PHILADELPHIA — Evidence in a groundbreaking priest-abuse trial shows the men running the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia used elaborate methods to keep sex-abuse complaints from prying eyes.
Memos unearthed from long-secret archives show the complaints were not just under lock and key – but guarded by locks, keys, alarms, safes and computer security programs.
One 1994 list shown to jurors Wednesday lists three diagnosed pedophile priests and 13 more deemed “guilty” of abuse, often because they had admitted it. Yet most remained active priests until the “zero tolerance” policy adopted by U.S. bishops in 2002. And some remained priests years later.
Monsignor William Lynn created the list. He was secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004.
Lynn, 61, is now on trial on child endangerment and conspiracy charges, for allegedly helping keep known abusers in ministry.
But the records found in locked safes at the archdiocese show that his predecessors likewise made lists of problem priests and gave them in the late 1980s to Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and John Krol.
Several years before Lynn arrived at archdiocesan headquarters, another official warned about the potential dangers lurking in the secret archives.
“I thought it might be wise to offer you a summary of these difficulties,” Monsignor John Graf wrote to Krol in 1987.
“I do not want to burden you, … ” Graf wrote two years later to Bevilacqua, who had succeeded Krol. He reminded the cardinal that one active priest was a diagnosed pedophile who’d been labeled “a powder keg” by a church therapist.
Lynn’s list detailed whether the abuse occurred within the past five years – or if it was beyond the statute of limitations for the accusers to file civil suits.
Bevilacqua ordered a top aide to shred Lynn’s 1994 list of 35 problem priests, although a copy surfaced at the archdiocese this year, days after Bevilacqua died.
Other documents recovered from locked safes at the archdiocese contain handwritten notes about how to handle the mounting public relations crisis.
The cache includes a 1993 Philadelphia magazine on a lawyer planning a racketeering lawsuit against the archdiocese for its handling of abuse claims.
The word “Recon,” short for reconnaissance, was written next to his name.
Another note describes him as “tenacious,” “not a lawyer’s lawyer,” “anti-institutional” and “intent on trying cases in the press.” There’s also a dollar sign near his name, and references to him being a Catholic who had undergone a bad divorce.
A paper titled, “Respond-PR” suggests a media offensive that would reference similar abuse allegations against teachers and scout leaders, and tell parents of new policies and procedures the archdiocese was putting in place.
Defense lawyers for Lynn are expected to cross-examine a detective who testified about the secret archive documents when the trial resumes Thursday.
The prosecution could soon finish its eight-week presentation. The jury is expected to get the case before Memorial Day.
Lynn is the first U.S. church official charged over his handling of child sex-abuse complaints. He faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted.
By MARYCLAIRE DALE