Priest at Abbey Faces Sex Charges
The Church Here Now Faces 2 Potential Scandals
By David O'Reilly, Kathleen Brady Shea and Chris Gray
December 19, 2002
A Roman Catholic priest turned himself in to authorities in Chester County on charges of indecent assault yesterday, the second day in a row that the church has had to respond to allegations of priest misconduct.
The Rev. David T. Lawlor, 59, is a member of the Norbertine community of priests and brothers who is assigned to the Daylesford Abbey in Devon. He was charged in connection with incidents involving two men. He was arraigned before District Justice John F. Anthony and released on $5,000 unsecured bail.
And yesterday afternoon, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua said at a news conference that he had been unaware until earlier in the day that a diocesan priest once convicted of possessing child pornography was saying Mass and administering sacraments in a Montgomery County parish.
Minutes before the archdiocese's traditional Christmas party for area children, the cardinal said the Rev. Edward DePaoli, 57, had disobeyed him by saying public Mass, delivering homilies, conducting funerals, and performing other priestly functions.
But the cardinal said he could not explain why the pastor of St. Gabriel's parish in Stowe, near Pottstown, had allowed the priest to violate the terms of his assignment. Reports of Father DePaoli's activities began to surface publicly on Tuesday. How long the activities had been going on could not be determined.
"There was apparently a breakdown" in communication, the cardinal said.
John Salveson, president of the Philadelphia-area chapter of Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, said yesterday he found it "hard to believe [the cardinal] didn't know" about Father DePaoli's expanded role at St. Gabriel's.
"But if he is telling the truth, that's terribly disturbing. That means a convicted felon is serving in his parish without his knowing... . If he's telling the truth, there's no way he can say he's got a diocese safe for children."
Neither the pastor of St. Gabriel's nor Father DePaoli returned phone calls seeking comment.
Father DePaoli was convicted in 1986 of possessing pornographic magazines, films and videotapes of underage boys while he was an assistant at Holy Martyrs' parish in Oreland. He was given a one-year suspended sentence.
After years of counseling, he was assigned by the archdiocese in 1995 to residence in St. Gabriel's rectory, but he was supposed to be in an "extremely restricted ministry," the cardinal said. He was barred from saying public Mass except with another priest, or otherwise administering sacraments.
The cardinal said he would likely refer Father DePaoli's case to a lay review board. Father DePaoli continues to reside at St. Gabriel's rectory.
Neither the priests' cases involved sexual contact with minors.
Father Lawlor, who faces charges of indecent assault, harassment, disorderly conduct and stalking, made improper advances to two men on Nov. 24 at the Upper Main Line YMCA, according to Easttown Township Police.
Police said the first man, described as a mentally challenged adult male, reported that Father Lawlor had touched him inappropriately in the whirlpool. The man told police he "was scared and shocked and did not know what to do."
According to the police report, the man said he then went into the shower, but Father Lawlor followed him, asking repeatedly whether he was OK. He stated that he was fine, left the YMCA, and called police.
Police said that, during a subsequent investigation, another man said Father Lawlor made inappropriate sexual advances to him, also in the whirlpool.
Police said that in a voluntary interview, Father Lawlor acknowledged being at the YMCA on Nov. 24, but at first denied being in the whirlpool. Later, he said he might have been in the pool but wasn't there with the man who made the accusations.
Finally, he said the man was in pain and asked to have his knee rubbed.
Father Lawlor "stated that his behavior was compulsive and inappropriate... and that he was willing to undergo any type of counseling," according to the police affidavit.
The Rev. Ronald J. Rossi, the head of Daylesford Abbey, a religious community of Norbertine priests and brothers in Paoli, said Father Lawlor denied the assault charges.
Nevertheless, Father Rossi said, Father Lawlor has been "temporarily suspended" in accordance with recent Catholic Church guidelines.
The abbey, whose priests serve in St. Norbert parish in Paoli and in St. Gabriel, St. Aloysius and King of Peace parishes in South Philadelphia, is autonomous from the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Father Lawlor, who has served as kitchen director at the abbey for five years, "has been relieved of his ministerial duties, which were minimal," Father Rossi said yesterday.
Medical problems had impaired Father Lawlor's mobility so that he had only occasionally filled in for other priests to say Mass, he said.
Asked whether Father Lawlor had a history of emotional or disciplinary problems, Father Rossi said no, adding that "he's always been praised by people."
Samuel C. Stretton, Father Lawlor's attorney, said the case will be vigorously defended. "We emphatically deny the allegations," Stretton said.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21 at Devon District Court.
In Stowe, parishioners at tiny St. Gabriel's parish were reluctant to discuss Father DePaoli yesterday, and some reacted angrily to reporters' questions about the charges.
Although his 1985 arrest and 1986 trial were reported in the media, he appeared to have kept mum about his past - and the restrictions on his ministry.
He never told administrators at the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia, where he spent several weeks teaching courses over the summer in 1999 and 2000, the director, the Rev. John McDowell, said.
"This is all surprising to me," said Father McDowell, who received Father DePaoli's name from a mutual friend in the priesthood. "He was very kind and very respected and people liked him very much."
Father DePaoli also celebrated Mass as part of his visit, Father McDowell said. "I never asked [about the restrictions] because I never suspected. And he never volunteered."
Cardinal Bevilacqua acknowledged that it was difficult to regulate the activities of clergy in restricted ministry.
"We can't supervise people 24 hours a day," he said at the news conference.
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