Lawyer-priest: Bishops Had Duty to Pursue Sex Abuse Claims
By Joseph A. Slobodzian
April 12, 2012
A priest who is also a lawyer and expert on Catholic church law told a Philadelphia jury today that canon law requires bishops to investigate and bring to trial by church tribunal allegations of sex abuse of minors.
Thomas P. Doyle, a Dominican priest who said he has studied and consulted with church officials since the first sex-abuse case involving minors erupted in 1984 in Louisiana, was called by city prosecutors to explain to the Common Pleas Court jury the arcane elements of Catholic theology and canon law.
Doyle rebutted several popular misconceptions about church law involving wayward priests. He said bishops who do not investigate and try allegations of sex-abuse of minors could themselves be prosecuted under church law.
Doyle testified that canon law requires priests, bishops and other clerics to obey the law of the country in which the church is located - except in cases where a municipal law would violate an absolute church or moral teaching.
"Canon law does not trump civil law," Doyle replied, to a question by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington.
Nor, Doyle said, are the church's "Secret Archives" - the name for files containing documents relating to clergy sex abuse - unreachable by outside governmental authorities.
"They can be given to civil authorities," Doyle added. "They're not privileged documents because they are held in a higher degree of secrecy."
Doyle's testimony is part of the prosecution's effort to prove to the jury that officials of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had a tradition of wrist-slapping priests accused of sexual misconduct - at the expense of past and future victims - to avoid scandal and bad publicity.
Msgr. William J. Lynn, who as secretary for clergy was the archdiocesan official responsible for investigating wayward priests, is on trial in the landmark case. He is the first church official criminally charged with enabling or covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests.
Lynn's codefendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, is charged with attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996.
Both have denied the allegations.
Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, email@example.com or @joeslobo on Twitter.