What Lynn told grand jury on abuse
Msgr. William J. Lynn was dismissive when a Northeast Philadelphia man reported that a priest had repeatedly raped him as a teenager, attacks that took place on the priest's farm, in a church rectory, and on a trip to Walt Disney World.
"I just thought he wanted money," Lynn later told a grand jury.
Not long after the victim came forward, Lynn told him that the accused priest, the Rev. Stanley Gana, had denied the attacks.
In fact, Gana had already admitted the abuse, something Lynn, as the main investigator of sexual-abuse complaints for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, knew but purposely kept from the priest's accuser.
Lynn's handling of that case and others is laid out in more than 2,000 pages of grand jury testimony made public this week. The testimony - as well as that of two bishops who once served at the top of the Philadelphia archdiocesan hierarchy - presents a newly detailed account of how the church dealt with abuse complaints.
In the testimony, taken between 2002 and 2004, the officials portrayed themselves as hamstrung by canonical laws and edicts from Rome favorable to accused priests. They said they were unwilling to notify police of abuse cases if a parent, not the victim, raised the complaint. Their efforts to investigate and monitor abusers were often incomplete, they acknowledged.
The once-secret testimony was compelled by a grand jury investigating sexual abuse by archdiocesan priests. It was recently filed in Common Pleas Court as part of the District Attorney Office's effort to build a conspiracy case against Lynn and two other priests, a defrocked priest, and a former parochial-school teacher.
The testimony led to a scathing 2005 grand jury report that lambasted the archdiocese and top officials, including Lynn. No criminal charges were brought; prosecutors said they were barred by the statute of limitations.
In filing charges against Lynn this year, prosecutors said that new victims had come forward and that state laws had changed in their favor.
Lynn, 60, is charged with child endangerment for allegedly enabling abusive priests. He is the highest-ranking church official in the nation to be charged with such a crime.
He has pleaded not guilty. Church lawyers have quoted Lynn as saying he believed his grand jury ordeal reflected a "definite anti-Catholic bias" on the part of prosecutors. His lawyers, Thomas A. Bergstrom and Jeffrey M. Lindy, declined to comment. They are bound by a judicial gag order in the case.
Lynn's testimony was filed along with the grand jury testimony of Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua's, Lynn's superior for 11 years. The Inquirer at the time was able to obtain a copy of the cardinal's testimony, but not Lynn's or other officials', before Common Pleas Judge Lillian Ransom forbade the release of any additional grand jury documents.
At a hearing Tuesday, Ransom lifted her ban in response to a challenge by lawyers for The Inquirer.
The record shows that Lynn made 14 appearances before the grand jury between June 2002 and February 2004. He spoke in detail about church policy, practices, and specific cases. His testimony ended when he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Lynn told jurors that church officials thought they did not have the authority to take action against an abuser unless the accused priest admitted his misconduct or a therapist diagnosed him as a pedophile.
Therapists applied such a label fewer than five times, according to grand jury testimony.
Complicating matters was a reluctance by therapists to declare a priest a pedophile if there had been drinking involved at the time of an incident, according to grand jury documents. A sexual assault then was seen as a momentary lapse of impulse control.
According to the testimony, the church investigations could be incomplete, and follow-up and oversight at times nonexistent.
Asked about the early complaints against Gana, Lynn said flatly, "I just didn't follow up on it. It fell through the cracks."
Lynn acknowledged he was at times reluctant to follow leads or reach out to other possible victims because to do so might stir up buried memories and "revictimize" them. And if he talked to priests who were colleagues of the accused abusers, Lynn said, this might up unfairly fuel rumors about those under investigation.
Lynn said he rarely, if ever, called police to report complaints - especially if a parent, rather than the child victim, was the one leveling the accusation.
"I always thought I had to have a [victim] sitting in front of me making the allegations," Lynn said.
Along with the testimony from Lynn, Ransom also released the transcripts of two former top officials of the Philadelphia archdiocese - Edward P. Cullen and Joseph R. Cistone. Cullen, who served as Bevilacqua's second-in-command for a decade, became bishop of Allentown in 1998. Cistone, who replaced Cullen in Philadelphia, became bishop of Saginaw, Mich., in 2009.
As aides to Bevilacqua, the three said they kept him abreast of key issues.
"As the leader at the top," Cullen said of the cardinal, "he shouldn't be responsible for the dysfunction down the line."
For his part, Cistone had a good word for Lynn as well: "He has an awesome and a very widespread responsibility, and I think he does - he responds to that in a very, very responsible way."
During Lynn's testimony, a prosecutor pressed him about a memo in which he recommended that an accused priest be reassigned as chaplain to a community of nuns rather than to a parish with a school. This, Lynn wrote in the memo, would forestall "the possibility of a matter becoming public."
Lynn testified that discretion was important and was not designed to protect abusers.
"Like any family, church family, you don't always put all your dirty laundry out, so to speak," Lynn said.
Cullen made a similar point.
"Public relations is in everything," he testified.
