PHILADELPHIA -- An expert on "canon" law angrily called it "obstruction of justice, cubed" for a Roman Catholic archbishop to have shredded a list of 35 active priests accused of molesting children.
Defense lawyers for Monsignor William Lynn say he prepared such a list in 1994 based on secret archives at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and gave it to the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Bevilacqua ordered his top aides to destroy it, according to church documents aired in court.
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, an expert on Roman Catholic law, testified at Lynn's child-endangerment trial Thursday. Lynn, 61, is the first Catholic church official in the U.S. charged with child endangerment for allegedly failing to protect children from suspected priest-predators.
Church law requires church officials to investigate the complaints, Doyle said. And the archbishop – following the teachings of Christ – should have sought out victims to offer pastoral care, he added.
"He's got a list of men who are sexually abusing children, and he's going to shred it?" an incredulous Doyle asked on cross-examination from defense lawyers.
His advice to Bevilacqua, a friend and fellow canon lawyer, would have been to take off his ring, robe and other clerical garb "and go and see these families." But Bevilacqua never called for that advice, he said.
Bevilacqua died at 88 in January, a few weeks after giving a videotaped deposition that may still be used at trial. He had been suffering from cancer and dementia, and Lynn's lawyers have suggested he had little recall of events surrounding the priest sexual-abuse crisis.
Philadelphia prosecutors excoriated Bevilacqua and his successor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, in two grand jury reports, but said they could not charge them because of legal time limits. But they have called the archdiocese and others "unindicted co-conspirators" in Lynn's unprecedented trial.
Doyle has researched priest sexual abuse within his church since the early 1980s, and admits he once thought known abusers could remain priests in restricted ministry. But he reversed himself in about 1985, after becoming convinced the recidivism rate was too high for predators, and the risk to children too great. His research shows the church has been struggling with the problem since its earliest days, he said.
Bevilacqua led the Philadelphia archdiocese from 1987 to 2003, and the Pittsburgh diocese before that. Church documents obtained by prosecutors show the archdiocese during his tenure kept dozens of suspected predators in ministry, sending them for inpatient treatment at times, but later transferring most of them to new jobs in new areas. Prosecutors say the church thereby fed predators a steady stream of new victims.
The Rev. Edward Avery was on the 1995 list that Lynn prepared. Lynn had deemed him "guilty" of a teen's 1992 complaint that Avery had molested him. The list shredded, Avery remained a priest until about 2005.
Avery, now 69 and defrocked, admitted last month that he had sexually assaulted an altar boy in a church sacristy in 1999. He was supposed to go on trial with Lynn, but is instead serving a 2 1/2 to five-year prison term.
If Doyle's testimony appeared to help the defense, prosecutors also scored some points with their witness. On redirect, they asked Doyle about the defense suggestion that bishops are like monarchs with absolute power.
"All the orders in the world don't mean anything unless someone carries them out?" Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked.
"That's right," Doyle answered.
Priests, if asked to do something illegal, "cannot perform that action, even if he told you to do it," Doyle said.
Jurors also heard excerpts Thursday from Lynn's 2002 grand jury testimony. Lynn testified that his office had never referred any of the complaints to local authorities despite a 1995 state law that added clergy to a list of mandated reporters of suspected child abuse.
Lynn believed the law only required reporting if a "child" had made the report. That rarely if ever happened. The reports were coming in from adults who said they were abused as children, or occasionally from parents of minors, he testified.
There is no trial testimony on Fridays, so the trial resumes for its fourth week on Monday.