The Cardinal Sin: Disobeying the Big Guy
By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
May 3, 2012
Monsignor William J. Lynn doesn't get excited when he's told that archdiocese priests are sexually abusing altar boys.
He doesn't loose his cool when he discovers that one priest has young boys living with him in the rectory, or that another priest has a farm where he keeps three young boys rotating through his bedroom.
That same monsignor doesn't hit the panic button when he learns that one of his predator priests just busted out of the sex clinic, and is AWOL from the archdiocese, or that another predator priest who just molested a 13-year-old girl has fled the Commonwealth.
Nope, after six weeks of testimony in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial, the monsignor comes across as a guy who doesn't rattle easily, even when he's getting grilled by a grand jury prosecutor who's obviously gunning for him. But Wednesday, the jury in Courtroom 304 learned what really gets a rise out of the monsignor, and by extension, his late boss, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.
If you're a priest in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, you can "act out sexually" all you want. You can get away with it for years, even decades at a time, while they transfer you from parish to parish, in between recuperative stays at St. John Vianney's, the friendly archdiocese clinic for sex abusers. Just make sure that you don't disobey an order from the archbishop. Because in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, that's the one unpardonable sin for which there is zero tolerance.
To make that point Wednesday, the prosecution had Detective James Dougherty read into the record 34 formerly confidential documents regarding the case of Monsignor Michael C. Picard. And then, the prosecution brought the monsignor to the witness stand to tell his story.
Msgr. Picard was and is the pastor of St. Andrew's Church in Newtown, Bucks County. He had by all accounts a stellar reputation as pastor of the archdiocese's largest parish -- 6,000 families -- until one day in 1996 when he found out that Cardinal Bevilacqua had just approved the transfer of Father Donald J. Mills to St. Andrew's, to work as an assistant on Picard's staff.
Msgr. Picard, then Father Picard, had a problem with Father Mills. Picard talked to Mills' former pastor and found out that Father Mills had a reputation for refusing to participate in youth ministry, and for lecturing parishioners from the pulpit in a nasty way.
"I feel sorry for you that you're getting him," Picard recalled Mills' former pastor telling him.
Father Mills was gay, several priests told Picard, and had "inappropriate relationships" with other men. If Father Mills is coming to your parish, one parishioner told Picard, you'd better make sure you have room in the rectory for his boyfriend.
So what was Msgr. Picard's unpardonable sin? When he got the news that Cardinal Bevilacqua had just approved the transfer of Father Mills to St. Andrew's, Picard got on the phone with Msgr. Lynn and said no way.
And what was Msgr. Lynn's reaction, the prosecutor wanted to know. Lynn became "very upset because the die was cast, the letter was written," Msgr. Picard told the jury.
According to Msgr. Picard, Msgr. Lynn got even more upset when he heard Picard's reasons for objecting to the transfer. Picard told Lynn that the archdiocese had to stop its "practice of transferring problem priests around."
Msgr. Lynn wasn't the only one who was upset. "He told me the cardinal was very upset with me," Picard testified. "I was being accused of disobedience."
It's hard to overstate what happened next. A meeting of the priest personnel board was convened by Msgr. Lynn and Cardinal Bevilacqua. All 15 board members unanimously agreed that Father Picard had disobeyed the archbishop. Father Picard had now landed somewhere in between double secret probation and the Inquisition.
Bishop Joseph R. Cistone, then assistant vicar for administration, wrote the cardinal, saying that Picard had committed a grave offense. "He did disobey the archbishop, and this is what's out on the street," Cistone warned. And worse, Father Picard "denied being disobedient."
In the secret archive files, Cardinal Bevilacqua stated, "He will not tolerate even the appearance of disobedience by any priest." Father Picard's act of disobedience was exacerbated because "He made public what should have be kept private ... If he had any concerns about a priest, he should not say anything."
The cardinal's men discussed having Father Picard write a letter of apology to Father Mills, another letter of apology to Cardinal Bevilacqua, and finally a third letter of apology to every priest in the archdiocese. At the end of the meeting, the records noted, the cardinal thanked the members of the priest personnel board for their "wisdom and support."
If Picard was in the military, the secret archive files said, he'd be court-martialed for his offense. When the cardinal met personally with Father Picard, Bevilacqua went one step further, comparing Picard's act of disobedience to Peter's denial of Jesus.
Father Picard was summoned to the cardinal's mansion, for a personal meeting with Bevilacqua. When asked by a prosecutor what happened during the meeting, Picard replied, "A lot."
The cardinal told Picard he was weighing several punishments. They included taking away Picard's pastorate at St. Andrew's, and transferring him to another parish. Since Father Picard had turned down the transfer of Father Mills, he was told not to expect any replacements at St. Andrew's for the foreseeable future. A church deacon, a seminarian in his eighth and final year of studying for the priesthood, had been sent to St. Andrew's, to help out. But after the flap over Father Mills, the cardinal decided that Picard might be a bad influence on the deacon, and so the deacon was shipped to another parish.
After much prayer and deliberation, the cardinal decided that Father Picard could stay on as pastor of St. Andrew's. But he would have to serve a two-week retreat "to reflect on my disobedience to the archbishop," Picard testified. "I needed to be made an example."
On the retreat, Father Picard was instructed to reflect on his relationship with the archdiocese, especially from the archdiocese's point of view. Father Picard was told that his reputation had been tarnished by his disobedience. And that when he was through with his penance, he was told he could seek another meeting with the cardinal, where they could talk again as spiritual "father and son."
During his first meeting with Cardinal Bevilacqua, it was noted in the secret archive files that "there is no remorse on the part of Father Picard at all." But after he went on his retreat, it was noted in the secret archive files that Father Picard "exhibited more contrition" than in previous meetings. Obviously, the retreat had given Father Picard a "better understanding of the situation."
Father Picard testified that he was in the archdiocese doghouse from 1996 until 2009, until he made monsignor, long after many of his contemporaries had been given the honor. On the witness stand, Picard told how Msgr. Lynn congratulated him at the ceremony, and then said, "Everyone deserves to get out of the penalty box."
The archdiocese secret archive files say that besides disobeying Cardinal Bevilacqua, Picard had also injured the reputation of Father Mills.
When Father Mills called Father Picard back in 1996, to find out what day he could move his furniture into the rectory, along with his baby grand piano, Father Picard told him, "I do not want you. I'm going to call Bill Lynn."
Father Mills told archdiocese officials he was "shocked almost speechless," because Father Picard "really blasted him." The cardinal also criticized Picard for relying on hearsay evidence. Picard, however, said he had not slandered Father Mills' reputation; rather that reputation preceded him.
Father Mills was subsequently transferred to another parish, St. Mary's in Schwenksville, Montgomery County. A year later, in 1997, the pastor at St. Mary's wrote Msgr. Lynn to complain that he suspected Father Mills of having an "inappropriate relationship" with "an organist who is his best friend."
In 1998, the pastor wrote again to say that he suspected Father Mills was "living a homosexual lifestyle" and that his friend the organist had been seen often at the parish rectory.
In 1999, Cardinal Bevilacqua approved a leave of absence for health reasons for Father Mills. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Father Mills died in 2006 of cancer.