Records: Archdiocese Ignored Warnings about ‘powder Keg’ Pedophile
By John P. Martin
April 24, 2012
An Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest active in schools and scouting was allowed to work in suburban parishes for five years after doctors diagnosed him as a pedophile, called him “a very sick man,” and told church officials he was a “powder keg” waiting to explode.
The priest, the Rev. Peter F. Dunne, paid off one accuser himself and repeatedly resisted or ignored recommendations for therapy, according to internal church records shown Tuesday to a Common Pleas Court jury.
When the pastor overseeing Dunne at a Bucks County parish in 1990 petitioned archdiocesan officials in a “very urgent plea” to get the priest some help, they responded by transferring Dunne to a parish 25 miles away in Montgomery County, the records show. Prosecutors introduced the documents as part of their bid to show that Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former secretary of clergy, enabled child sex abuse by failing to remove priests suspected of sexual misconduct. Lynn is accused of endangering two boys who were allegedly sexually assaulted by priests in the late1990s.
Prosecutors say the files on Dunne and other priests suggest Lynn and other church leaders had long recognized the signs and depth of clergy sex abuse but chose not to act.
Lynn’s lawyers pointed out that he didn’t take his position until 1992, three years after Dunne was diagnosed as a pedophile. Lynn was also, they noted, the first church official to recommend the priest be removed from parish ministry, which Dunne was in 1994.
According to the records, the years before seemed to reflect a continuous struggle between archdiocesan leaders wary of scandal and an intelligent but manipulative cleric who doctors had concluded was a danger to children.
Ordained in 1954, Dunne spent nearly three decades around minors. He worked at Cardinal Dougherty and Archbishop Wood High Schools, was active in archdiocesan scouting programs, and for a decade ran the St. Francis Vocational School for troubled boys in Bensalem. In 1986, a former Eagle scout reported to church officials that Dunne had pressed him into a long-term sexual relationship when he was 13 in the late 1950s. The man said he later also abused children, and he blamed Dunne.
Dunne, then 60 and pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Oxford, Chester County, denied the allegations, but privately arranged a settlement with the alleged victim. He agreed to “a health leave” from his parish and accepted a new assignment as assistant pastor at Nativity Church in Warminster, Bucks County. But he resisted church officials’ requests that he undergo extended treatment, despite telling one therapist that he may have had “six or seven” incidents of sexual misconduct, the records show.
“I have beaten the system,” Dunne once told a friend in a conversation overheard by staffers at St. John Vianney, the church-owned hospital that treated priests accused of abuse, according to a September 1988 memo to Archbishop Anthony J. Bevilacqua.
In a meeting with the priest later that month, Bevilacqua directed Dunne to go back into therapy, citing three reasons: the potential for scandal, the good of the church, and Dunne’s well-being.
Again, Dunne failed to stick to the program. Within months, Dr. Thomas Tyrrell, the chief psychiatrist at St. John Vianney, concluded that Dunne was a pedophile who probably was involved in “a myriad of sexual-misconduct cases” but refused to acknowledge them or cooperate with therapy.
“Dr. Tyrrell stated quite bluntly that we are sitting on a powder keg,” an assistant archdiocesan chancellor, the Rev. John Graf, wrote in a February 1989 memo.
Tyrell warned that Dunne had an overnight camping trip with boys and other behavior typical of pedophile “grooming.” He advised church officials to remove Dunne from active ministry and bar his contact with children.
Dunne remained in his post and abandoned treatment. “Father Dunne does not believe in psychology nor does he trust psychologists,” the then-secretary of clergy, the Rev. John J. Jagodzinski, wrote in a 1989 memo.
The next spring, the pastor at Nativity church, the Rev. William O’Donnell, sent Jagodzinski his “very urgent plea” asking that Dunne get help. Instead, Dunne was transferred to Visitation Church in Norristown. Jagodzinski advised Dunne not to have contact with minors and directed him to return once a year to the clergy office for evaluation, the records show.
Lynn reviewed Dunne’s file when he became clergy secretary in 1992. Another year passed before he recommended Dunne be removed, around the same time that Dunne’s 1986 accuser was threatening a lawsuit. Dunne was allowed to retire in 1995, and agreed to life of supervised prayer and penance in 2004. He died in 2010.
Highlighting a tenet of their defense, one of Lynn’s lawyers, Thomas Bergstrom, noted that two cardinals and at least four other archdiocesan officials left Dunne in the community for years before Lynn recommended his removal.
“By 1990, Cardinal Bevilacqua had to have known that he was appointing a pedophile to that parish, is that true?” Bergstrom asked Detective James Dougherty, the investigator with the District Attorney’s Office who described the files for the jury.
“It would appear so to me, sir,” Dougherty said.