With the news breaking that disgraced former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had been found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse it overshadowed another story with the same underlying themes.
On Friday, after eleven weeks of testimony and over twelve days of deliberations, a jury in Philadelphia found Monsignor William Lynn of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia guilty of child endangerment for his part in concealing the acts of pedophile priests. The conviction, the first of its kind against a member of the Catholic hierarchy, no matter how low hanging, came about because prosecutors and detectives in Philadelphia were dogged and proactive.
District Attorney Lynn Abraham’s first inkling of the brewing scandal beneath the surface of the Catholic Church was way back in 1984 when she made mental note that the Catholic Church had paid out $12 million dollars to victims of Father Gilbert Gauthe who pled guilty in 1985 to sexually abusing 11 altar boys and who admitted under oath to sexually abusing 37 children in hundreds of instances in rural Parishes across Louisiana. In what would become true Catholic form, when Father Gauthe, then Pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Iberia, confessed to his Bishop, the Bishop of Lafayette, Bishop Gerald Louis Frey, back in 1974 that he had engaged in “imprudent touching of a young man,” the Bishop Frey responded by appointing Father Gauthe Chaplain over the Diocese’s Boy Scout Troop where he molested more boys.
Father Gauthe was sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole but was released in 1995 after a Federal Judge from his hometown of Napoleonville, Louisiana, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Henry Politz, intervened on his behalf. Less than a year after his release, Gilbert Gauthe, who had since “retired” from the Priesthood, was charged with molesting a three-year-old boy in Texas. Judge Politz arranged for Gilbert Gauthe’s legal counsel in that case and Gilbert Gauthe pleaded no contest to “injury of a child” and was sentenced to seven months probation. Judge Politz died in 2002. After being arrested for failing to register as a sex offender in 2008, Gilbert Gauthe was last reported as living a transient lifestyle in Texas.
D.A. Abraham filed away the clipping and thought no more about it until the Catholic sex abuse scandal exploded in Boston where in 2002 five Roman Catholic Priests, Fathers John Geoghan, John Hanlon, Paul Shanley, Robert V. Gale and James Talbot were each found guilty of sex offences against minors and sentenced to varying prison terms. As it became apparent that Cardinal Frances Law and others in the Church hierarchy were instrumental in covering up the abuse and in moving pedophile Priests from one unsuspecting Parish to another Attorney Abraham began to wonder what might be going on in the Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia and an investigation was began and in 2003 a Grand Jury was impaneled.
The Philadelphia Grand Jury released its damning report in 2005 which found credible evidence of sexual abuse against 63 Priests involving hundreds of children. The 2005 report mentioned Monsignor Lynn, as Secretary to Clergy responsible for the supervision and assignments of 800 Priests, in connection with the case of Father Joseph Gausch, who had complaints lodged against him dating back to when he first entered the Priesthood in 1945. In January, 1994, a 27-year-old man who had been abused by Father Gausch as a child confided in Monsignor Lynn only to have Father Lynn ask him if it were possible that e had “misinterpreted” the Priest putting his hand on his penis. Monsignor Lynn then launched an investigation into the life of the victim and the victim’s family.
Monsignor Lynn decided that the allegations were “not credible,” and dismissed them as the act of a money-grubbing liar, even though the victim had not made any financial demands or requests and asked only that he be able to confront Father Gausch face-to-face, a request that was denied by the Archdiocese.
In October, 1994, an attorney representing a client went to Monsignor Lynn and alleged that his client had been raped as an altar boy by Father Thomas Shea. When confronted, Father Shea admitted he had “genital contact” with the accuser and one other boy although he later admitted to abusing many other boys. When confessing his sins to Monsignor Lynn the Monsignor asked the Priest whether the boys, who were in sixth and seventh grade, hadn’t “seduced” him to rape them. As the Statute of Limitations has passed on Father Shea’s known crimes he was allowed to retire to the Villa St. Joseph home for retired Priests.
It was in the middle of these twin crises that Monsignor Lynn wrote up a list of 37 pedophile priests still active in the Philadelphia Parish and passed it along to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua who had taken over the Archdiocese from Cardinal John Krol in 1988. He destroyed the list after Cardinal Bevilacqua, a trained lawyer in addition to being a Priest, ordered him to do so but a copy of the list survived and made a reappearance a quarter of a century later.
The Grand Jury’s report in 2005 may have been scathing but it was toothless. The statute of limitation had passed. The report decried had the Hierarchy of the Holy Roman Catholic Church had successfully run out the clock by hiding perverts from justice. It concluded that both Cardinal Bevilaqua, who died before the report was released, and his predecessor, Cardinal Krol, a favorite of both Ronald Reagan, who had the Cardinal give the benediction at the 1984 Republican National Convention, and Pope John Paul II, had been instrumental in covering up the rape and sexual abuse of children but nothing legally could be done. The new Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, blasted the Grand Jury’s report as “sensationalized” and “discriminatory,” and accused prosecutors of “bullying” Cardinal Bevilacqua during his testimony.
