Lawyers say Saginaw Bishop Joseph Cistone lied about knowledge of sexual assault documents and witnessed their destruction

By Brad Devereaux
The Mlive
February 29, 2012

Bishop Joseph Cistone

A judge said the discovery that Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua ordered the destruction of documents that contained the names of priests suspected of child molestation is not a reason to dismiss charges that a church official participated in a cover-up.

Lawyers of one accused priest said Rev. Joseph Cistone, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, witnessed the shredding of the documents in 1994 when he was a church official in the Philadelphia area.

Cistone is not being charged, but was mentioned in the court filing.

The documents identified 35 Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests suspected of sexual abuse of children, court documents state.

Jury selection began Feb. 21 for the trial that charges three former religious figures, Msgr. William J. Lynn, Rev. James J. Brennan and Edward Avery.

Prosecutors claim that former church administrator Msgr. Lynn, 60, who served as Bevilacqua's secretary of the Office for Clergy from 1992 to 2004, recommended priests for positions despite knowing of their history of suspected sexual abuse of children.

Lynn is being charged with felony child endangerment and conspiracy, court documents state.

Former priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Rev. James J. Brennan, 47, and Rev. Edward Avery, 68, each face a charge of molesting an alter boy in the 1990s. Both have denied the charges.

Prosecutors said Lynn recommended the two priests for positions despite knowing of the suspicions against them.

Lynn's lawyers said Rev. Cistone witnessed the shredding of the documents and misled a grand jury when he did not acknowledge the documents or their destruction during a previous testimony.

Evidence that the cardinal ordered the shredding of the documents was presented Friday in the form of a copy of a memo handwritten by Lynn's supervisor confirming the destruction of the documents on the cardinal's order.

Lynn's lawyers said cardinal Bevilacqua ordered the documents to be destroyed. They argued that the memo proves that the cover-up of sexual abuse extends to higher levels of church leaders.

Cardinal Bevilacqua died Jan. 31.

The motion asks Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to dismiss the conspiracy and endangerment charges against Lynn or to bar prosecutors from entering the cardinal's videotaped testimony.

They also argue that Saginaw Rev. Joseph Cistone witnessed the shredding of the documents and misled a grand jury by not acknowledging the documents or the order to shred them.

Sarmina denied to drop the charges and the case is now in the jury selection phase. Opening statements are March 26.

William Winning of the law firm Cozen and O'Connor that represents Rev. Cistone said it is important to realize that his client is not being charged and that the judge denied the court filing that mentions Cistone soon after it was presented.

Cistone has not been subpoenaed to appear as a witness, Winner said. If he is subpoenaed, he will appear in court and continue to cooperate with authorities as he has done throughout the case, Winner said.

"If he is subpoenaed, he will gladly come to Philadelphia," Winning said. "In my view and the view of others, he has done nothing wrong."

Winning said he is "somewhat restricted" in commenting because of a gag order and said he could not comment as to whether or not Cistone witnessed the shredding of documents.

Cistone served as Lynn's assistant in the 1990s and was present during seperate interviews with an alleged victim of sexual assault and father Avery, who is accused of the crime, according to a report of the grand jury signed on Jan. 21, 2011.

The Grand Jury was asked to investigate the sexual abuse of minors by Archdiocesan clergy and employees.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office said they believe Lynn is the first member of a Catholic diocesan hierarchy in the United States charged criminally for concealing or enabling clergy abuse of children, the Philedeplhia Enquirer reports.

Lynn faces 14 years in prison if convicted on both third-degree felony charges.

Lawyers claim Rev. Joseph Cistone of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw misled a grand jury by not acknowledging that he witnessed the destruction of documents related to sexual assault suspicions.



Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.