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Gerald T. Slevin, Philly Priest Child Abuse Trial and U.S. Bishops Standard Operating Procedures

Jerry Slevin has sent another excellent statement about the abuse trial involving the Catholic archdiocese of Philadelphia.  The following text is Jerry’s latest commentary on the Philadelphia trial:

 The ongoing Philly trial of Msgr. Lynn for the crime of “child endangerment” for allegedly retaining and reassigning  known Philly child predator priests over a long period under two Cardinals is unprecedented. The Philly trial is quickly becoming a veritable goldmine of readily available information in English on how top US Catholic Cardinals typically handled abuse cases for over a half century period almost through the present.

For daily reports of key Philly trial events, including today’s major testimony by Fr. Tom Doyle, the world’s leading expert on the priest abuse scandal, please read the brief, but comprehensive,  Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Complete Coverage—Clergy Abuse Case,” accessible at this link.

The broad domestic and international backgrounds of the Philly Archdiocese Cardinals in charge during the period implicated in the current trial (Cardinal Krol, 1961 to 1988, Cardinal Bevilacqua, 1988 to 2003, and Cardinal Rigali, 2003 to 2011) make these Cardinals’ dismal “abusive priest management” records a fair and representative case study of senior Catholic hierarchical policy and practice during this half century period by top US Cardinals.

All three Cardinals were senior canon lawyers, each having a canon law degree from the very highly regarded Jesuit Gregorian University in Rome. Now deceased, Krol, fluent in Polish, was also close for many years with Pope John Paul II, as was Cardinal Rigali.

Recently deceased, Bevilacqua, a civil NY lawyer as well, was a top US canon lawyer and influential internationally on canon law matters. Tom Doyle, the Dominican canon lawyer formerly for the papal ambassador in Washington DC and now the foremost priest abuse victims’ advocate,  is reported in Jason Berry’s Vows of Silence book as having  worked closely, but unsuccessfully, in the mid-’80’s with Bevilacqua, trying to get his support for Tom’s fruitless efforts to get Cardinals Law and Levada to make the curtailment of priest sexual abuse of children a US bishops’ priority

Law is now retired and living in luxury in Rome, where Levada yet serves as senior coordinator of worldwide priest child abuse cover-up matters, as head of the powerful Vatican department, the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” or the CDF, formerly called the Roman Inquisition. He succeeded the current pope in this position. Levada, in going to Rome to head the CDF, left behind a dismal priest child abuse management record in the former dioceses he headed, in San Francisco and also in Portland OR, the first US diocese to file for US bankruptcy protection to defeat abuse victims’ financial claims. Many more dioceses have now followed Portland’s shameful lead.

Also indicative of the pervasive hierarchical abuse cover-up pattern, is the example of Bevilacqua’s nephew, Msgr. John Alesandro, former head of the Canon Law Society of America and now, I believe, a sometimes adjunct professor at Fordham and also a Roman Gregorian canon law graduate. Alesandro allegedly oversaw his own cover-up program in my Long Island NY Diocese of Rockville Centre (see  Bishop Accountability’s report of Newsday‘s coverage of this story; and see also here). For the record, Alesandro had been assigned in the ’80’s and ’90’s to my Garden City NY  parish. My son disliked serving as his altar boy, and I disliked his hollow homilies, although neither of us ever had any personal issues with Alesandro.

Rigali served in the Vatican for over three decades until 1994, holding major positions and working closely with John Paul II and, for a decade and a half, with the current pope, Benedict XVI, then  Joseph Ratzinger in his CDF position. Rigali has also continued to serve on major Vatican Committees up to the present, and will be able to vote in the election for the next pope.

All three Cardinals also had served previously as senior bishops in other major US dioceses: Krol in Cleveland, Bevilacqua in Brooklyn and Pittsburgh, and Rigali in St. Louis, after serving as a senior bishop in Rome. Together, they represent a broad, but fair and diverse, sample of US bishops’ conduct in handling predator priests in five different dioceses in four different states over five decades.

As evident from the horrific events reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer articles linked above, the Cardinals’ records in Philly on protecting children from priest sexual abuse, including rape, has been dismal at best, and obscene at worst. As indicated in my two recent Open Appeals to Philadelphia Inquirer reporters (here and here), the current trial strategy of the Philadelphia Archdiocese appears clearly to be to blame it all on dead Cardinals Bevilacqua and Krol and to try to pivot away from any attention on Cardinal Rigali, even though he ran the Philly Archdiocese for almost a decade up until a few months ago.