The District Attorney’s office, however, didn’t let it lay. Lynn Abraham was defeated for re-election in 2008 and Seth Williams elected to that office. Mr. Williams decided to see if anything had changed in the Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia and launched a new investigation and in 2011 a new Grand Jury was impaneled.
The Grand Jury of 2011 found very little had changed since the Grand Jury report of 2005. Two men, given the pseudonyms “Billy” and “Mark” testified to abuse suffered at the hands of Priests.
Billy testified that in 1999, when Billy was ten years old, Father Charles Englehardt gave Billy some sacramental wine and showed him pornographic magazines in the Sacristy, where vestments and sacred objects are kept. He told Billy to take off his clothes and told him it was now time for Billy to “become a man.” He then put Billy’s penis in his mouth and then had Billy put the Priest’s penis in his mouth until the Priest ejaculated.
Father Englehardt then allegedly passed Billy off to another Priest, Father Charles Avery, who told Billy “God loves you,” before engaging in oral sex with the child. A third man, a teacher at St. Jerome’s Parochial School in Philadelphia where Billy attended 5th grade, Bernard Shero, next allegedly subjected Billy to oral and anal rape.
Four years before Billy’s abuse, Monsignor Lynn was made aware that Father Avery had problems. Father Avery was sent to a sex offender program run by the Archdiocese. Monsignor Lynn assured Father Avery’s parishioners to disregard any “rumors’ they might hear about their missing Pastor and assured the Flock that he had heard nothing but good things about Father Avery. When Father Avery was released from the center on the condition that he receive aftercare and be kept away from contact with adolescents, he was not only assigned to a Parish with a school, St. Jerome’s, but he was also allowed by the Archdiocese to adopt six Hmong children, three boys and three girls. He was allowed to continue hearing the confessions of elementary school children even after a separate victim contacted Monsignor Lynn with concerns that Father Avery was still engaging in the sort of behavior that led to that victim’s molestation by the Priest.
Mark was allegedly raped in 1996 by Father Englehardt’s predecessor, Father Robert Brennen, who was assigned to St. Jerome’s despite a long history of inappropriate contact with minors and four stays in Archdiocese “treatment” centers.
The Grand Jury documents dozens of instances where a pedophile priest had been moved to a new Parish and then subsequently molested children. In one case, Father Nicholas Cudemo was accused of raping an eleven year old girl and then taking to have an abortion. The girl later testified that Father Cudemo was “furious” and kept asking her, “how she could be so stupid.” Father Cudemo was transferred from Parish to Parish as complaints he had molested young Catholic girls, including his own cousins, continued to follow him wherever he went and Father Cudemo was allowed to retire as a Priest in good standing with the Church before finally being defrocked in 2006. In testimony before the 2003 Grand Jury, one Church official described Father Cudemo s being, “the sickest individual I ever knew.”
This time the Grand Jury could act and three Priests, the Fathers Edward Avery, Charles Engelhardt, and James Brennen were charges with rape and indecent assault, as was teacher Bernard Shero. Monsignor William Lynn was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child for his role in the cover-ups.
Monsignor Lynn was to be tried alongside Fathers Brennen and Avery but Father Avery pleaded guilty before trial to charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and endangering the welfare of a minor and was sentenced to 2 ½ to five years in prison.
At trial Monsignor Lynn said that he was just following the Cardinal’s orders but the Nuremburg Defense hasn’t worked since at least 1474 and it didn’t work this time either. Father Brennen was more successful, his court appearance ended in a mistrial. Father Charles Englehardt and Bernard Shero are still awaiting trial and, like Father Brennen, must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Cardinal Rigali retired after the Grand Jury report of 2011. He was replaced by Cardinal Charles Chaput who, while he was Archbishop of Denver, stood firm with the Sacred Heart of Jesus in expelling a pre-school aged child because his parents were Lesbians and “living in open discord with Catholic teachings” and who oversaw the payment of $.5.5 million to 18 victims of sexual abuse by Colorado based Priests.
The stories of the victims of sexual assaults at the hands of Priests tend to follow a depressing trajectory of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, problems with relationships.
“I have emptiness where my soul should be,” one victim testified at trial.
As the Catholic Church continues to act like a Medieval Theocracy and attempts, with a great deal of success, to assert its quite dubious “authority” over the affairs of a Secular Nation we should remember the words of the 2005 Grand Jury report, “Some may be tempted to describe these events as tragic. Tragedies such as tidal waves, however, are outside human control. What we found were not acts of God, but of men who acted in His name and defiled it.”
Or, as Lynn Abraham puts it, “it’s a great religion, but the guys in charge are a bunch of scoundrels.”