A Shredded Memo, a Dead Cardinal, and a Bunch of Liars

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
May 14, 2012

A secret list of sexually abusive priests that Cardinal Bevilacqua ordered shredded in 1994 is now at the center of a tangled web of deception, lies and suspicious memory lapses.

Prosecutors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case Monday tried to unravel the mystery in court, with messy results. On the witness stand was Timothy R. Coyne, a lawyer who was the former director of the archdiocese office for legal services. Coyne told the jury that when he originally went looking for the list in 2002, the first person he visited was Msgr. Lynn.

"He said he didn't know where it was," Coyne testified. Two years later, with grand jury subpoenas flying around, Coyne went on another search for the memo. He sent faxes to Cardinal Bevilacqua and three top aides, but once again, nobody knew where the list was.

But in 2006, when the list was suddenly rediscovered in a locked archdiocese safe, Coyne realized he'd been had.

"Somebody lied to me, or everybody lied to me," Coyne told the jury about his former bosses at the archdiocese.

Msgr. Lynn took over the archdiocese office for clergy in 1992. Two years later, he was asked to investigate Father James M. Dux, a pedophile attracted to little boys. Father Dux had allegations against him from 11 alleged victims dating back to the 1960s. The priest was encouraged to retire in 1994. After the Father Dux case, Lynn told a grand jury in 2002, he wondered how many other abuser priests were out there still working for the archdiocese.

That prompted Lynn to plow through 323 secret archive files to find out if there was "anybody else in active ministry who had live claims against him," Lynn told the grand jury in testimony read last week to the jury in Courtroom 304.

"It seems to me I was trying to give a full picture of sex abuse here," Lynn told the grand jury. Lynn testified that he compiled the list for the benefit of his bosses. "The people above me should know what's going on," he said. The grand jury prosecutor asked Lynn if he kept a copy of the list. His response: "I can't find that document."

The memo referenced the Dux case as the catalyst for poring through the secret archive files. The result of Lynn's search was a list of 35 priests that included three diagnosed pedophiles, a dozen priests either found guilty of sex abuse or who had admitted their guilt, and 20 additional priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Lynn drew up the list on Feb. 18, 1994, and sent it to Msgr. James E. Molloy, then the assistant vicar for administration. Lynn told the grand jury that of all his bosses, Molloy knew the most about sex crimes. He [Molloy] talked "like a policeman" speaking of credible or non-credible allegations and witnesses, Lynn told the grand jury.

The memo went up the archdiocese chain of comman to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who ordered Molloy to shred the list, as well as the memo attached to it.

But the wily Molloy, who died in 2006, didn't follow orders. On March 22, 1994, in a handwritten note, Molloy explained that he had shredded four copies of the memo and the list, as Cardinal Bevilacqua had ordered, but that he kept one copy, which turned out to be Lynn's. The shredding was witnessed by the Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, who also signed the document.

The "shredding memo" or "treasure map" was found in a file cabinet on the 12th floor of archdiocese headquarters in early 2012. In the memo, it states that a copy of the shredded list of 35 sexually abusive priests was kept on the 10th floor of archdiocese headquarters, in the office of the secretary for clergy.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 23, 2002, in the wake of responding to the Boston archdiocese sex abuse scandal, Cardinal Bevilacqua made the mistake of allowing his spokesperson, Cathy Rossi, to mention that Philadelphia had 35 of its own abuser priests, as opposed to 80 in Boston. It was done in the context of reassuring the faithful that Philadelphia didn't have a Boston-style sex abuse problem, and that in Philadelphia, only 35 priests had molested 50 children over five decades. "We don't have the problems of Boston," Rossi told reporters, adding that the archdiocese had already gotten rid of six of the 35 abusers.

Instead of quelling outrage, however, the mention of 35 priests by Bevilacqua's spokesman prompted the Philadelphia district attorney and victims advocates to demand that the archdiocese turn over any list that it had, and publicly out the abusers. Rossi, acting on the advice of archdiocese lawyers, refused, and so the chase was on.

Over at archdiocese headquarters, lawyer Coyne was making his second search for the list of abuser priests. He sent faxes in 2004 to Msgr. Molloy, Bishop Edward P. Cullen and Father Cistone, but none of them knew where the list was, Coyne told the jury. Coyne also sent a fax to Cardinal Bevilacaqua, seeking the list. "I don't have a recollection" of what the cardinal's response was, Coyne told the jury.

