Philadelphia Catholic Priest Trial: the Cardinal, the Clergy and Kiddie Porn

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
April 10, 2012

In the secret files of the archdiocese, a psychologist warned church officials that Father Edward M. DePaoli was a likely repeat offender.

Father DePaoli was the priest who got busted by U.S. Postal inspectors in 1985 for hoarding $15,000 worth of foreign kiddie porn under his bed in the rectory at the Holy Martyrs Church in Oreland, Pa. The feds raided the rectory and confiscated more than 100 magazines and 14 reels. In the archdiocese's secret files, Dr. Eric Griffin-Shelley, Father DePaoli's therapist, told church officials in 1986 that the priest was "likely to repeat his past behavior and become progressively worse."

The psychologist suggested six months to one year of "intensive in-patient psychotherapy." The major problem with letting Father DePaoli continue in ministry, the psychologist warned, was the danger that the priest might "go beyond fantasy in terms of his sexual urges toward children." There was no indication that the priest was on the road to being rehabilitated, the psychologist reported. Despite being busted by the feds, Father DePaoli was still getting porn in the mail, Dr. Griffin-Shelley told church officials.

Besides his addiction to porn, Father DePaoli had other problems, the psychologist revealed in confidential documents displayed Monday at the ongoing archdiocese sex abuse trial, now in its third week. Father DePaoli had a "narcissistic personality," the psychologist reported, plus a "compulsive personality disorder," and a habit of forming "poor relationships with other people."

Everything you'd want in a priest, right?

Father DePaoli was sentenced to a year's probation in the kiddie porn case. The archdiocese shipped him off to the House of Affirmation in Hopedale, Mass., a treatment facility for sex offenders. While he was an in-patient, a staff member saw Father DePaoli leaving an adult book store. A search of the priest's room revealed another stash of porno, including child porn, all of which was reported to the archdiocese.

Cardinal Bevilacqua, however, thought that despite his continuing problems, Father DePaoli deserved another chance to continue his "priestly ministry." But he didn't necessarily want that ministry to continue in Philadelphia. So in 1988, after conferring with Father DePaoli, Cardinal Bevilacqua wrote in his private file that "in view of the publicity," he advised the priest that "for the present time it might be more advisable for him to return to the active ministry in another diocese."

In the secret archive files, the cardinal suggested to his underlings three possible landing places for Father DePaoli: the dioceses of Harrisburg or Scranton, or the diocese of Metuchen in neighboring New Jersey.

But there was a problem. Bishop William H. Keeler in Harrisburg told archdiocese officials that there were "too many readers of The Philadelphia Inquirer" in his diocese "to avoid serious scandal." So the cardinal, in the margin of one memo, wrote in his own handwriting, "Let's try Metuchen."

Bishop Edward T. Hughes of the Metuchen diocese was happy to oblige. He was advised in a memo that Father DePaoli was a "priest in good standing" in the Philadelphia archdiocese," although the archdiocese, with the priest's permission, sent a transcript of his medical records to Bishop Hughes.

And so Father DePaoli went to work as the parochial vicar at St. John Vianney Church in Colonia, N.J. In 1991, Cardinal Bevilacqua approved a transfer of Father DePaoli back to the Philadelphia archdiocese, as parochial vicar at St. John the Baptist Church.

It wasn't long before Father DePaoli got in trouble again. At a Mass for school children in 1992, Father DePaoli was giving the homily when he started talking about how he would like to see one of the parish school's eight-grade girls naked from the waist up.

Then, two weeks later, another priest at St. John the Baptist, Father Robert Feeney, reported to the archdiocese that three times a week, Father DePaoli was receiving pornographic catalogues and magazines at the rectory. In another memo in the secret archive files, Father Feeney reported that some of the porn was "graphic and gross," including "some form of bestiality." Father Feeney was so revolted by what he saw that he tore up some of the catalogues and magazines and threw them in the trash. But when he called the archdiocese, they told him to go get the porn out of the trash and send it to them.

Father Feeney was called to testify. He said that Father DePaoli was tough to be around. "It was definitely very difficult to live with the man," he told the jury. Father DePaoli had naked pictures of Roman soldiers on the walls of his rectory room, Father Feeney said, and a crucifix with a naked Jesus on it.

This time, the archdiocese notified Father DePaoli that he had to leave the parish immediately. In the secret files, the priest admitted to church officials that "his addiction cycle had been activated," and he wondered if he "should just pack up and go away."

Sounds like a good idea, right? But church officials were not ready to toss Father DePaoli on the canonical scrap heap just yet.

In the files, Msgr. William J. Lynn, the archdiocese's secretary for clergy, wondered that if he told Father DePaoli that the chances of him receiving another priestly assignment in the Philadelphia archdiocese were slim and none, it might have "a severe negative effect" on the priest's chances of recovery.

Lynn is on trial for allegedly conspiring to endanger children by recycling pedophile priests to other assignments, usually without warning parishioners.

