Secret Church Documents Presented at Clergy Trial
By John P. Martin
April 2, 2012
One priest, the Rev. John Cannon, sneaked into a cabin at night at a church-run camp, groped the boys in their beds, and forced them to do the same to him.
Another, the Rev. Stanley Gana, had a stable of boys rotate through his rectory bedroom, once inviting two at the same time so neither thought he was playing favorites.
In both cases, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia left the men in ministry for years after allegations against them first surfaced, a Philadelphia jury was told Monday.
As the landmark conspiracy and endangerment trial started a second week, prosecutors offered scores of secret church documents in their bid to prove that Msgr. William J. Lynn and other church leaders ignored or failed to act swiftly on claims that priests were sexually abusing children.
As secretary for clergy, the documents show, Lynn helped catalog and investigate the complaints against Cannon and Gana.
In 1992, jurors were told, Lynn met with a man who described being molested by Cannon in the early 1960s at a Lancaster County summer camp run by St. Monica Church in South Philadelphia.
By that time, Cannon had similar complaints in his secret file, according to records read at the trial by Detective David Fisher of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
A 1964 letter from a priest at St. Monica's said at least six boys had accused the priest of sneaking into their cabin at nights and molesting them when they were 12 and 13. Some said it occurred multiple times over successive summers, the letter said.
After those accusations, Cannon had been transferred to another parish, the records showed. At the time, Bishop Thomas Welsh told him not to return to St. Monica's or the camp "until things died down," according to one memo.
Cannon spent the next two decades on the faculty at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Delaware County.
In 1992, one of the former St. Monica's campers sent a letter to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua describing the childhood abuse and threatening to sue. Lynn met with the man and told him Cannon would be removed, as was church practice.
"He was told they are never assigned where children are concerned," said a memo recapping their meeting.
But Cannon, then 70, remained a chaplain at Villa Joseph Marie, a girls' school in Holland, Bucks County, for another decade. He also continued to assist at parishes throughout the region, the records show.
Lynn's notes on the case said Cannon repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Lynn called the allegations in the priest's file "very vague and confusing."
It wasn't until late 2003 that Cannon admitted abusing three of the campers decades earlier, and trying to hide from the acts. "He said he had gone to confession after the events and felt it was all over," one memo explained.
After Cannon agreed to live in a restricted ministry, Lynn told an assistant that they should publish his status in the archdiocese's newspaper, but that they did not need to announce it at a parish where Cannon had been helping out. "Monsignor [Lynn] said if we do one, we have to do them all, which is impossible," the aide noted.
Under cross-examination by one of Lynn's lawyers, the detective agreed that no other accusations surfaced against Cannon in the four decades after the camp events.
Attorney Thomas Bergstrom also pointed out that Cannon repeatedly denied the allegation to Lynn, but that the secretary for clergy still recommended Cannon for evaluation and treatment at St. John Vianney, a church-owned hospital.
The defense has repeatedly sought to show that Lynn took steps to isolate problem priests, even if they denied any wrongdoing.
The allegations against Gana surfaced around the same time as the ones against Cannon, the documents suggest.
In 1992, a young man told church officials that Gana had repeatedly molested him at Our Lady of Calvary in Northeast Philadelphia in the early 1980s, according to records described by Detective Joseph Walsh of the District Attorney's Office.
The young man gave Lynn the names of other potential victims, including a second boy who once shared a bed with him and Gana.
Three years later, that second man came forward with his own accusation against Gana. Despite the earlier accusation, Gana had not been removed. He was still pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Bridgeport, Montgomery County.
"During that period of time, Gana was pastor of a church?" Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked the detective.
"That's correct," Walsh replied.
On Tuesday, jurors are expected to see the documents that chronicle the steps leading to Gana's removal in 2002. He was defrocked four years later.
The trial was delayed Monday after two more jurors were excused from the panel. Neither the lawyers nor Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina explained why, but the judge reminded the remaining jurors that she had asked them not to report for work even on days that the trial is not in session, such as last Friday.
Two jurors were removed last week after acknowledging that they had read or been influenced by pretrial publicity. The panel still has 12 jurors and six alternates.