Myers Says He Wasn't Close to Accused Priest, but Records Reveal Gifts, Trip Invite
By Jeff Green
September 2, 2013
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said in sworn testimony that a priest accused of child sexual abuse in the Illinois diocese he once led was “not a close personal friend.”
And in a letter to clergy last month, Myers dismissed press accounts that Monsignor Thomas W. Maloney vacationed with him and gave him gifts of gold, silver and cash. He recalled receiving only one gift from Maloney, a collector’s coin he said was of “minimal value,” and he defended any gifts he received as bishop as tokens of appreciation customary from all his priests.
But a trove of documents, released last month after a lawsuit against the Diocese of Peoria was settled for $1.35 million, show that their relationship lasted from the 1960s to 2009, when Maloney died.
Over the course of the relationship, Myers received numerous gifts from Maloney, including on his birthday and on holidays. The two dined together and visited each other informally on several occasions. And Myers also invited Maloney on vacation at least two times, the documents show.
Myers said these things never influenced his administrative dealings with the pastor.
If the relationship between the men that emerges in the documents challenges Myers’ assertion that they were not close, it would be difficult to prove.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said Marcy McMann of Morristown, a seasoned criminal defense lawyer. ”What you consider to be a close relationship maybe this person did not.”
Others, both within the church and beyond, said the relationships between bishops and priests are governed by their own traditions and contexts, and social interaction among them is common, even those who share only a professional relationship.
Still, Grant Gallicho, an editor of the Catholic magazine Commonweal, asked: “Is it possible Maloney was trying to butter up the bishop? Yes.”
And state Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, a frequent critic of Myers, said the information in the files spoke for itself, illustrating Myers’ “close friendship and loyalty to this person who is under scrutiny for child abuse.”
The documents released upon the settlement of the lawsuit by Andrew Ward, who alleges Maloney sexually abused him when he was 8, included 200 pages of Myers’ deposition testimony and hundreds of pieces of correspondence in Maloney’s diocesan personnel file.
As early as 1980, when Myers was chancellor of the Peoria Diocese, he invited Maloney out for dinner. Later Myers sometimes called him to chat or visit. After a lunch together, he thanked him for a gift, adding “I do not ever expect to ‘profit’ from our friendship.”
Myers asked him to join a vacation to Florida in 1997 and three years later invited him to meet up on an excursion to Greece.
“I surely hope you can join us on Crete,” he wrote. “The hotel is Porto Elounda Mane. We will be arriving on Aug. 24 and departing on Aug. 31.”
A parishioner at Maloney’s church took note of their closeness, writing in a complaint about how the pastor ran the parish that he once referred to Myers as “Bishop Johnny” and often told stories about him during Mass.
“They evidently are personal friends but I don’t feel that a Sunday Mass sermon is the place to reveal these stories,” the parishioner wrote.
Letters from Myers show Maloney gave him at least 16 gifts from 1987 to 2000, when he was an assistant bishop and then bishop of Peoria. They included what Myers called the priest’s “much-loved camera,” and two presents around the archbishop’s birthday.
“Just a note to thank you for the birthday dinner and the wonderful visit,” Myers wrote in August 2000. “Thanks, too, for your very generous gift.”
In one letter, Myers thanked Maloney for a piece of silver that was so large it could be “tied around one’s neck like the proverbial ‘millstone.’Ÿ” Myers said in his deposition that he was not referencing the biblical verse that says those who lead children astray should wear a millstone.
Maloney’s gifts came mostly during the Christmas season and after confirmation ceremonies, which Myers testified, in a 2010 deposition, were common times to receive gifts from some of his priests.
As for the invitations to vacation, Monsignor Patrick Lagges, a professor of canon law for Catholic University of America, said some conservative priests only go on vacation with other priests, finding it inappropriate to go with lay people.
Maloney’s only correspondence in the files are his hand-scrawled petitions for advancements in the seminary. Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for Ward who has pursued hundreds of sex-abuse cases against the Catholic Church, said this was unusual, adding that he had never before seen a file that includes no letters from the priest.
Calls for comment from a lawyer for Peoria Diocese were not returned.
In one of the most personal recollections among the hundreds of pages of testimony, Myers recounted his last conversation with Maloney, a few days before the priest died in 2009.
The priest, who was on dialysis, called Myers to say he was going off his treatment. Maloney also told him that recently reported allegations of sexual abuse were “lies.”
“I called him ‘Tommy’ and he called me ‘Johnny,’Ÿ” Myers said in the deposition. “He said, ‘I’m going to pull the plug tomorrow. … And so, I won’t be around much longer.”