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Credit: Cindy Chen

Rev. Steven Marinucci, a Catholic priest who worked near Penn’s campus for 10 years, has been placed on administrative leave following an allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the late 1970s.

Marinucci, 71, worked at St. Agatha-St. James Church on 38th and Chestnut streets from 2001 to 2010. The church serves Penn and Drexel University students, as well as residents in the University City and West Philadelphia area. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia put Marinucci on leave soon after it received the allegation against Marinucci in late January. 

The Archdiocese wrote in a Feb. 3 announcement that it forwarded the allegations to legal authorities, and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement. The church will then conduct an internal investigation of the claim against Marinucci.

Marinucci has denied the allegation, the Archdiocese said. When put on leave, Marinucci was ministering at the St. Matthew Parish in Northeast Philadelphia.

Current and former religious leaders in Penn's Catholic community said they were saddened by the news of this allegation.

Father Eric Banecker, Catholic priest and 2011 College graduate, was a member of the Catholic Newman Center while Marinucci was stationed at St. Agatha-St. James. Banecker said he had a good relationship with Marinucci when he was a student at Penn.

“I’ve spoken to friends of mine when I was a student here who knew Father Steven," Banecker said. "And their reaction has been to pray for him and hope that he’s OK and to pray, obviously, for the person making this allegation and hope that it all comes to light and is resolved."

Banecker said people should reserve judgement until an investigation has been completed, adding that Catholic students should still feel safe involving themselves and their families with the church.

“I think we live in a culture where there are so many legitimate instances when some sort of sexual exploitation takes place and that’s a horrible thing,” Banecker said. “But I think out of a sense of justice we have to be able to recognize the fact that it is an accusation, and quite frankly I think the Archdiocese and the Church in general are very proactive."  

The allegation against Marinucci comes in the wake of Pennsylvania’s grand jury report, released in July 2018. The report documents abuse allegations against Catholic priests in the state, and claims that some church authorities did not sufficiently protect their parishes.

Newman Center Director Patrick Travers wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that both he and Newman Center chaplain Father Carlos Keen did not work at St. Agatha-St. James Church until after Marinucci's departure.

"We were very sorry to hear the news of the accusations against Fr. Steve Marinucci," Travers wrote in the email.

Marinucci is not the first priest affiliated with St. Agatha-St. James Church to be accused of sexual abuse.

Edward Avery, who was an assistant pastor at St. Agatha-St. James Church from 1978 to 1984, pled guilty in 2012 to sexually assaulting a young boy. In 1992, Father Michael Bolesta was also appointed to St. James-St. Agatha — nearly a year after he was removed from St. Philip-St. James Church over allegations that he molested up to 10 adolescent boys.

Archdiocese of Philadelphia Chief Communications Officer Kenneth Gavin wrote that local Catholics can take comfort in reforms taken by the Archdiocese over the last two decades, Gavin wrote to the DP. 

"Catholics can find confidence in the approach that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has taken over the past several years to prevent abuse and protect the young people entrusted to its care," Gavin said.

Gavin noted the establishment of the Archdiocesan Office of Investigation, which reports abuse allegations to law enforcement and conducts internal investigations. He also said the Archdiocese provides help to victims through the Office for Child and Youth Protection

Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice Marci Hamilton challenged the Archdiocese's assertion that it has taken a strong enough stance against sexual abuse. She said she was skeptical about the Church's response to abuse, and wanted to learn more about how it processes allegations internally. 

"It's hard for [the Church] to argue that they have the gold standard for child protection when they continue to have problems," Hamilton said.

Hamilton claimed it is impossible to independently verify how many allegations have been made against clergy because the Church is able to keep certain records confidential. She said there needs to be a change in the Commonwealth's statue of limitations so victims can bring their cases to civil court. In the pursuing civil trial, Hamilton said the public can learn more about how the Archdiocese has responded to different allegations. 

The Pennsylvania statute of limitations currently states that individuals who claim that they were abused as minors cannot sue their perpetrators in civil court after their 30th birthday. The Archdiocese recently established a fund for victims of sexual abuse over 30 years old.

Hamilton said giving victims older than 30 years old the option of civil litigation could help bring details of alleged abuse to light.

“What would worry most about anyone who was in this situation, is how many children were permitted to be with him, and how often were they alone, and was he overseeing the alter boys, et cetera,” Hamilton said. "Those are the questions we want asked."