Authorities Investigate Cardinal Accused Of Hiding Sexual Abuse by Priests

The [Pennsylvania]
September 22, 2005

Decades of sexual abuse by priests kept secret? Pittsburgh authorities are reviewing a report accusing the Philadelphia archdiocese of doing just that.

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua spent five years as the Pittsburgh bishop before going to Philadelphia. Now, he is the focus of a grand jury investigation.

The grand jury said when Bevilacqua was bishop in Pittsburgh, he allowed the Rev. John P. Connor to transfer to Pittsburgh, even though he knew the priest had been arrested in New Jersey after being accused of molesting a young boy.

When Bevilacqua moved to Philadelphia, he found a parish for Connor there.

The grand jury report said Bevilacqua was doing a favor for a friend -- the bishop of Camden, N.J. -- when he allowed Connor to transfer to Pittsburgh.

But in a memo, Bevilacqua's assistant, the Rev. Nicholas Dattilo, warned about the transfer. "If the problem is homosexuality or pedophilia, we could be accepting a difficulty with which we have had no post-therapeutic experience," wrote Dattilo.

Dattilo told Bevilacqua, "If, after you have talked with Bishop Guilfoyle, you believe there is no serious risk in accepting Father Connor, we will do everything we can to keep the tradition of bishops helping bishops intact."

Bevilacqua wrote, "I cannot guarantee there is no serious risk."

But Connor came anyway, holding positions as chaplain at Sewickley Hospital and parochial vicar at St. Alphonsus in Wexford. In 1988, when Bishop Donald Wuerl replaced Bevilacqua, he withdrew Connor's appointment.

Bevilacqua then found a parish for Connor outside Philadelphia.

Bevilacqua told the grand jury he was unaware of Connor's history.

In its report, the grand jury said it "finds the Cardinal's testimony in this regard untruthful. We further find it inexplicable that, knowing of Father Connor's abuse of a minor, Archbishop Bevilacqua chose to accept Father Connor into the archdiocese of Philadelphia, to assign him to a parish with a grade school, and not to inform the pastor or parishioners at Saint Matthew of Father Connor's criminal background, even though Archbishop Bevilacqua acknowledged that Father Connor could present a 'serious risk.' "

The grand jury report was no surprise to Paul Dorsch. He was abused by another priest, Jack Hoehl, who was headmaster of Quigley High School during the 1970s and 1980s.

"He went through Beaver county like a plague. Bevilacqua was here then and did he do the same practices then? In my mind yes," said Dorsch.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese issued a lengthy response to the grand jury report. The response does not specifically mention the Connor case, but said the report was unfair to Bevilacqua.

A spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said he is reviewing the report but does not plan an investigation similar to Philadelphia's.

Connor declined to appear before the grand jury. He retired as a priest three years ago.


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