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The Catholic Church's Secret Sex-Crime Files

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"The real secret here is the sexual life of cardinals and bishops," says Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who specializes in treating clergy and who has followed the case against Lynn. "If you pull the string in a knitted sweater, you'll unravel the whole thing. This will unravel all the way to Rome."

Many seminarians dropped out of St. Charles; others, informed that they weren't priestly material, were "invited" to leave. Those who remained were the ones willing to surrender to the process of formation: men prepared to bend to the will of their higher powers, both earthly and divine. Such intensive focus on preparing for one's "priestly burdens," however, often meant that men emerged from the incubator of seminary ill-prepared for the complexities of life itself. In 1972, while Lynn was still at St. Charles, a landmark study called "The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations" found that three-fourths of all American priests were psychologically and emotionally underdeveloped, or even "maldeveloped." The attitudes of these grown men toward sex, the study concluded, were on par with those of teenagers or even preteens.

Lynn thrived in seminary, where he made an impression as an affable guy who always toed the line. At his ordination, he took a solemn oath of obedience to the bishop, sealing himself into the church's vertical framework, in which everyone is bound to the strata above them. He was assigned first to a parish in Philadelphia, then to a wealthy church in the suburbs. His parishioners liked him, and Lynn's deference to his senior pastor made an impression on the archdiocese. In 1984, when a job as dean of men opened up at St. Charles, Lynn was plucked to fill it. "The dean is there to make sure you're being formed properly," explains a former Philadelphia priest familiar with the appointment. "A dean is also the type of person you want your students to want to be. We wanted to replicate priests in the model we had already been creating – nice, compliant, faithful priests. So we put Bill Lynn there: a nice, compliant, faithful priest we wanted young men to look up to."

Over the next eight years, Lynn was a hands-on adviser. He'd wake seminarians who overslept for Mass, take them to task for missing household chores and monitor their spiritual progress. Lynn proved himself to his superiors as someone who didn't disrupt the status quo, someone who could be trusted. In 1992, at age 41, he was named secretary of the clergy, a position that effectively made him the human-resources director for the 400 or so priests in greater Philadelphia. It was a job that required the utmost loyalty and discretion. Lynn now reported directly to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. If a priest broke the rules or stepped out of line in any way, it would be Lynn's job to discipline him and inform his superiors. That, says the former priest familiar with St. Charles, is precisely why Lynn was chosen for the job: "They sure as hell weren't going to pick someone who was going to send priests to jail."

Every Catholic diocese has Secret Archives files – it's mandated by canon law as a repository for complaints against priests so scandalous that they must be kept out of the regular personnel files. Few outsiders know the secret archives exist, and only the most trusted clergy have access to them. In Philadelphia, the sole keyholders were the cardinal and his closest aides. The files were kept in a row of unlabeled, gray-green cabinets in a windowless room on the 12th floor of the archdiocese's Center City office tower. Inside was an exhaustive compendium of scandals dating back more than 50 years: priests with drinking problems, priests who had gotten women pregnant, aging stacks of confiscated pornography. Then there were the reams of carefully typed memos that discussed priests with what the archdiocese delicately referred to as "unnatural involvements" or "unusual patterns." Priests, in other words, who had sexually abused the children in their care.

One memo directed to Cardinal Bevilacqua in 1989 described a pedophile priest's evaluation at an archdiocese-owned hospital, in which the doctor "is of the very strong opinion that Father Peter J. Dunne is a very sick man" who should be removed from ministry; the memo warned that Dunne's problem was so acute "that we are sitting on a powder keg." Another file began with a sheaf of letters that Father Joseph Gausch, an active pastor, had sent another priest detailing his sex with an eighth-grade boy in 1948, three years after his ordination. Gausch called it "the closest approximation to an old-fashioned roll that I have had in years... and the subject was oh-so-satisfactory and (this is what makes the story) willin'." In both cases, the response from the cardinal was the same: secret therapy, then reassign the offending priest to a new parish and pretend nothing had happened.

In the thick file devoted to Father Raymond Leneweaver, who had been moved to four different parishes after admitting to molesting at least seven boys, officials fretted in 1980 that they had run out of places to send him "where his scandalous action would not be known." Scandal is a word that pops up throughout the Secret Archives files. The officials writing the internal memos almost never express concern for the victims – only concern over the risk to the church's reputation. If the risk was deemed low, an offending priest was simply reassigned to a different parish. If the risk was high, priests were shipped to a far-off diocese with the permission of the reigning bishop, a practice known as "bishops helping bishops."

Even in rare cases where word of a priest's crimes leaked out, the cardinal was reluctant to expose the priest. Leneweaver was such a case; his ministry career ended only after he resigned. "His problem is not occupational or geographical," wrote the cardinal at the time, "and will follow him wherever he goes." Having acknowledged the severity of Leneweaver's compulsions, the cardinal released him from the clergy but still chose not to inform law-enforcement officials of his crimes. With his clean record, Leneweaver, an admitted child-rapist, went on to take a job as a teacher at a public middle school in suburban Philadelphia.

Bill Lynn understood that his mission, above all, was to preserve the reputation of the church. The unspoken rule was clear: Never call the police. Not long after his promotion, Lynn and a colleague held a meeting with Rev. Michael McCarthy, who had been accused of sexually abusing boys, informing the priest of the fate that Cardinal Bevilacqua had approved: McCarthy would be reassigned to a "distant" parish "so that the profile can be as low as possible and not attract attention from the complainant." Lynn dutifully filed his memo of the meeting in the Secret Archives, where it would sit for the next decade.

Over the 12 years that he held the job of secretary of the clergy, Lynn mastered the art of damage control. With his fellow priests, Lynn was unfailingly sympathetic; in a meeting with one distraught pastor who had just admitted to abusing boys, Lynn comforted the clergyman by suggesting that his 11-year-old victim had "seduced" him. With victims, Lynn was smooth and reassuring, promising to take their allegations seriously while doing nothing to punish their abusers. Kathy Jordan, who told Lynn in 2002 that she had been assaulted by a priest as a student at a Catholic high school, recalls how he assured her that the offender would no longer be allowed to work as a pastor. Years later, while reading the priest's obituary, Jordan says it became clear to her that her abuser had, in fact, remained a priest, serving Mass in Maryland. "I came to realize that by having this friendly, confiding way, Lynn had neutralized me," she says. "He handled me brilliantly."

In his very first year on the job, Lynn received a letter from a 29-year-old medical student that would trigger the events that led to his arrest 19 years later. The student – whom the grand jury would call "James" – reported that as a teenage altar boy he had been molested by his priest, Father Edward Avery. The popular and gregarious Avery, nicknamed "The Smiling Padre," was considered hip for a priest; he moonlighted as a DJ at weddings and invited lucky boys for sleepovers at his house at the Jersey Shore. The med student included a copy of a letter he had written to Avery. "I have let too much of my life be controlled by this terrible wrong you committed," it read. "You had no right to hurt me the way you did. You have no right to hurt anyone else this way."

This was a code-red situation that Lynn had to get under control. He began by interviewing James, who described how Avery had molested him at the beach house, at the parish rectory and on a ski trip to Vermont, sometimes after plying him with beer. James said he wasn't looking for money – only an assurance that Avery would no longer be a threat to children. That was surely a relief: the risk of scandal was clearly low. Next, Lynn confronted Avery, whom he'd known in seminary. According to Lynn's memo, the priest admitted that some of the allegations "could be" true – but insisted it had been "strictly accidental" and that he had been so drunk at the time, he couldn't recall exactly what had happened.

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