Former Teen " Jesus" Talks about Being Abused in Perverted Archdiocese Passion Play

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
May 7, 2012

He was a 13-year-old eighth-grader chosen by his classmates for the lead role in the annual parish passion play.

"I was elected to play Jesus," Shawn Magee told the jury Monday in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case. Magee, now 39, recalled how he originally thought it was an honor back in 1986 to be singled out by his classmates at Annunciation BVM Church in Havertown.

Then he found out the passion play was being directed by a pervert priest, Father Thomas J. Smith.

Magee told the jury how Father Smith brought him upstairs to the sacristy, and locked the door behind him. He had the boy disrobe until he was "completely naked," Magee said. Then Father Smith kneeled down in front of him, with his mouth full of safety pins.

Magee told the jury how Father Smith's face was "six to eight inches" from his groin while the priest took between 15 and 20 minutes to pin the boy's loincloth together. This was done before every performance, Magee testified. He estimated that he had to strip for the priest between 15 and 20 times, as the passion play hit the road, and was performed at other parishes, as well as Villanova University.

When Magee asked the priest why he had to be naked to play Jesus, Father Smith told him it was "to make things more authentic."The priest was clumsy with the pins, and Magee ended up bleeding. When he complained, Father Smith would apologize and tell him, "I'm doing the best I can," Magee told the jury.

Father Smith had the boys playing Roman soldiers whip Magee with knotted leather bootstraps, to the point where the boy had welts and cuts on his body.

"My ears were cut open," Magee told the jury. When he complained, Father Smith told him the whippings were necessary for " the authenticity of the play."

Magee said he told his parents he didn't want to act any more in the passion play, but his parents told him, "there's no way you're quitting."

Father Smith also took Magee and several other eighth grade boys to the Springton Racquet Club, Magee told the jury. The priest falsely told Magee and four other boys that it was a club rule that they had to take off their bathing suits before they got into the hot tub. The priest was happy to drop his trunks and join the party.

None of his perversions hurt Father Smith's career. When he put on his perverted passion play, Father Smith was the assistant pastor at Annunciation. In 1996, Cardinal Bevilacqua promoted Father Smith to pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Philadelphia. In 1998, Bevilacqua named Father Smith regional vicar for Delaware County.

Meanwhile, Magee began drinking heavily as an eighth-grader. He wound up in Alcoholics Anonymous, but told the jury he has been sober for 20 years.

Magee came forward in 2002, after the Boston diocese sex abuse scandal. He told Msgr. William J. Lynn that he didn't want money. "I was just looking for healing," he said. He also wanted to "save some other kid from going through what I went through."

But Magee testified he didn't find much comfort in Msgr. Lynn's office. He recalled how Lynn told him that Father Smith was a "close friend" of the monsignor's, and that he was also a vicar, just a few rungs below Cardinal Bevilacqua on the archdiocese organizational chart. If Magee came out against Father Smith, there would be "severe consequences," Magee recalled Lynn telling him.

Magee, who said he had no objections to his name being used in this story, told the jury that his trip to Lynn's office left him feeling uncomfortable and angry.

On cross-examination, Jeff Lindy, a lawyer for Msgr. Lynn, got Magee to agree that Lynn had told him that it would be helpful for Lynn's investigation if other former victims came forward.

But Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked Magee if this request was made after Lynn warned him that there would be "serious consequences" to criticizing Father Smith.

"Yes," Magee said.


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