By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The archdiocese of Philadelphia, reeling from criminal and civil allegations of sexual misconduct by priests and church officials, said on Wednesday it would reopen 37 cases of possible child sexual abuse cited by a local grand jury.
The church also placed three priests on administrative leave pending review of their cases, the archdiocese said in a statement.
"Sexual abuse of children is a crime," Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, said in the statement. "It is always wrong and gravely evil. Protecting children, preventing child abuse and assisting victims are priorities of the archdiocese of Philadelphia."
Rigali and his predecessor, retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, were named in a civil suit filed this week by an anonymous 28-year-old man who accused them of concealing the identity and sexual abuse of predatory priests from law enforcement to save the church from a costly scandal
Last week, a grand jury recommended charging Monsignor William Lynn, secretary for the clergy for the Archdiocese under Bevilacqua, with two criminal counts of endangering the welfare of a child. It also recommended rape and other criminal charges against three priests and a teacher.
Rigali has ordered "the immediate reexamination of all cases of concern to the grand jury, which asserts that as many as 37 priests remain in active ministry with credible allegations of child sexual abuse," the church statement said.
The move was hailed by District Attorney Seth Williams, whose office led the grand jury probe.
"The cardinal's strong words and recent efforts are the correct steps at this time," Williams said.
The Archdiocese is the sixth largest in the United States with 1.5 million Catholics.
The archdiocese said the church hired Gina Maisto Smith, an attorney and former Philadelphia assistant district attorney, to lead the reexamination of the cases.
Placed on administrative leave were Rev. Joseph DiGregorio, Rev. Joseph Gallagher and Rev. Stephen Perzan, all of whom were named in the grand jury report.
The grand jury said Gallagher, accused by a former altar boy of fondling him, is retired. Perzan was accused by two boys of fondling them, it said, while DiGregorio remained a parochial vicar after he was "credibly accused" of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)