The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced this afternoon that it was putting on administrative leave 21 priests alleged to have behaved inappropriately with minors.  The archdiocese said it was acting in response to a Feb. 10 Philadelphia grand jury report that found that 37 priests, accused or suspected of misbehavior with children, were serving in ministry. The archdiocese did not identify the priests by name.

Days after that report, the archdiocese hired attorney Gina Maisto Smith, a former sex crimes prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, to review the personnel files of all the priests named in the grand jury’s report.

“I know that for many people their trust in the Church has been shaken,” Cardinal Justin Rigali said in a statement. “I pray that the efforts of the Archdiocese to address these cases of concern and to re-evaluate our way of handling allegations will help rebuild that trust in truth and justice.”

The archdiocese’s statement did not immediately explain what administrative leave entails. Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the allegations against the priests are still under review. The grand jury said it had learned directly from the archdiocese that least 37 priests remained in ministry despite what the jury called “substantial evidence of abuse,” but said it had seen the files of only about 20.

Of those files it reviewed, it asserted the archdiocese had dismissed credible abuse allegations on flimsy pretexts, such as a victims misremembering the layout of a rectory, or the year in which the priest served.

“We understand that accusations are not proof,” the grand jury wrote, “but we just cannot understand the Archdiocese’s apparent absence of any sense of urgency.”

An accused priest is sometimes allowed to remain in ministry if he denies committing any assault and the archdiocese has no way of corroborating an allegation.

On the day the grand jury report was released, Cardinal Justin Rigali issued a brief response saying that “there are no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”