Overview of Criminal Cases against U.S. Catholic Officials for Enabling Child Sexual Abuse
Since the Boston Globe published the secret documents of Cardinal Law in 2002, hundreds of bishops and other senior Catholic supervisors in the U.S. have been accused in civil filings, news reports, and grand jury investigations of enabling child sexual abuse. However, fewer than ten complicit officials and dioceses in the U.S. have been criminally charged. BishopAccountability.org presents below a list of these cases with links to key documents.
• Criminal charges and civil case against Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis MN
• Criminal charges against former Ministers Provincial of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Immaculate Conception province, Hollidaysburg PA
• Criminal charges against Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph MO
• Criminal charges against Msgr. William J. Lynn, Archdiocese of Philadelphia PA
• Bishop Daniel Walsh, Diocese of Santa Rosa CA, avoids criminal charges
• Archdiocese of Boston MA avoids criminal charges
• Archdiocese of Cincinnati OH pleads guilty to failure to report
• Bishop Thomas O'Brien, Diocese of Phoenix AZ, avoids indictment
• Diocese of Manchester NH avoids charge of child endangerment
For the action taken by the Vatican in such cases, and the global context, including a linked list of bishops accused of sexual abuse and misconduct, see:
• Abuse-Enabling Bishops Who Resigned or Were Removed
• Bishops Accused of Sexual Abuse and Misconduct: A Global Accounting
Criminal charges and civil case against Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis MN
On June 5, 2015, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on six gross misdemeanor counts of failure to protect children from child molester Father Curtis Wehmeyer. He also initiated a civil case against the archdiocese, pursuant to Minnesota statute 260C.335, citing three counts (one for each of three Wehmeyer victims) of 'contributing to the need for services for, or protection of' a child.
In December 2015, Choi and the archdiocese settled the civil case, stating in their written agreement that the settlement did not constitute "any admission of liability." The settlement required the archdiocese to apologize to the victims in the Wehmeyer case and pursue restorative justice. It also: attached specific requirements to pre-existing archdiocesan "safe environment" procedures; called for an independent audit of the archdiocese's compliance; and gave the county prosecutor access to the audit report, the auditing personnel, and to "work papers and underlying supporting documents."
On July 20, 2016, Choi announced that the criminal charges had been dropped in exchange for new provisions to the December 2015 agreement, including the archdiocese's public admission of wrong-doing. In the amendment to the agreement, the archdiocese stated that it had "failed to keep the safety and well-being of these three children ahead of protecting the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the Archdiocese."
The settlement also included Choi's appointment of Patty Wetterling, a recognized child welfare advocate, to the archdiocese's Ministerial Review Board.
Within hours of announcing the dropped charges and amended agreement, Choi released revealing documents related to alleged sexual misconduct by Archbishop John Nienstedt. The released documents include a July 2014 memo by the archdiocese's Delegate for Safe Environment alleging that in April 2014, the papal nuncio to the United States asked two auxiliary bishops to take back and destroy a letter they had written to the nuncio objecting to his instruction to shut down a church-commissioned investigation of Nienstedt by the law firm Greene Espel. [The memo is included as an exhibit in this affidavit by assistant county prosecutor Thomas E. Ring.]
• Archbishop Nienstedt under Investigation, by Grant Gallicho, Commonweal Magazine, July 1, 2014
• Twin Cities archdiocese criminally charged in priest child abuse case, Minnesota Public Radio, June 5, 2015
• John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Gross Misdemeanor Criminal Complaint, State of Minnesota, County of Ramsey v. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, June 5, 2015
• John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Civil Petition – Petition in Support of Order to Show Cause, with 1) Motion for Order to Show Cause and 2) Order to Show Cause, in the matter of Victim-1, Victim-2, and Victim-3; Respondent: The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, June 5, 2015
• An isolated Nienstedt tried to limit investigation into himself, by Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio, June 19, 2015
• Archdiocese, Ramsey County attorney reach unprecedented agreement in clergy sex abuse case, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 18, 2015
• Settlement Agreement between The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, December 17, 2015
• Amendment to Settlement Agreement between The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, July 19, 2016
• Prosecutorial Timeline and Released Legal Documents Archive, published by office of John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, July 20, 2016
• Letter to the Faithful from Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, July 20, 2016
• Letter to Priests and Deacons of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis, from Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, July 20, 2016
• Response to Release of Documents, Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, July 20, 2016
• Affidavit of Thomas E. Ring, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, March 21, 2016 [Released by county prosecutor Choi July 20, 2016. Includes Memorandum to Bishop Lee A. Piché from Reverend Daniel F. Griffith, Delegate for Safe Environment, July 7, 2014]
• Memorandum to Bishop Lee A. Piché from Reverend Daniel F. Griffith, J.D., Delegate for Safe Environment, The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, July 7, 2014 [Released by county prosecutor Choi July 20, 2016]
• Statement of Jennifer Haselberger, July 20, 2016
• Dialogue Paved Road to Dropped Criminal Charges, column by Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, August 2, 2016
"We were willing to admit to failures and even moral culpability, but we could not go into court to plead guilty to a crime we did not commit. Committing a crime implies a criminal intent and is something altogether different from failing."
