Church Lawyer Testifies Cullen, Other Clergy Lied to Him
By Peter Hall
May 14, 2012
|Edward P. Cullen in 1999 after becoming bishop of the Allentown Catholic Diocese. (Chuck Zovko, MORNING CALL FILE PHOTO / May 7, 2007)|
An attorney for the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia testified Monday that top church officials including retired Allentown Bishop Edward Cullen lied to him about a list of priests suspected of sexually abusing children.
Tim Coyne, who served as the church's general counsel, said a prosecutor asked him in 2004 to track down the list of 35 allegedly abusive priests Monsignor William Lynn produced in 1994. The request came during a grand jury investigation of Philadelphia area priests.
Coyne said he contacted five church leaders including Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua; Cullen, who was the cardinal's top aide; and Bishop Joseph Cistone, who is now head of the Saginaw, Mich., diocese, but the effort was unsuccessful.
Coyne testified that Cullen's attorney said Cullen had no recollection of the list. The others gave similar replies, Coyne told the court.
"Everyone I spoke to said they didn't know where it was," Coyne said, "and they didn't have a copy of it."
But he admitted under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington that when church officials this year discovered a hand-written 1994 memo documenting instructions from Bevilacqua to shred the list, he was left with one conclusion.
"Somebody lied to me, or a lot of people lied to me," Coyne said.
Blessington asked: "More like everyone lied to you?"
"That's fair," Coyne said.
According to the memo by Monsignor James Molloy, who was then Cullen's assistant, the order to destroy the list came at a March 1994 meeting of ranking clergy, including Cullen, after Lynn presented them with the results of his research in the archdiocese's secret archives of disgraced priests.
The list has become the focus of the case against Lynn, with prosecutors portraying its concealment as proof of Lynn's intent to hide allegations of abuse against priests.
Lynn's attorneys, however, say the fact Bevilacqua ordered the list shredded is proof of a conspiracy over Lynn's head. Lynn, they say, was devoted to identifying active priests who were the subject of sex-abuse allegations.
Lynn, 61, is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for allegedly covering up sexual abuse by priests. He is the highest-ranking church official in the nation to face such charges.
He is on trial in Philadelphia County Court with the Rev. James J. Brennan, who is accused of attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy. A third clergyman, the Rev. Edward Avery, pleaded guilty before the start of their trial to a count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old boy.
Cullen, head of the Allentown diocese from 1998 until his retirement in 2009, did not respond Monday to requests for comment.
Allentown Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr would not comment on the Philadelphia case, but noted that as bishop of Allentown, Cullen took allegations of sexual assault by priests seriously.
Kerr pointed out Cullen cooperated with the five district attorneys in the diocese, and appointed the first diocesan victim-assistance coordinator and the first diocesan review board. Cullen removed eight diocesan priests over allegations of abuse. He also initiated background checks for priests and laypeople and offered counseling to abuse victims.
Last week a Philadelphia archdiocese employee testified she had arranged for a locksmith to crack a dusty safe as she reorganized the office-of-clergy file room in 2006, after a long grand jury investigation. Inside, she said, she found a folder containing notes on the archdiocese's secret archives on disgraced priests and a copy of Lynn's list.
Coyne testified Monday that Monsignor Timothy Senior, who replaced Lynn as secretary of clergy, handed him the folder in February 2006 and told him to hold on to it. Coyne said he opened the folder and briefly looked through it, but didn't realize it contained a copy of the document he had sought two years earlier.
"I believed it was a summary of the secret archive files," Coyne said.
The file sat untouched in Coyne's office filing cabinet for six years. Asked why he didn't take it to law enforcement, Coyne reasoned that the grand jury investigation was over at that point.
Coyne said he turned over the file to the archdiocese's outside attorneys in February, but refused to say what prompted him to do so, citing attorney-client privilege.
Molloy's memo turned up the same day, Feb. 10, less than two weeks after Bevilacqua died.
Senior, who also testified Monday, said he was on vacation when the safe was opened. He said he received a briefing from Coyne, who told him one of the documents inside had been of significance in the grand jury investigation.
Asked about Coyne's testimony that it was Senior who had given him the file, Senior said he never saw the file. Blessington noted it sounded as if Coyne and Senior were trying to blame each other. Senior offered no response.
The trial, which started March 26, so far has featured testimony from alleged victims of abuse by priests and dozens of documents showing how Lynn handled complaints about inappropriate conduct by clergy. The prosecution is expected to conclude its case this week.