Priest-abuse Jury Hears about Bizarre Passion Play
By Maryclaire Dale
April 17, 2012
PHILADELPHIA—A Philadelphia jury heard Tuesday about Catholic schoolboys who said they had to strip before a priest and endure whippings as they played Christ in a Passion play.
Prosecutors pursuing a child-endangerment case against a church official said the Rev. Thomas J. Smith remained in ministry despite those 2002 accusations. Church officials and an in-house review board didn't think Smith was seeking sexual gratification when he allegedly had boys undress or get naked with him in a hot tub.
Smith was removed in 2005, after another accuser said Smith had taken several boys to a motel in the late 1970s, put ice down their pants and made them remove their underwear so it would dry. The accuser said he awoke to find a naked Smith rubbing his body against the naked boy.
Smith, now 64, was defrocked in 2007. The Associated Press could not immediately determine his current whereabouts. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia cannot comment because of a gag order imposed in the trial of Monsignor William Lynn.
Lynn, 61, is the first church official in the U.S. charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for allegedly helping the Roman Catholic church cover up the sexual abuse of children by priests. Lynn is fighting the charges, with a defense based largely on his insistence that he took orders from the powerful archbishop, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Lynn served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, nearly all of it under Bevilacqua. Lynn's lawyers point out that Lynn had no training -- in law, psychiatry, social work or other fields -- to tackle the unfolding sex-abuse scandal.
For the most part, Lynn was dealing with old complaints stored in secret files that he reviewed when he arrived at headquarters from the archdiocesan seminary, where he had been dean of students.
But toward the end, more adults like Smith's accusers were coming forward.
Smith had put on the Passion play at several parishes over nine years. He would take the lead actor to a room and have him strip while Smith pinned a loincloth on the boy, several accusers said.
The boys said he then had other children whip them, to the point of pain, during the crucifixion story. Asked by church officials why he had them naked, Smith later said, "for authenticity," while he conceded it was poor judgment.
At least one boy wanted to quit, but his proud, unsuspecting parents wouldn't let him.
It was later clear to at least one regretful father who met with Lynn in 2002 that Smith "likes to look," according to a memo Lynn wrote about the meeting, which was shown in court Tuesday.
Smith by then was a regional church administrator for suburban Delaware County. Cardinal Justin Rigali approved an "educational sabbatical" in 2004, after the loincloth allegations surfaced. But Smith continued living at his Springfield parish for at least another year, until a man came forward to complain about the ice-cube antics.
Smith had been taking several teens on a retreat when his car supposedly broke down in Valley Forge, leading him to bunk with the boys at the hotel, the accuser said. Another priest picked them up the next day. Springfield is about 20 miles from Valley Forge.
Meanwhile, prosecutors told the judge Tuesday they're having trouble getting a West Virginia priest to come testify about Lynn's co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan. Monsignor Kevin Quirk was a judge at Brennan's church trial on child sex-abuse charges.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington wants Quirk to testify about statements Brennan allegedly made in the proceeding. He said Quirk initially agreed but had to notify his superior, Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese. The cooperation has since stalled, and court officials in Wheeling have intervened, seeking assurances that Quirk is needed as a material witness, according to Blessington. He said he may need to seek a trial delay if the stalemate continues.
Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina agreed to take it up with court officials in Wheeling.