Criminal charges against former Ministers Provincial of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Immaculate Conception province, Hollidaysburg PA (2016)
On March 15, 2016, Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane announced criminal charges against three former Ministers Provincial of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Immaculate Conception province, based in Hollidaysburg PA. Each was charged with one count of child endangerment and one count of criminal conspiracy. The men were accused of enabling Brother Stephen Baker, TOR "to have contact with children and the public as part of his ministry" from April 1992 to January 2010. During that period, Baker allegedly abused more than 100 children in the area of Johnstown PA, including 88 students from Bishop McCort High School, where Baker taught religion and acted as an unofficial sports trainer.
• Presentment of the grand jury regarding findings of criminal wrongdoing by the three Ministers Provincial, March 2016
• Criminal complaint charging Anthony J. (Giles) Schinelli, TOR, with criminal conspiracy and child endangerment, March 14, 2016
• Criminal complaint charging Robert J. D'Aversa, TOR, with criminal conspiracy and child endangerment, March 14, 2016
• Criminal complaint charging Anthony J. Criscitelli, TOR, with criminal conspiracy and child endangerment, March 14, 2016
• Timeline created by FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit [includes timeline of Stephen Baker's alleged abuses]
• News release, PA Attorney General's Office, March 15, 2016
Criminal charges against Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph MO (2011-2012)
In October 2011, Jackson County MO prosecutor Lynn Baker indicted both the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese and Bishop Robert W. Finn for failing to report child sexual abuse by Rev. Shawn Ratigan. Eleven months later, the cases against the diocese and Finn were separated, the case against the diocese was dropped, and Finn was convicted.
• Indictment by Jackson County Prosecutor, October 14, 2011
• Grand Jury Indicts Bishop Finn, Diocese, Kansas City Star, October 15, 2011
• Stipulation of Testimony, by Robert W. Finn and the State of Missouri, Jackson County Circuit Court, September 6, 2012
• Terms of Probation, State of Missouri vs Robert W. Finn, September 6, 2012
In November 2011, the prosecutor in neighboring Clay County made an agreement with Finn rather than indicting him or the diocese. Jackson County prosecutors, however, continued to press their case. In May 2012, Jackson County prosecutors split the initial charges into two separate charges for separate time frames.
In early September 2012, the cases against the diocese and the bishop were separated, as diocesan lawyers had been requesting for months. On September 6, 2012, Finn was found guilty during a brief bench trial of one misdemeanor charge of violating Missouri’s mandated reporter statute. He was found not guilty of a second charge.
Finn agreed to a “stipulation of testimony,” consisting of 69 points that could be cited as evidence if his criminal case were to go to jury trial. [See Stipulation of Testimony, with links to other documents.] He was sentenced to two years of probation. [See terms of probation.] After Finn’s conviction, prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against the diocese.
Criminal case against Msgr. William J. Lynn, Archdiocese of Philadelphia PA (2011-2018)
On February 10, 2011, Philadelphia's district attorney R. Seth Williams announced that Monsignor William J. Lynn, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's Vicar for Clergy 1992-2004, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and two counts of criminal conspiracy. The charges related to Msgr. Lynn’s supervision of Rev. Edward V. Avery and Rev. James J. Brennan, whom Lynn kept in ministry despite previous allegations that they had molested children.
Lynn’s indictment was the first time a senior diocesan official was charged criminally because of his supervision of dangerous priests.
On May 17, 2012, Common Pleas court judge M. Teresa Sarmina dismissed the charge that Lynn had conspired with Rev. Brennan.
On June 22, 2012, Lynn was found guilty of one count of child endangerment, regarding his management of Avery. He was acquitted of conspiring to protect Avery and of endangering the child allegedly molested by Brennan. On July 25, 2012, he was sentenced to three to six years in state prison.
