NEWTON, Mass. – A newly discovered memo presented to a Philadelphia court by Philadelphia archdiocese’s lawyers proves archdiocesan officials engaged in a conspiracy to cover up clergy sexual abuse in 1994. The memo also proves the Catholic Church reform group Voice of the Faithful’s long-held contention that Church hierarchy have covered up clergy sexual abuse to protect the Church’s reputation and assets at the expense of child victims of clergy sexual abuse.
According to media reports of court documents submitted by the archdiocese’s own lawyers, who called the memo a “shocking discovery,” Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, then archbishop of Philadelphia, ordered a list of abusive priests shredded. Also according to reports, the lawyers assert in the documents, “As this newfound memorandum proves, the District Attorney’s Office is entirely correct in its belief and assertion that an overarching Archdiocesan conspiracy existed in Philadelphia in the 1990s.”
The lawyers are defending Msgr. William Lynn, who has been charged with child endangerment for covering up clergy sexual abuse and transferring abusive priests from parish to parish while in charge of archdiocesan priest assignments.
Media reports of lawyers’ arguments during jury selection said Lynn compiled a list of 35 abusive priests in 1992. Lynn’s attorneys say Bevilacqua ordered Lynn’s supervisor, Msgr. James Molloy, to shred the list. Prosecutors say Lynn kept a copy of the list and memo and placed it in Malloy’s safe. Lynn described the list in 2005 grand jury testimony, but said he couldn’t find it. Bevilacqua and Molloy denied obstructing justice and destroying documents in their grand jury testimony. Although archdiocesan officials had found the memo in 2006, they turned it over to prosecutors only last month.
Lynn’s lawyers argued that their client’s charges should be dismissed because any conspiracy to protect abusive priests came from Church officials above Lynn. Prosecutors portrayed defense arguments as “a combination of the dead-guys-did-it and the I-was-only-following-orders defenses.” The judge ruled that the case would proceed, and the trial is expected to start March 26.
Bevilacqua and Molloy have died, but court documents state the conspiracy also included Bishop Edward Cullen, now emeritus bishop of Allentown, Penn., and Bishop Joseph Cistone, now bishop of Saginaw, Mich. “Appallingly, none of these individuals is on trial,” said reports on the court documents.
“These Philadelphia Church leaders showed a scandalous lack of compassion for abuse victims,” said Mark Mullaney, VOTF’s president, “and attitudes similar to theirs today, plus the fact that two bishops implicated in the Philadelphia conspiracy still lead dioceses, render the Dallas Charter guidelines to protect children worthless. When Church leaders from around the world gathered for the Vatican’s “Toward Healing and Renewal” symposium in February, they talked for four days, showing great concern for abuse victims. VOTF now calls for the Vatican to translate statements of concern into action against bishops who have covered up the truth.”