Bishops created a committee to hide archives from discovery

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As the last prosecution witness in the Philadelphia priest sex-abuse trial took the stand last week, the jury was told about an Archdiocese of Philadelphia document turned over to prosecutors.

That document suggested the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and other Pennsylvania bishops formed an ad hoc committee to "better protect ... from civil law discovery" secret-archive files of priests with a history of problems, including of allegations of sexually abusing minors.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia kept sensitive personnel files in "secret archives," trial witnesses have said on several occasions.

The document that jurors were shown Wednesday was the only mention of that committee, and the rest of the day's testimony focused on defendant Monsignor William J. Lynn's compilation of a list of 35 priests who had reportedly abused minors from the archdiocese's secret archives and the discovery of a copy of the list in a forgotten safe in 2006 that was turned over to prosecutors only this year.

Monsignor Lynn, Cardinal Bevilacqua's delegate for investigating priests accused of sexual abuse from 1992 to 2004, is accused of endangering the welfare of children supervised by co-defendants the Rev. James J. Brennan and defrocked priest Edward V. Avery.

Rev. Brennan is being tried at the same time as Monsignor Lynn on the charge Rev. Brennan sexually abused a 14-year-old. Mr. Avery already pled guilty to committing abuse.

Monsignor Lynn testified in February 2004 before an investigating grand jury that he presumed the reason another person and he had gone through the secret archives in 1994 to compile the list of 35 was to ensure no priests were in active ministry about whom credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors had been made.

Of the 323 files in the secret archives, 35 were compiled into a memorandum sent up Monsignor Lynn's chain of command, memorializing instances of allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the archdiocese. On one iteration of the list, three priests were labeled as diagnosed pedophiles, 12 as guilty of sexual misconduct with minors and 20 priests had allegations of sexual misconduct made about them but there was no "conclusive evidence."

Monsignor Lynn told the grand jury he sent those cases up so supervisors would know what was in the secret-archive files. He said he received little direction or feedback from Cardinal Bevilacqua.

Monsignor Lynn was asked in 2004 why prosecutors had received 140 files involving abuse allegations, according to the grand jury testimony read into the record. After consulting with his counsel, Monsignor Lynn said he disregarded cases in which the complaints had been made anonymously or made through hearsay, such as an intimate of an alleged victim making the report.

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Amaris Elliott-Engel: aelliott-engel@alm.com or 215-557-2354. To read more articles like this, visitthelegalintelligencer.com. First Published May 21, 2012 12:00 AM


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