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The Catholic Church's Secret Sex-Crime Files

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According to church protocol, an admission of any kind meant a priest must be sent for medical care. So Lynn recommended that Avery seek treatment at St. John Vianney Hospital, a facility in the leafy Philadelphia suburb of Downingtown that maintained a discreet inpatient program that treats sexually abusive priests. Cardinal Bevilacqua approved the request, but the bureaucratic wheels moved slowly: Avery remained in the pulpit for another 10 months before he was hospitalized for his secret therapy. After his release, his doctors prescribed that he be monitored by an aftercare team consisting of Lynn and two other priests. But the church did not take the recommendation seriously. The team did not meet for more than a year – one priest later testified that he didn't even know he was on the team.

Avery's doctors also recommended that he be kept away from teens and other "vulnerable" populations. Instead, the church assigned Avery to a new residence with plenty of exposure to kids: St. Jerome, a parish in northeast Philadelphia that included an elementary school. (The rectory had an empty bed because its previous resident, Rev. Bill Dougherty, had been quietly moved to another parish after being accused of abusing a high school girl.) Officially speaking, Avery didn't work at the parish – he simply lived there, with an assignment as a chaplain at a nearby hospital. With encouragement from Lynn, he became a regular presence at St. Jerome, serving Mass and hearing confessions. He took on more DJ jobs than ever, booking gigs almost every weekend. "He seemed mesmerized, focused, as if he became a different person DJ'ing," recalls Rev. Michael Kerper, who split shifts with Avery at the hospital. Kerper, under the impression that Avery had been moved to a low-pressure chaplain job after a nervous breakdown, worried that Avery was risking another collapse by spreading himself so thin. One day, when Avery failed to show up at the hospital while on call, Kerper wrote the archdiocese to express his concern. He addressed his letter to Monsignor Lynn.

Lynn surprised Kerper by calling him directly and telling him to mind his own business. "You're not going through the proper channels," Lynn snapped. "You're not his supervisor." Avery was permitted to continue working as a DJ and pitching in at St. Jerome. The following year, according to the grand jury, Lynn received an ­e-mail from James, who was looking for assurance that Avery had been reassigned to "a situation where he can't harm others... for my peace of mind, I have to know." Lynn reassured James that the archdiocese had taken proper steps. Then Lynn met with Avery and instructed him to be "more low-keyed." In doing so, says the grand jury, Lynn helped set the stage for the horror that came next.

"Billy" was a 10-year-old student at St. Jerome School in 1998, and an altar boy just like his older brother before him. A sweet, gentle kid with boyish good looks, Billy was outgoing and well-liked. One morning, after serving Mass, Rev. Charles Engelhardt caught Billy in the church sacristy sipping leftover wine. Rather than get mad, however, the priest poured Billy more wine. According to the grand jury, he also showed him some pornographic magazines, asking the boy how the pictures made him feel and whether he preferred the images of naked men or women. He told Billy it was time to become a man and that they would soon begin their "sessions."

A week later, Billy learned what Engelhardt meant. After Mass, the priest allegedly fondled the boy, sucked his penis and ordered Billy to kneel and fellate him – calling him "son" while instructing him to move his head faster or slower – until Engelhardt ejaculated. The priest later suggested another "session," but Billy refused and Engelhardt let him be.

A few months later, while Billy was putting away the bells following choir practice, he was taken aside by another priest: Father Avery. According to the grand jury, Avery told Billy that he had heard all about the boy's "session" with Engelhardt – and that Avery's own "sessions" with him would soon begin. Billy pretended not to know what Avery was talking about, but his stomach lurched. Later, after Billy served a morning Mass with Avery, the priest led him to the sacristy, turned on some music and told him to do a striptease. When Billy dutifully started shedding his clothes, Avery instructed him to dance to the music while undressing. Then the Smiling Padre sat back and watched the awkward performance before taking off his own clothes and ordering the naked boy onto his lap. He kissed Billy's neck and back, telling him that God loved him. Then he allegedly fondled the boy, fellated him, and commanded Billy to return the favor, culminating in Avery's ejaculating on Billy and congratulating him on a good "session." A second session allegedly followed weeks later when Avery, finding Billy cleaning a chalice after a weekend Mass, ordered the boy to strip. The priest then fellated Billy while making the boy masturbate him to climax.