In the secret archive files, Father DePaoli's therapist, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, admitted to church officials that the priest had suffered "what I would view as a minor relapse." But the therapist didn't think the priest needed to be hospitalized again. Dr. Fitzgibbons also said he believed that the priest "could function well in ministry."

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina interrupted Detective Joseph Walsh, who was reading the secret archive files into the court record, to ask if this was the same therapist who two years earlier, had pronounced Father DePaoli cured of his addiction.

Yes it was the same therapist, the detective noted. Under the judge's direction, the detective read to the jury what Dr. Fitzgibbons had written in 1990 about Father DePaoli, "I believe that Father DePaoli has made a complete recovery."

In the secret files, Father DePaoli pressed archdiocese officials to allow him to return to St. John the Baptist. The priest cited "his need for stability in the midst of his relapse." Father DePaoli had been transferred from St. John the Baptist to a residence at Immaculate Conception parish.

As the priest pressed for a return to St. John's, he was interviewed by Msgr. Lynn. In his secret files, the monsignor noted that Father DePaoli "has not yet accepted his own actions," and "is blaming every one else." Msgr. Lynn noted that Father DePaoli said if he didn't get transferred back to St. John's, "he would in effect die."Lynn, however, wrote that if Father DePaoli was allowed to return to duty, Lynn was worried about the possibility of more "scandal to the church."

Msgr. Lynn also told Father DePaoli that the other three priests at St. John's did not want him back. When Father DePaoli heard that, he wondered to Lynn if the archdiocese had in effect set him up to fail, by placing him in a parish where he was not wanted.

In the files, Lynn also discussed with Father DePaoli his continuing receipt in the mail of porn. The priest told the monsignor that if he knew where the stuff was coming from, he would tell them to stop sending it. Not even the monsignor was buying that. In the files, Lynn wrote that he questioned the priest's sincerity.

In the secret files, the monsignor wrote that he had to tell Father DePaoli he would not get another priestly assignment in Philadelphia. Cardinal Bevilacqua had approved Lynn's recommendation to strip Father DePaoli of authority to say Mass in public, or do any other public priestly duties. Father DePaoli was placed on administrative leave, and had his "faculties restricted for the good of the church and the avoidance of scandal," Lynn wrote.

Father DePaoli was "very upset" with the decision, as well as "saddened and hurt," Lynn wrote. The priest informed Lynn that he wanted to appeal the cardinal's decision, because he felt it was "an overreaction to his difficulties."

But Lynn wrote in the secret files that he was acting "for the good of the church, and to avoid scandal for the faithful."

The secret files, show, however, that church officials were still not finished with their efforts find a new home for Father DePaoli outside the archdiocese. A 1994 confidential memo from Lynn to Bevilacqua noted that the bishop of the Metuchen diocese had turned down an archdiocese request to ship Father DePaoli back to New Jersey.

Father DePaoli, however, did get approval from Msgr. Lynn to go to Rome in 1995 and officiate at a Mass commemorating his 25th year of service as a priest. When he wrote out the permission slip, Lynn noted that Father DePaoli was "a priest in good standing in the archdiocese of Philadelphia." Father DePaoli also received a congratulatory letter from Cardinal Bevilacqua.

The priest pursued an appeal of the cardinal's decision to place him on administrative leave. In 1995, Father DePaoli's canonical advocate wrote that Father DePaoli was on lithium, and attending weekly therapy for sex offenders. The advocate pointed out that despite his addiction to pornography, Father DePaoli "never had sexual contact with another human being."

But he still had urges.

Another prosecution witness was Maria Suarez, a native of Cuba. Suarez, 56, testified that back when she was in sixth or seventh grade, she attended the parochial school at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Doylestown. Father DePaoli was as assistant pastor there from 1970 to 1975.

Suarez testified that when she was 12, she was preparing to make her confirmation. Father DePaoli had his arm around her one day as the two walked from school to church.

"He grabbed my breast and fondled me," Suarez testified. She told the jury she jabbed the priest in the stomach with her elbow. "I had to get away from him," she said, but she was also in shock. "I was 12 years old and nobody had ever touched me before."

Suarez told her mother what had happened, and added, "He was a bad man." But neither she nor her mother told anybody at the church. "They would have never believed us anyway," she testified.

When Father DePaoli was arrested for kiddie porn, Suarez's mother called to tell her the news. "I told you he was bad," Suarez told her mother.

Then, the Boston sex abuse scandal exploded. "Now people were coming forward in this country," Suarez testified. She decided to do her part. In 2002, she reported the incident to the archdiocese. She ended up in the office of Msgr. Lynn. She came back a second time, bringing along her mother to confirm the story. Then she had a private meeting with Cardinal Bevilacqua, who gave her some rosary beads.

Under cross-examiantion, Suarez didn't have anything nice to say about Msgr. Lynn.

"My feeling was that they didn't really care," Suarez testified about her meetings with Lynn and an assistant. "They were going through the motions. Were they empathetic? No."


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