Cardinal Bevilacqua Appointed a Known Pedophile As Assistant Pastor

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
April 25, 2012

The therapist, Dr. Thomas J. Tyrrell, warned in the secret archive files in 1989 that his patient, Father Peter J. Dunne, was "a very sick man" who should be "relieved from active ministry."

Father Dunne was, according to the archdiocese's secret files, an extremely intelligent homosexual with addictive sexual behavior. He was also an untreatable pedophile, and a narcissist with an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. "We are sitting on a powder keg," Dr. Tyrrell warned in 1989.

Archdiocese officials had known since 1986 that Father Dunne had sexually abused a 13-year-old member of his Boy Scout troop. The archdiocese knew that the abuse went on for three years, and that the priest had paid the victim $40,000 to keep quiet. They also knew there had to be other victims. In the archdiocese's secret files, Dr. Terrell stated that he suspected the priest was guilty of being involved in a "myriad number of sexual misconduct cases."

In 1989, a second therapist, Dr. Eric Griffen-Shelley, reported to the archdiocese that Father Dunne was skipping out on his mandatory group therapy sessions. The therapist said he was "wondering if the archdiocese is putting itself at risk with someone so uncooperative on the loose."

"I believe that he [Father Dunne] is quite likely acting out sexually and needs to have firm limits set on his behavior," Dr. Griffen-Shelley concluded. On April 1, 1990, the doctor recommended removing Dunne from active ministry, adding, "A parish assignment is out of the question for a pedophile."

Yet, on May 25, 1990, Cardinal Bevilacqua wrote a letter notifying Father Dunne that he had been appointed as assistant pastor of Visitation BVM in Trooper, Pa. In the letter, His Eminence waxed eloquent on the priestly ministry of a known pedophile.

"As an assistant pastor, you are called to know and love the people you serve, to care for the poor and needy, to teach the youth, to attend the sick and dying, and to assist in the overall maintenance of the parish," the cardinal wrote Father Dunne. "It is my fervent prayer that all of your priestly efforts will bear fruit in the hearts of God's people, and that the coming years will bring you ever closer to sanctity and salvation ... Sincerely yours in Christ, Anthony J. Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia."

On Monday and Tuesday in Courtroom 304, Detective James Dougherty read into the record more than 90 documents about Father Dunne that were culled from the priest's personnel records, and the archdiocese's secret archive files.

The documents told the story of a unrepentant pedophile priest, and an archdiocese bureaucracy that nurtured his predatory lifestyle. In 1986, a former boy scout wrote the archdiocese to tell them about how he had been abused between the ages of 13 and 16 by Father Dunne. The victim asked the archdiocese to look into the priest's activities, "to ascertain that he is not hurting other young people."

In subsequent letters, the victim's therapist and lawyer said the abuse began when the boy went to confession, and told Father Dunne he was attracted to other boys. In addition to having the boy say a few Our Fathers or Hail Marys, Father Dunne took the boy on a camping trip to his cabin in Bucks County. The priest had the boy sleep in his bed, and sleeping bag. The priest slept naked, and had the boy fondle his penis until the priest ejaculated.

Father Dunne's former victim grew up to become an abuser of young men. He lost his license as a doctor after he was convicted of sex abuse. In one letter, the victim's lawyer named three other boys that he said were victims of Father Dunne's.

When archdiocese officials questioned Father Dunne, the priest said he "may have been cuddling" but "not fondling" young boys. The priest admitted that he slept in the nude in the same bed with young boys, and that he swam nude with young boys. Father Dunne admitted he had two young men living with him at the rectory. But he denied abusing anybody.

Later in 1986, Father Dunne stopped denying the accusations, archdiocese officials noted in their records. "He didn't remember any such happenings -- maybe, he stated, he has a mental block," the records stated. Father Dunne also admitted to "six or seven other incidents of misconduct."

Father Dunne spent nine months at St. John Vianney, the archdiocese facility that treated priests with sex disorders. His therapist recommended that he be assigned to a specialized ministry which "would control his contact with children and adolescents, and [a residence with] someone who will assume responsibility for his whereabouts on a 24-hour per day basis."

But Cardinal John Krol in 1987 assigned Father Dunne to a job as assistant pastor of Nativity parish in Warminster.

When Cardinal Bevilacqua took over the archdiocese in 1988, he received a four-page report from the chancellor of the archdiocese that detailed the "very complicated case" of Father Dunne. The report warned the cardinal that Father Dunne had held "very sensitive assignments in the archdiocese," serving as a teacher for 13 years, administrator of St. Francis Vocational School for youths under court supervision, and assistant director of the archdiocese's scouting program.

Bevilacqua was told that the priest had exhibited "a pattern of denial," regarding his behavior. Father Dunne also didn't bother showing up for group therapy sessions. "I have beaten the system," Father Dunne bragged in 1988 to archdiocese officials.

And, despite being told not to do it, Father Dunne continued to counsel young boys one-on-one, and also go on overnight camping trips with young boys. In the archdiocese secret files, Dr. Tyrrell warned that Father Dunne was exhibiting all the behavioral aspects of a pedophile, with his denials, resistance to change, and "grooming behavior" when it came to young boys.

The priest was not interested in any efforts to rehabilitate him. "He does not believe he is a sexual addict," the secret archives said. The priest's therapists kept saying Father Dunne should be removed from ministry, because they did not see any signs that the priest wanted to change. If he leaves the ministry, "He would become a dirty old man," one archdiocese administrator predicted in 1989.

In 1993, the program director at St. John Vianney sent a letter to Msgr. William J. Lynn, secretary for the clergy, informing him of the latest diagnosis of Father Dunne. He was a pedophile suffering from major depression, and a narcissistic personality disorder. The priest "should be held accountable for his behavior," the letter said.

Later that same year, Msgr. Lynn wrote Cardinal Bevilacqua, warning that Father Dunne was a pedophile who should be removed from active ministry. The cardinal instructed Lynne to tell Father Dunne to seek voluntary laicization, the process where a priest is busted down to layman. But Father Dunne said no, he had other ideas. In 1994, Father Dunne told Msgr. Lynne that he wanted "to go to his cabin to live," where he said, it would be virtually impossible to reach him by phone.

The following year, 1995, Father Dunne informed the archdiocese that he decided to retire, on a salary of $650 a month, plus benefits, room and board. He status was unchanged until 2004, when threatened with involuntary laicization, he agreed to live a "supervised life of penance and prayer" at Villa St. Joseph, a retirement home for priests.

On cross-examination, Thomas Bergstrom, representing Msgr. Lynn, asked Detective Dougherty if the documents in the secret archive files showed that Msgr. Lynn had a "quick response" when he received a 1992 letter from the wife of Father Dunne's first known victim of sex abuse.

"It would seem to indicate that, yes," the detective conceded.

Within three days of receiving the letter, Lynn told the wife the archdiocese would pay for the victim's therapy.

Bergstrom went through the list of archdiocese officials who knew that Father Dunne had sexually abused a 13-year-old boy back in 1986. The list included Cardinal Krol, Cardinal Bevilacqua, several therapists, and several other archdiocese officials. They all knew "this guy has abused a child," Bergstrom asked.

"It would appear that way, yes," the detective said.

The defense lawyer pointed out that in the secret archive files, Dr. Terrell had recommended two or three times that Father Dunne be removed from ministry. And yet, Cardinal Bevilacqua ignored that advice, and in 1990, appointed Father Dunne as assistant pastor to Visitation BVM in Trooper.

"Cardinal Bevilacqua had to know, had to know that he was appointing a pedophile," Bergstrom stressed.

"It would appear so to me," the detective said.


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