Billy never told anyone what had happened. But from then on, he made sure to trade assignments with other altar boys to avoid serving Mass with Father Avery. After summer break, when Billy returned to St. Jerome and entered the sixth grade, he was assigned a new teacher, Bernard Shero. His abuse seemed to be a thing of the past, something best forgotten.

One day, according to the grand jury, Shero offered Billy a ride after school. Instead, they stopped at a park about a mile from Billy's house. "We're going to have some fun," Shero told him. He ordered Billy into the back seat, helped him undress, and then allegedly fellated and anally raped him, managing to insert his penis only partway because of Billy's screams of pain. Then Shero made Billy perform the same acts on him. "It feels good," he repeated over and over. Afterward, he made Billy get out of the car and walk home.

Before long, Billy began to change in disturbing ways. He often gagged or vomited for no reason and became increasingly sullen and withdrawn. He stopped hanging out with his friends and playing sports. He started smoking pot at 11; by his late teens, he was addicted to heroin. Billy spent his adolescence cycling in and out of drug-treatment programs and psychiatric centers, once spending a week in a locked ward after a suicide attempt. His parents, who later took out a mortgage on their home to pay for Billy's care, were beside themselves, clueless as to what had sent their sunny child into such a downward spiral.

When his mother found two books about sexual abuse stashed under his bed, Billy brushed off her suspicions. The books were for an assignment at school, he told her, and refused to say anything more.

Billy's alleged abuse at the hands of the Philadelphia priests might have remained a secret, if not for the church's inept attempt at spin control. After the abuse scandal in Boston broke open in 2002, every Catholic diocese in America had rushed to reassure its parishioners. Philadelphia was no different: Cardinal Bevilacqua declared that in the previous 50 years, his archdiocese knew of only 35 priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. That was news to Lynne Abraham, the city's district attorney at the time, since not a single one of those 35 cases had been reported to her office. When Abraham asked the archdiocese's law firm for details, it refused to cooperate. In the face of stonewalling, Abraham moved for a grand-jury investigation and assigned a team of prosecutors nicknamed "The God Squad" to probe the archdiocese's handling of sex-abuse claims.

The God Squad had no idea what they were in for. The archdiocese fought the investigation at every turn. "It was like trying to infiltrate a racketeering organization," recalls former Assistant District Attorney Will Spade. "Most of these guys just seemed to be in the wrong professions. They weren't kind or understanding or any of the things a priest should be. They were just thugs."

The grand jury subpoenaed the church's internal records. Compelled by the court, the church's lawyer began meeting with prosecutors at a Dunkin' Donuts midway between the archdiocese's headquarters and the DA's office, handing over the ­Secret Archives files piece by piece. "I felt like I was living in a detective novel," says Spade. Though the prosecutors had been anticipating some sort of internal records, they were taken aback at the very existence of the secret files. "I always thought it was funny, them calling it the Secret Archives files," he says. "You morons! If they're so secret, why are you even calling it that?"

When the secret archives were finally unlocked, prosecutors were stunned to find thousands of documents that detailed the hundreds of victims who had allegedly been abused by 169 priests. "There was so much material, we could still be presenting information to the grand jury today if we followed every lead," says Charles Gallagher, a former Philadelphia deputy district attorney who supervised the investigation. "We ultimately had to focus."

In 2005, the grand jury released its 418-page report, which stands as the most blistering and comprehensive account ever issued on the church's institutional cover-up of sexual abuse. It named 63 priests who, despite credible accusations of abuse, had been hidden under the direction of Cardinal Bevilacqua and his predecessor, Cardinal Krol. It also gave numerous examples of Lynn covering up crimes at the bidding of his boss.

In the case of Rev. Stanley Gana, accused of "countless" child molestations, Lynn spent months ruthlessly investigating the personal life of one of the priest's victims, whom Gana had allegedly begun raping at age 13. Lynn later helpfully explained to the victim that the priest slept with women as well as children. "You see," he said, "he's not a pure pedophile" – which was why Gana remained in the ministry with the cardinal's blessing.

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