When the Rev. Robert L. Brennan was accused of misconduct with boys, the church sent him to a hospital for treatment. Parishioners were told he was on a religious retreat.
Asked about the cover story, Cullen conceded, "It's not the truth."
It was a lie, wasn't it? prosecutors asked.
"You could call it that," Cullen said.
Prosecutors repeatedly returned to Lynn's handling of the Gana case.
The church had fielded allegations about the priest dating back to 1980, when Gana reported that his own relatives were calling him a "deviate."
He told a high-ranking church official that his relatives were telling members of his parish that Gana was an alcoholic and drug user who had an affair with a married woman. In a memo, a top church official dismissed those allegations as "defamation."
A dozen years later, in 1992, a seminarian told church officials that Gana had abused him for years when he was a teen, but Gana remained in ministry.
In 1995, the Northeast Philadelphia man came forward to accuse Gana of repeatedly raping him when he was a teenager. This was the man who Lynn felt was looking for a financial payment; he had asked Gana for money in the past, including help with parochial school tuition.
When Lynn met with this victim, he misled him by saying Gana had denied the assaults.
Gana, in fact, had previously admitted to a church-assigned doctor that he had assaulted that victim and others. Lynn told the grand jury he withheld that information from the victim because he considered it a confidential matter between Gana and his doctor.
Asked about his handling of the allegations against Gana, Lynn testified that church officials did not alert anyone in Gana's previous parishes or ask about possible victims. They did not reach out to the priests who had lived with Gana. They did not seek out witnesses.
Lynn said he initially questioned the Northeast Philadelphia man's credibility and noted that under canon law, the priest had a right to his reputation.
"As soon as you ask questions like that, the reputation is gone," he said. "You don't get the reputation back."
After first expressing "reasonable doubt" about the man's claims, Lynn concluded that the allegations were credible.
Yet Gana was allowed to remain as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Bridgeport for several months before church officials sent him for treatment.
Lynn pressed Gana to quietly resign.
His accuser was "the type of person that will not go away," Lynn told Gana. In a memo, he recounted telling Gana to "weigh whether he wants the publicity that surrounds such a situation if [the victim] were to go to the press."
A prosecutor asked Lynn whether adverse publicity had been his primary concern.
"Primary?" asked Lynn. "I don't know whether it would be primary. It would have been a concern. . . . I mean, just for the good of the church."
In the end, Lynn persuaded Bevilacqua to seek Gana's resignation. In a memo to the cardinal, Lynn wrote, "There is concern that [the victims] could make this matter public and having Father Gana here could exacerbate the situation."
After reading the memo, Bevilacqua wrote: "Noted, AJB."
Gana was removed from ministry and agreed to lead a supervised "life of prayer and penance."
Lynn said he had little training for investigating sex crimes. He said he attended a few seminars at a treatment facility, but in general, "I didn't have any specific skills for that kind of work."
Shortly after he was named secretary for clergy in 1992, Lynn said, he reviewed all the files in the so-called secret archives, the pair of file cabinets on the 12th floor of the archdiocesan headquarters off Logan Square where sensitive allegations against priests were kept under lock and key.
At the cardinal's direction, he said, anonymous complaints were ignored: "He just said we can't give in to anonymous allegations or complaints."
Third-party complaints also were set aside. For example, if someone came forward to say that a friend had been abused, Lynn said he would tell the person he needed to hear that directly from the victim.
Prosecutors questioned him about the handling of allegations against the Rev. John A. Cannon. In 1964, eight male teenagers told the archdiocese the priest had abused them in the early 1960s and late 1950s. Cannon remained in ministry.
In 1992, one of those victims contacted the church again, and Lynn was assigned to investigate. He decided that Cannon should be sent for treatment, but the priest remained in ministry until 2003.
Asked why, Lynn said: "My view on Father Cannon was, I never had conclusive evidence that he had been guilty of misconduct."
Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCartney asked what kind of evidence he was looking for.
"Well, if I had an admission on the part of the priest, that would have been conclusive enough," Lynn replied.
Absent such an admission, she asked, was there anything else that might persuade him?
"If a report said he was diagnosed that way, had a sexual disorder or something like that," Lynn said.
McCartney pressed: "Aside from a priest saying, 'I did it. I molested these kids,' or a psychiatric institution determining that someone fit within a specific criteria of pedophile. . . . or if there's nothing else, then that's the answer."
"There's nothing else," said Lynn.
50 State AG Call for Grand Jury
Any investigation must be:
- independent of and separate from the church
- must have subpoena powers and ability to compel testimony under oath
Anything short of these criteria is a sham and whitewash.
In addition, write letters to the editor, make phone calls to politicians as they can apply pressure to keep them responsive to our demand. We need to make efforts to ensure that they follow up on what the state is doing to investigate these crimes.
The Attorneys General of forty states have inquired about the grand jury process in Pennsylvania. Let's get statewide investigations going in fifty states.
Note to Letter Writers
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