Allegheny County D.A. Looking into Bevilacqua's Pittsburgh Tenure

By Nancy Phillips and David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Inquirer
March 7, 2011

Two grand juries lambasted him and all but branded him a criminal.

One said Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua had "excused and enabled" sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, then launched a massive cover-up, delaying public revelation of the crimes until it was too late to prosecute.

The second said sexual abuse was "known, tolerated, and hidden by high church officials, up to and including the cardinal himself."

But Bevilacqua will likely answer to none of it.

At 87, the cardinal is infirm and suffering from cancer and dementia, his doctors say. He is too ill, they say, even to be told of last month's grand-jury report, let alone respond to its conclusion that his "knowing and deliberate actions during his tenure as archbishop also endangered thousands of children."

The two reports, together with an Inquirer review of his years as a bishop in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, N.Y., suggest that Bevilacqua favored legal protection of the church and its priests over the safety of children.

Details of Bevilacqua's handling of abuse cases while in Pittsburgh are few, but that might change. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Friday that in response to the Philadelphia grand jury's latest findings, his office had begun a review of all abuse cases reported during Bevilacqua's Pittsburgh tenure. He was head of that diocese from 1983 to 1988.

Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of Duquesne University Law School and legal counsel to the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Bevilacqua era, said Friday he could not comment on whether Bevilacqua had ever assigned known abusers to parish ministry, saying he was "bound by confidentiality as to the advice I gave him and what he did with that advice."

But, Cafardi said, "the public record . . . shows that, during Bishop Bevilacqua's time here, with the exception of Father Connor, who came here from another diocese, Pittsburgh did not return abusive priests to ministry."

The Rev. John Connor, a priest of the Camden Diocese, was arrested in 1984 for abusing a 14-year-old boy at a high school where he worked, and spent six months in a residential treatment facility near Toronto. Starting in 1985, Bevilacqua allowed him to serve in Pittsburgh as a hospital chaplain and as a parochial vicar. In 1988, soon after he became archbishop of Philadelphia, he allowed Connor to serve as a parochial vicar at St. Matthew parish in Conshohocken, where there were no restrictions on his access to children. He remained there until 1993, when he returned to Camden.

When Connor's abuse became public in 2002, the pastor at St. Matthew said no one in the archdiocese had ever warned him of it.

Last month, a victims group released documents showing that Bevilacqua, while an auxiliary bishop in Brooklyn in the early 1980s, recommended that a chronically abusive priest be sent to another diocese. There, the priest abused two more children.

"It's rare to have this kind of 3-D view" of a bishop's handling of abuse cases across three dioceses, said Terry McKiernan, president of, which tracks Catholic clergy abuse cases nationwide.

The glimpses from Brooklyn and Pittsburgh do not compare to the exhaustive review of the two Philadelphia grand juries, which examined thousands of documents and interviewed scores of church officials, victims, and other witnesses.

Both grand juries mulled criminal charges against the cardinal.

The first grand jury, in 2005, said it was thwarted by the statute of limitations. "We surely would have charged them if we could have done so," the panel wrote of Bevilacqua and his top aides.

"We would like to hold Cardinal Bevilacqua accountable as well," the second grand jury said in its report, released Feb 10.

Msgr. William J. Lynn, charged with child endangerment after the recent grand jury concluded that he shielded abusive priests, was simply doing his boss' bidding, the panel said. "Msgr. Lynn was carrying out the cardinal's policies exactly as the cardinal directed," it said.

Bevilacqua, who retired in 2003, did not testify before the latest grand jury.

His lawyer, William Sasso, appeared in his stead and testified that the cardinal requires "24/7 nursing care." He said Bevilacqua rarely leaves the gated grounds of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, where he lives, and sometimes fails to recognize him.

Sasso told the panel that Bevilacqua's doctors, A.J. DiMarino Jr. and Bradley Fenton, had advised that it would be "extremely traumatic" for the cardinal to testify and that "any testimony he gave would be unreliable."

DiMarino, a gastroenterologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and Fenton, an internist there, did not respond to requests for comment last week.

The grand jury said Bevilacqua's health and lack of mental acuity were factors in its decision not to recommend criminal charges against him.

By its own account, the panel made that decision reluctantly. It also left a door open.

"On balance, we cannot conclude that a successful prosecution can be brought against the cardinal, at least for the moment," the grand jury said. "New reports of abuse continue to come in."

Asked about the grand-jury report's criticism of Bevilacqua, Sasso declined to comment.

Citing the cardinal's health, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese turned down The Inquirer's request for an interview with him. "Cardinal Bevilacqua is retired and not well," Donna Farrell said. "There is nothing further we can say."

That muted response stands in contrast to the church's indignant defense of Bevilacqua in 2005. Lawyers for the archdiocese blasted that investigation as "anti-Catholic" and decried the panel's "callous treatment" of the cardinal.

Years earlier, Bevilacqua had been applauded for his efforts to persuade the Vatican to expedite its process for removing abusive priests. As a canon lawyer representing the American bishops, he went to Rome in 1993 to make his case to Pope John Paul II.

Based on the 2005 grand-jury report, church lawyers also defended Bevilacqua's predecessor, Cardinal John Krol, who was sharply criticized as well. Krol led the archdiocese from 1961 to 1988 and died in 1996.

Both grand juries said Bevilacqua was obsessed with the church's public image. To avoid scandal, they said, he took pains to ensure that potentially damaging information was kept secret.

When one priest was reassigned because of improper behavior with boys, for example, parishioners were told to pray for him because he had Lyme disease.

The first grand-jury report, which shocked Catholics and others across the region, also found that:

When a seminarian told church officials that a Philadelphia priest had abused him as a teen, they worried he might sue. Bevilacqua then ordered an investigation of the seminarian. The priest, later found to have abused "countless" boys, remained in ministry for a decade.

Bevilacqua retained and promoted a priest who had molested more than a dozen girls despite complaints against him that included an eyewitness account from another priest.

After a priest was accused of abusing students at Cardinal O'Hara High School, Bevilacqua had an aide tell him he could be "appointed pastor at another parish after an interval of time had passed."

When a monsignor who was vicar for Catholic education admitted sexually abusing minors, Bevilacqua asked him to resign his high-profile job. He said the victims' parents "were not likely to take action of a legal nature so long as the archdiocese acted strongly." He allowed the priest to remain in parish ministry for 14 more years.

A priest who was convicted of having child pornography after the FBI found illicit images on his computer, and $15,000 worth of pornographic magazines, films, and videotapes under his bed, was sent to treatment; Bevilacqua allowed him to return to parish ministry.

Such disturbing details rarely come to light.

"Only a grand jury can do an overarching examination of the facts," said lawyer Marci Hamilton, who has sued the church on behalf of dozens of victims.

She said many district attorneys, fearful of alienating voters, are reluctant to investigate.

"Most say their hands are tied by the statute of limitations," she said. "They claim it would do no good to investigate because they might not be able to bring charges."

Though the first Philadelphia grand-jury investigation yielded no arrests, Hamilton said it laid the groundwork for the five arrests the later grand jury recommended.

Two priests, a defrocked priest, and a parochial schoolteacher were charged last month with raping two altar boys in the 1990s.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest, canon lawyer, and longtime victims' advocate based in Virginia, said he was disheartened by the criticism the grand jury leveled at Bevilacqua. But he said he found it appropriate.

The cardinal once seemed ahead of the curve in dealing with sexually abusive clergy, Doyle said, but in practice he proved very disappointing.

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or

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