In December 2013, Lynn's conviction was reversed by the Superior Court, which agreed with Lynn that the child endangerment law in effect at the time of Avery's crime "imposed criminal liability only upon those directly supervising children" (page 23 of Superior Court ruling). In April 2015, however, Lynn's conviction was reinstated by the state Supreme Court. It ruled that the pre-amended law applied not just to direct supervisors of children but to those supervising children's welfare and that the law therefore applied to Lynn, "because, as a high-ranking official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he was specifically responsible for protecting children from sexually abusive priests” (page 2 of Supreme Court ruling).
In December 2015, the Superior Court overturned Lynn's conviction again, granting him a new trial -- this time, on grounds that the trial court had admitted a “high volume of unfairly prejudicial other-acts evidence."
On July 26, 2016, the PA Supreme Court refused the district attorney's March 2016 petition for a review of the appellate court's ruling. On August 2, Lynn was allowed to leave prison on $250,000 bail, and D.A. Williams vowed to try him again.
In June 2018, the Superior Court rejected Lynn's motion to prevent a new trial. Lynn's lawyers had argued on double jeopardy grounds, saying that prosecutors had committed misconduct by deliberately allowing a witness to give false testimony. Judge Jack Panella disagreed, writing that Lynn had not demonstrated prosecutorial intent to deny him a fair trial.
At a status hearing in July 2018, assistant D.A. Patrick Blessington said his office was considering an appeal to a Superior Court ruling that in the new trial, prosecutors would be able to admit only a few "prior bad acts." The new trial may take place in 2019.
• Philadelphia Grand Jury Report, released February 20, 2011. [See also the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report and its analysis of Lynn's role.]
• Presentment of County Investigating Grand Jury XXIII, Philadelphia County, dated January 21, 2011, released February 20, 2011. [See last page for recommended charges against Msgr. Lynn.]
• Judge Dismisses Conspiracy Count against Monsignor, Priest, by Joseph A. Slobodzian and John P. Martin, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 18, 2012
• Jury Convicts Lynn of One Count, Deadlocks on Brennan, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 2012
• Monsignor Lynn Sentenced to Jail for Role in Church Sex Abuse, Philadelphia Daily News, July 25, 2012
• Decision of PA Superior Court reversing Lynn’s conviction on grounds that child endangerment statute did not apply to Lynn, December 26, 2013
• Philadelphia Monsignor’s Conviction Overturned in Cover-Up of Sexual Abuse, the New York Times, December 26, 2013
• Decision of PA Supreme Court, reversing the 2013 Superior Court’s overturn of Lynn’s conviction, April 27, 2015
In the majority Opinion, Justice Max Baer wrote that child endangerment law did not require “direct supervision of children. Rather, that which is supervised is the child’s welfare. Under the facts presented at trial, Appellee was a person supervising the welfare of many children because, as a high-ranking official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he was specifically responsible for protecting children from sexually abusive priests.”
• Dissenting opinion by Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor, April 27, 2015
• Decision by PA Superior Court granting Lynn a new trial, ruling that the trial court had admitted a “high volume of unfairly prejudicial other-acts evidence,” December 22, 2015
• Lynn’s Sentence Tossed Again by Superior Court, The Legal Intelligencer, December 22, 2015
• D.A. asks appeals court to reconsider Lynn case, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 30, 2015
• Petition for Allowance of Appeal, filed by Office of Philadelphia District Attorney, March 10, 2016
• Phila. D.A. appeals decision in Lynn sex-abuse case, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 13, 2016
• PA Supreme Court order denying DA's petition to appeal the 2015 order of the Superior Court, July 26, 2016
• Decision of PA Superior Court rejecting Lynn's bid to block a new trial, June 28, 2018
• [See also: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William J. Lynn, Edward V. Avery, and James J. Brennan: Trial Narrative and Resources]
Bishop Daniel Walsh, Diocese of Santa Rosa CA, avoids criminal charges (2006)
In November 2006, Bishop Daniel F. Walsh of Santa Rosa CA agreed to enter a four-month counseling program, thereby avoiding a criminal charge for violating the state's mandatory reporting law earlier that year.
In April 2006, Rev. Francisco Xavier Ochoa had admitted to Walsh that he recently had offered a 12-year-old boy $100 for a strip tease and had kissed him repeatedly on the lips. Walsh suspended Ochoa that day but waited three days before reporting the priest to civil authorities, during which time Ochoa fled to his native Mexico. As a cleric, Walsh was a mandated reporter of suspected child abuse in CA; state law required him to report the incidents immediately by phone and to submit a written report within 36 hours.
Ochoa eventually was accused of abusing at least 10 boys and girls. The alleged abuse included oral copulation and forcible rape. He was never apprehended by authorities and died in Mexico in 2009.
