Deposition: Levada Defends Decision on Ore. Priest

By William McCall
Associated Press
April 3, 2010

PORTLAND (OR) -- In a newly released court deposition, a top Vatican official who is a former Portland archbishop defends not telling Oregon parishioners about the sex abuse allegations against a priest he restored to duty.

The deposition also shows that the official, Cardinal William Levada, insisted he had given complete information to the pastor of the parish about the history of Father Joseph Baccellieri. Documents provided by the archdiocese show his position was parochial vicar, an administrative, not pastoral post.

FILE - Archbishop William J. Levada answers questions after being named by Pope Benedict XVI as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the Catholic Church, the highest post held by an American prelate, during a news conference in San Francisco, in this Friday, May 13, 2005 file photo. Levada said in an article posted on the Vatican's Web site that a lengthy trial for the Rev. Lawrence Murphy would have been "useless" because the priest was dying by the time his diocese initiated a canonical trial. Levada was critical of The New York Times, which first published details of the decision last week.

The archdiocese says there were limits on his ministry that no other abuse allegations against him arose. However, there was nothing in records e-mailed by the archdiocese to The Associated Press on Friday showing there was any explicit prohibition on contact between Baccellieri and parishioners. The documents also show that over the years Baccellieri had also been named pastor and co-pastor, before retiring in 2002.

Levada was archbishop of the Portland Archdiocese from 1986-95. He now is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and has become a central figure in defending the Vatican in its handling of abusive priests.

In 2006, Levada gave a deposition as dozens of Oregon sex abuse lawsuits were pending against the church.

In a transcript of his testimony released Friday by one of attorneys in those cases, Levada said Baccellieri had gone through therapy and the recommendation was that "he was not at risk for reabusing and that it would be prudent to reassign him."

Jeffrey Lena, a California-based attorney for Levada, deferred immediate comment and told The Associated Press he would try to send a statement about the release of the deposition on Friday but it did not arrive. Lena was traveling over the holiday weekend and had limited cell phone reception.

There was no answer Saturday at Levada's Vatican office; most Vatican offices were closed for Easter.

Some Baccellieri case details had been released earlier but this is the first word of Levada's testimony on it.

Levada said in the deposition he did not think parishioners needed to be told about the priest's history.

"It might give people the implication that if they are being told this, that I am suspecting that he — he may be at risk — he may be a risk to their children," Levada said during questioning by Kelly Clark, one of the attorneys for dozens of men who alleged they were abused by Oregon priests.

The deposition was released by Erin Olson, another attorney who represented abuse victims in the Oregon lawsuit and who was instrumental in getting the testimony from Levada. Olson said parts of the deposition were redacted that made reference to three individuals involved in pending litigation.

Olson said she decided to release it because she was angry over Levada's defense of the way the Vatican handled a Wisconsin priest accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf boys.

Levada posted a statement on the Vatican Web site saying that Pope Benedict XVI should not be held responsible for a church decision in the 1990s not to defrock the Wisconsin priest.

Levada left Portland to become archbishop in San Francisco in 1995. He took over as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger after Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005.

The Wisconsin case had been referred to the Vatican's doctrinal office when Ratzinger was in charge of it.

As archbishop in Portland, Levada removed Baccellieri in 1992 after complaints involving teenage boys but allowed him to return on a limited basis under close supervision in 1994.

Levada also set conditions for Baccellieri, including continuous counseling and therapy, regular reporting by his therapist to the Archdiocese of Portland, close monitoring, limitations on ministry activities and residence outside a parish setting or under the supervision of other priests.

In the deposition, Levada told attorneys, "If I thought Father Baccellieri would be a risk to any child, I would never have reassigned him."

But Clark was critical of Levada during the deposition.

"Wouldn't you have some sort of a pastoral moral requirement to let individual parishioners make that determination for themselves?" Clark asked.

"I think it was prudent to act the way I did," Levada replied. "I stand on that — on that judgment I made."

In a 2004 press release, the archdiocese noted there were no further complaints about Baccellieri before his retirement.

Olson and Clark were among the lead attorneys in a 2007 settlement of Oregon sex abuse lawsuits for more than $50 million. The Portland Archdiocese became the first Roman Catholic diocese in the nation to declare bankruptcy on the eve of trial for the first of those lawsuits in July 2004.


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