recent grand jury report in Pennsylvania has been released."

The diocese also noted that the Philadelphia district attorney general at the time, Seth Williams, praised Rigali's response after a grand jury issued a scathing report about priest abuse there in 2011. Twenty-one priests were suspended at the time.

But victims like John Delaney feel the cardinal didn't do enough.

"He made no efforts to stop anything," Delaney said. "He made no efforts to reach out to victims to do anything."

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a priest's alleged abuse of John Delaney occurred during the time Justin Rigali was head of the Philadelphia archdiocese. The abuse is alleged to have occurred before Rigali's time in Philadelphia.

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