• Officials Fault Bishop in Abuse Case: Law Requires Prompt Report; New Details of Sonoma Allegations,The Press Democrat [Santa Rosa CA], June 22, 2006
• Ochoa Case Timeline , The Press Democrat [Santa Rosa CA], August 11, 2006
• Sheriff's Office: Strong Case against Walsh - Criminal Charges May Be Filed against SR Bishop for Failing to Report Suspected Sex Abuse, The Press-Democrat [Santa Rosa CA], August 25, 2006
• Bishop Avoids Charge in Failure to Swiftly Report Abuse Claims: Counseling Instead of Misdemeanor for Delay in Notification, San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 2006
• Reaction: Catholics Praise Deal; Victim Advocates Angry, The Press Democrat [Santa Rosa CA], November 21, 2006
Archdiocese of Boston MA avoids criminal charges (2005)
In November 2005, federal prosecutors in Boston found that archdiocesan officials had falsely certified an accused priest's fitness for military chaplaincy in 1999. U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan agreed to end a grand jury investigation without bringing charges. In exchange, the archdiocese agreed to provide detailed information for three years about all Boston clergy in federal service and about chaplain candidates. The archdiocese also had to promise to a more extensive self-audit of its child protection measures.
The agreement stipulated that it did not constitute an admission of guilt or liability by the archdiocese.
In 1999, while serving as Cardinal Bernard Law's vicar general, auxiliary bishop William F. Murphy (later bishop of Rockville Centre NY) had signed a federal document certifying that he knew of no "adverse information" about Rev. William J. Scanlan that would render him unfit to work at a Veteran Affairs hospital in Palo Alto CA. At the time, Scanlan's archdiocesan file contained a 1987 allegation that he had "fooled around with kids." It also included a summary of a 1986 psychological evaluation that cited his infatuation with a young man. In 2000, the archdiocese received another allegation about Scanlan but did not inform the priest's supervisor at the Veteran Affairs facility.
While working at the veterans' hospital in Palo Alto, Scanlan lived at St. Pius parish in nearby Redmond CA. In June 1999, Murphy assured the San Francisco archdiocese that Scanlan was fit to minister at the parish, which had an elementary school. Murphy signed a Request for Faculties form stating that Scanlan "had manifested no behavioral problems in the past that would indicate that he might deal with minors in an inappropriate manner."
• Agreement of Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, dated November 17, 2005
• Archdiocese, Prosecutors Agree to Deal over Withheld Information, Associated Press, November 18, 2005, with links to documents
Archdiocese of Cincinnati OH pleads guilty to failure to report (2003)
In November 2003, the Cincinnati archdiocese, represented by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, pled no contest to five misdemeanor counts of failure to report a crime. According to Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, the archdiocese "knowingly failed to report" sexual felonies against minors by five priests in 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982. A judge fined the archdiocese $10,000, the maximum allowed, after the archbishop entered a no-contest plea.
In addition, the archdiocese signed an agreement to set up a $3 million victims' compensation fund and to give prosecutors access to certain church documents. The archdiocese also agreed that all of its personnel would be obligated legally to report all alleged child sex abuse incidents to the Hamilton County prosecutor, even though the state did not mandate clergy to report: "[B]y this Agreement [the Archdiocese] is obligated to meet a more stringent reporting requirement than provided under current Ohio law."
This was the first criminal conviction of a Catholic diocese in regards to its handling of child sexual abuse by clergy.
• Settlement Agreement between the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, November 20, 2003
• Archdiocese guilty of cover-up, Cincinnati Post, November 21, 2003
• Archdiocese found guilty of criminal charges, Cincinnati Post, November 21, 2003
• Statement by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, November 20, 2003
Bishop Thomas O'Brien, Diocese of Phoenix AZ, avoids indictment (2003)
In May 2003, Bishop Thomas O'Brien of Phoenix avoided an indictment for obstruction of justice by agreeing that he had concealed cases of child sex abuse by clergy and that he would not handle such allegations in the future. See the two links below for background; the first link also includes the agreement O'Brien signed with county prosecutor Rick Romley (scroll down a bit):
• Agreement between Richard M. Romley, Maricopa County Attorney, and Thomas J. O'Brien, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, a corporation sole, May 3, 2003
Diocese of Manchester NH avoids charge of child endangerment (2002)
In December 2002, the NH Attorney General announced that his investigation had found sufficient evidence to prosecute the Manchester diocese for child endangerment. The diocese avoided criminal charges by agreeing to submit to audits of its handling of abuse allegations for a period of five years. Below are links to the resulting agreement and to the NH Attorney General's report: