Why Didn’t Good Priests Speak Out?
One of the mysteries of the Catholic sex abuse scandal was why didn’t good priests who knew, or strongly suspected, something awful was going on speak out? There are lots of reasons. A good one was just revealed in the ongoing Philadelphia trial of Msgr. William Lynn, who was the Archdiocese of Philadephia official in charge of clergy assignments under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. He’s on trial now for allegedly reassigning molester priests into parishes, knowing of their propensity for sexual abuse. A reader sent this startling account of recent revelations in the trial. Excerpts:
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 the pastor of an archdiocesan parish who, upon learning that a priest who had the reputation of being a sexually active gay man was being transferred into his parish, protested to Msgr. Lynn at the chancery. More:
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.
Read the whole thing to discover what happened to Msgr. Picard for standing up for his parish like this. And what of Father Mills, the allegedly promiscuous gay priest? Read on:
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.
I’m sure Msgr. Picard’s fate served as an example to others. Ten years ago, when I was reporting on this, I spoke to an ex-priest from a notoriously lavender diocese who said he was one of five members of his seminary graduating class, all straight men, who had left the priesthood because they were too discouraged by the blind eye the archbishop and everybody else in power in the chancery turned toward promiscuity and even sexual harassment by gay priests. (This man, it should be said, remained faithful to the Church, though not as a priest.) Only God knows how much damage bishops like Cdl. Bevilacqua and priests like Bill Lynn did to the Church, and to the Faith, by placing loyalty to their persons and their offices over loyalty to the truth, to basic moral integrity, and to Jesus Christ.
UPDATE: And do you know who — besides, of course, abused children, their families, and other victims — were the biggest suckers in all this? Faithful orthodox Catholics, who believed in authority, and good order, and obedience. The Bevilacquas and the Millses took advantage of their trust.
In the Orthodox Church, we have our own version of the pious veil drawn over craven kowtowing to abusive authority. It usually comes with an appeal to humility, and to the authority of the bishop, as if the klobuk (mitre) were a halo.