The revelations already made in barely two weeks of testimony, with many more weeks projected, suggest the Philly trial goldmine may defeat Rigali and Chaput’s “blame Bevilacqua and Krol only” strategy. An excellent example of a new nugget from the Philly trial is found in a recent NY Times articleaccessible at this link.

The NY Times reports about Robert Maginnis, a recently retired Philadelphia Archdiocese auxiliary bishop. He was ordained and made a monsignor by Krol and served under him for over 20 years as an senior Archdiocesan official in Youth Activities. He then served 7 years as an Auxiliary Bishop under Bevilacqua and 7 more (until 2010) under Rigali, including having Chancery responsibilities.

As I have indicated in my earlier two Open Appeals to Philadelphia Inquirer reporters, Chaput and Riglali seem to be seeking in the Philly trial to have all the focus and blame fall on Bevilacqua and Krol, and as far away from Rigali as feasible. Msgr. Lynn has been more likely than not to be convicted apparently for over two years now, and appears willing and resigned to go to prison for the “cause.” I don’t know what promises  Rigali and/or Chaput may have made to Lynn, if any, but Chaput is reportedly paying Lynn’s lawyers’ fees (a clear lawyers’ conflict?) and I expect may be continuing additionally to financially support Lynn, even though Lynn has already in effect admitted he covered-up for predator priests. In the current imperial Catholic Church structure, everyday Catholics have no say on how bishops spend their contributions.

As part of this apparent Rigali/Chaput strategy, Maginnis testified under oath this week that only the Cardinal can remove allegedly abusive priests, with the Cardinal’s priest personnel secretary having neither the responsibility nor authority to do so. This testimony is obviously based on Maginnis’ first hand experience with three different Philly Cardinals over almost a half century. Maginnis, possibly hoping to reinforce the “it was all dead Bevilacqua’s and Krol’s fault” strategy, perhaps unintentionally has made here a major statement at Lynn’s own lawyer’s prodding that surely applies equally and significantly to Rigali, as well as to every other top diocesan bishops worldwide, namely, that the Cardinals call all important shots. This, of course, has been argued by many, but Maginnis’ sworn testimony now nails it permanently.

This is especially important in the Philly case, because last year Rigali, after in effect first denying, following the release of the scathing 2011 grand jury report, that there were any active suspected Philly priest predators, within a few weeks thereafter suspended 21 priests for suspected misdeeds with minors, etc., to the surprise of his apparently often clueless Chairwoman of the Philly Archdiocese’s Child Protection Board!

Chaput is apparently sitting on the findings of the year-long investigation of the 21 priests by  a former Philly Assistant DA, now Rigali’s/Chaput’s own lawyer. If Rigali covered-up for even one of these 21 suspected priests, Maginnis’s own testimony then could be used to help lead to Rigali being investigated and charged with the crime of “child endangerment,” if not worse. If Chaput is then also found to have been intentionally withholding  the findings of the investigation of the the 21 priests Rigali suspended last year, Chaput himself could be criminally investigated for, and possibly even charged with, withholding evidence, etc., of Rigali’s possible “child endangerment” crime.

As indicated in Fr. Doyle’s testimony today, Cardinal Rigali and Archbishop Chaput may also be subject to canon law prosecution, as further information is forthcoming in the Philly trial. Of course, many earlier reports have made clear that bishops have little to fear from canon law proceedings, unless they are advocating for open discussions of married and/or women priests. Bishops protect bishops when child abuse or its cover-up is involved; it is that simple. The cases of Bishop Vangheluwe of Belgium and Bishop Mueller of Norway/Germany are but two recent examples of this Boy’s Club mentality.

The Philly trial has already made clear that the US bishops’ expenditures of hundreds of millions on lawyers, publicists and apologists to cover-up the “cover-up,” has been wasted. The only chance of keeping millions of US Catholics in the Church, and getting millions of others to consider returning, would be perhaps a campaign that said, in effect: “Welcome back, all of the old bishops are gone.” Amen!!

Cross-posted at Bilgrimage, 13 April 2012.


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