Read more: Dramatic scenes as Archbishops wash abuse victim’s feet - SEE POLL
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has suspended 21 priests following accusations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior with minors.  This is the largest suspension taken by the Roman Catholic Church in its history, the President of told “The New York Times.”

This action follows a damning grand jury report issued on February 10.  It accused the archdiocese of a massive cover-up stretching over decades. The report said as many as 37 priests remained active in the community despite the serious accusations against them.

As of now 21 of these 37 priests have been suspended, and three have been placed on administrative leave. Five others would also have been suspended, but the archdiocese said three of them were no longer active and the other two no longer served in the archdiocese.

A statement issued by the archdiocese said the accusations ranged from "sexual abuse of a minor to boundary issues with minors.”  It did not name the 21 priests who were suspended.

Initially Cardinal Justin Rigali denied there were any active priests in the archdiocese "who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”

Just days later he placed three of the priests on leave. The statement released on Tuesday did not explain why he was initially so sure about their innocence, or why they had not been suspended earlier.

Leonard Norman Primiano, a Roman Catholic and chairman of the religious studies department at Cabrini College in nearby Radnor, Pennsylvania, called the suspensions "astonishing.”

Rigali apologized for the behavior of the offending priests. "I am truly sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, as well as to the members of our community who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime,” he said.

The priests who have been suspended cannot celebrate Mass, wear collars or hear confessions. They were given just a few hours to leave their parishes.

Once their identities become public, it is believed that there could be a dam-breaking effect, just like Boston in 2002, when the initial reports lead to further sexual-abuse claims.

Since the grand jury filed the report two more people have file complaints. Lawyer Jeff Anderson, who represents these two people, said he had received dozens of calls from others.

He said, "We’re approaching this with a new vigor.  Like Boston, this is a watershed moment, where all of a sudden the secrets are no longer kept and permission is given to break the silence to this whole survivors’ community.”

The Catholic Church could face a payout of millions of dollars in settlements if the complaints are upheld. Membership and parochial school enrollment in the church have declined.

Last week the archdiocese announced that it was closing seven schools in June. Forty schools in Philadelphia have been closed since 2006.

Read more: Dramatic scenes as Archbishops wash abuse victim’s feet - SEE POLL

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