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  Bevilacqua Brought Convicted Priest Here

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
September 23, 2005

In 1985, over the objections of the priest who advised him on clergy appointments, former Pittsburgh bishop Anthony Bevilacqua accepted a convicted child molester from the diocese of Camden, N.J., and assigned him to Sewickley Valley Hospital.

The offending priest, the Rev. John P. Connor, was removed from his assignment here shortly after Bishop Donald Wuerl replaced Bevilacqua in 1988. Bevilacqua then gave Connor a parish assignment in the Philadelphia archdiocese.

The Connor case was detailed in a Philadelphia grand jury report of more than 400 pages released Wednesday. The report blasted Bevilacqua, the former Philadelphia archbishop, and others in the hierarchy for their response to complaints about priests who molested minors.

Wuerl was not responsible for transferring Connor to Philadelphia because Connor never formally belonged to the Pittsburgh diocese; only the bishop of Camden could reassign him, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

"Our understanding was that he was going back to Camden," Lengwin said.

Within months of becoming bishop here, Wuerl established a policy of not reassigning any priest against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse and, in a widely publicized case in which the Vatican ordered him to reinstate such a priest, he worked hard in Rome to get backing for his policy.

Connor was arrested in October 1984 for molesting a 14-year-old boy, who was a student at the New Jersey school where Connor taught religion and golf. According to the report, Connor admitted his guilt in a plea agreement under which his record would be expunged if he was not rearrested within a year. He spent most of that year in a psychiatric facility.

When he was released in September 1985, the report said, the bishop of Camden wrote to Bevilacqua in Pittsburgh, asking if he would accept a priest who was being released from the psychiatric facility following an arrest. The psychiatric facility reportedly said that Connor was suitable for ministry that did not involve responsibility for adolescents.

But according to the grand jury report, the Rev. Nicholas Dattilo -- then head of Pittsburgh's clergy office and later bishop of Harrisburg -- raised objections.

According to Lengwin, Connor arrived in Pittsburgh in October 1985 and worked for a year as a chaplain at Sewickley Valley Hospital, with residence at St. James parish, Sewickley. He was then made a parochial vicar at St. Alphonsus in Pine. In the meantime, Dattilo had become general secretary of the diocese, the most powerful position after bishop.

On Feb. 12, 1988, Wuerl became bishop of Pittsburgh. That spring, "concern about Father Connor's appointment in the Diocese of Pittsburgh was raised to Bishop Wuerl by then-Father Nicholas Dattilo," Lengwin said.

As a result, according to both Lengwin and the grand jury report, Wuerl revoked Connor's assignment

Lengwin said that Dattilo, who died last year, opposed any reassignment of priests who molested minors.

The diocese has never received an abuse complaint from Connor's tenure in Pittsburgh, he said. He said the diocese cooperated with the grand jury by turning over Connor's file.

Retired Bishop Anthony Bosco of Greensburg, an auxiliary bishop under Bevilacqua when Connor arrived here, said he did not remember Connor, but that Bevilacqua didn't understand the compulsive nature of child molestation. Bosco recalled Dattilo's strong view against reassigning known molesters, and said he came to share that view.

"A lot of bishops were acting on the idea of showing mercy to sinners -- that was even Rome's attitude. It wasn't treated as a serious personality defect, but as a moral lapse that the grace of God and a good confession could cure," Bosco said.

Terry McKiernan, co-director of Bishopaccountability.org, which tracks sexual abuse cases involving priests, said the only surprising thing about the Connor case was how much of it was documented in writing.

"That's unusual," he said. "Unfortunately, actions like this are very common."

After Wuerl dismissed Connor, the grand jury reported, Connor wrote to the Camden bishop claiming that Dattilo had suggested he seek another assignment with Bevilacqua in Philadelphia. Lengwin said there is no record of such a conversation in the Pittsburgh files.

In September 1988, Bevilacqua made Connor a parochial vicar at St. Matthew in Conshohocken, Montgomery County. According to the report, no one told the pastor of Connor's history. It said Connor developed a very close relationship with a third-grader, "Timothy," that continued for years, with the priest taking him to movies and buying him golf clubs. Although Timothy, now 24, did not tell investigators that Connor molested him, his mother believes he did.

After the 1984 victim filed suit against the Camden diocese in 1993, Connor was sent back to Camden, where the suit was "reportedly settled out of court," the report said. Over the next two years, a priest and a nun from Conshohocken expressed concern to the Philadelphia archdiocese that Connor continued to visit Timothy. Connor retired in 2002.

 
 

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