Yeah, right.

The last copy of the list was discovered in 2006, in a locked safe on top of a file cabinet on the tenth floor of archdiocese headquarters, in the secretary for clergy office. The list was found by Louise Sullivan, director of operations in the clergy office. Sullivan said she was told to clean up the file room, and when she found the safe, colleagues told her it was probably empty. But when she hired a locksmith to drill open a combination lock on the the safe, inside, she discovered an accordion file with manilla folders in it. She told the jury last week that she gave the file to Father James Oliver.

When the memo was rediscovered, Coyne said he recognized it as "the original Dux memo." He testified that it was handed to him by Msgr. Timothy C. Senior, who took over for Lynn in 2004 as secretary for clergy.

"He told me to hold on to it," Coyne told the jury. Judge M. Teresa Sarmina interrupted the questioning to ask Coyne if he had a sense of seeing the memo before. "I really don't remember," Coyne told the judge.

Coyne said he put the memo in the top drawer of his file cabinet, and then "I forgot about it."

In 2012, Robert Welch, a lawyer for the archdiocese, came to Coyne to inquire about the missing memo and list. After a confidential attorney-client conference, Coyne told the jury, he handed the documents to Welch. Coyne was subsequently suspended from his job.

On cross-examination, Thomas Bergstrom, a lawyer for Msgr. Lynn, asked about Coyne's faxes to Cullen, Molloy and Cistone. Bergstrom reminded Coyne that he had gone on a "wild good chase" seeking the memo and the list, and that the cardinal's top aides had responded that they didn't know where the missing documents were.

"Those men lied to you?" Bergtsrom asked.

"It appears so," Coyne said.

Molloy died in 2006 at age 60; Cistone is now the bishop of Saginaw, Mich.

Bergstrom then brought up some more mysterious circumstances, namely the death of Cardinal Bevilacqua, whose died in his sleep on Jan. 31, 2012, at 88, a day after Judge Sarmina had ruled him competent to appear as a witness at this trial. Within 12 days of Bevilacqua's death, Bergstrom reminded Coyne, the shredding memo written by Msgr. Molloy was discovered on the 12th floor of the archdiocese HQ, and the list of 35 sexually abusive priests compiled by Msgr. Lynn was discovered in a locked safe on the tenth floor of archdiocese HQ.

"That's correct," Coyne testified.

On redirect, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked Coyne if he knew that along with the list, several old computer discs were discovered in that locked safe on the tenth floor. Coyne said he didn't know anything about that.

With the discovery of the discs, did it seem to Coyne that Lynn had lied to him about not knowing where the missing documents were, Blessington asked.

"It does," Coyne said.

That prompted Bergstrom to dress down Coyne, saying he had made a rush to judgment, without even knowing if the discs belonged to Lynn. Coyne agreed that he didn't know who the discs belonged to.

Blessington asked Coyne if he suspected that Lynn was lying because it was Lynn's copy of the memo that was discovered in a locked safe in Lynn's old office. While Coyne was pondering that one, Bergstrom went on the attack again, saying, "This is getting funny. How do you know it's his safe? You don't know whose safe it was?"

No, Coyne said.

The comedy continued. Msgr. Timothy C. Senior, who replaced Lynn as secretary for clergy, followed Coyne to the witness stand. While Coyne testified that it was Msgr. Senior who gave him the missing files, Msgr. Senior told the jury, "I don't remember giving these to Tim."

Blessington told Senior, with all due respect, it sounded like he was blaming Coyne, and that Coyne was blaming him.

"I don't know how to respond to that," Senior told the jury. "I cannot say with certainty that I saw these files before."

Last week, when she testified to the jury, Louise Sullivan, the official who found the files, said that she had informed Monsignor Senior about the discovery. But on the witness stand, Senior testified, "I do not remember Louise Sullivan telling me what she found in the safe."

Did Msgr. Senior know who put those files in that safe in his office? "I do not know," he told the jury. "I wasn't there. I can't say."

Next on the stand was Father James Oliver, who worked in the office for the clergy when Sullivan discovered the missing files. It was Sullivan's testimony that she handed those files to Father Oliver.

But when asked about that, Oliver told the jury, "I don't recall."

Judge Sarmina interrupted the questioning to ask Oliver if he recalled giving the files to Monsignor Senior.

"Your honor, I do not," Father Oliver testified.


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