Organization alleges church official 'concealed child sex crimes'
A victims' rights group is calling for an investigation of retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, shown here in 2002.
March 1st, 2011
03:42 PM ET

Organization alleges church official 'concealed child sex crimes'

From Logan Burruss, CNN

A victims' rights organization is calling for further investigation of a former archbishop of Philadelphia, claiming records show that he ignored and covered up sex crimes against children "from the earliest days of his career."

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says documents obtained from an alleged victim in a Florida civil case show that authorities in Pennsylvania and New York should investigate retired Roman Catholic Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Bevilacqua, now 87 and reportedly in ill health, was one of the subjects of a two-year Philadelphia grand jury investigation that ended just two weeks ago. The grand jury - despite finding that there was "no doubt" Bevilacqua "endangered thousands of children in the Philadelphia Archdiocese" by his actions while archbishop - declined "for now" to press charges against him.

CNN was unable to reach Bevilacqua for comment, and the Philadelphia Archdiocese refused comment.

The documents the victims' organization obtained "essentially show that from the earliest days of his career, Bevilacqua has ignored and concealed child sex crimes," said David Clohessy, the group's national director.

The documents indicate that while serving as an auxiliary bishop in Brooklyn, Bevilacqua knew of incidents involving a priest, failed to inform the authorities, and assisted in the priest's transfer from New York to St. Louis, Missouri.

The former priest, Romano Ferraro, is now serving a life sentence for raping a child in Massachusetts.

Monsignor Kieran Harrington, a spokesman for the Brooklyn Diocese, said the documents were released to Mike Mullen, the diocese's attorney in the Florida case, who included them in court filings. The Florida case against Ferraro stemmed from allegations of abuse during his time as a U.S. Navy chaplain in Key West. The case was dismissed in 2007 after the parties reached "an amicable settlement," according to Miami-Dade Circuit Court documents.

The prosecuting attorney's office sent CNN multiple case documents, dated primarily to the 1970s and 1980s, including a letter from Bevilacqua to Ferraro's file in 1977, along with a document authorizing the release of these documents to the prosecuting attorneys.

"Father Ferraro claims that his major problem is with boys 13 to 15 years of age," Bevilacqua wrote in the 1977 document, followed by a reference to a molestation accusation from Ferraro's time as a Navy chaplain. "The one in the Navy involved a 13 to 15 year old boy and it involved the incident of touching one boy in bed."

Ferraro was also accused of grabbing "one of the young boys twice" and then trying "to engage 2 of the other boys to a conversation and discussion on their masturbatory practices," according to a handwritten letter which indicates that Bevilacqua received a copy.

Harrington, however, insisted that Bevilacqua was not fully aware of Ferraro's behavior and acted in accordance with the policy on handling such situations at the time.

"As soon as he realized the situation with Father Ferraro, the guy was taken out of ministry and the Archdiocese of St. Louis was made aware of that," Harrington told CNN.

According to the documents released by prosecutors, Ferraro was placed in psychological treatment and transferred to St. Louis, where he was again accused of molesting boys. He was later denied any more positions within the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The new information from these documents comes just two weeks after a Philadelphia grand jury report said the jurors had "no doubt" that Bevilacqua's "knowing and deliberate actions during his tenure as archbishop also endangered thousands of children in the Philadelphia Archdiocese."

The grand jury did not press charges against Bevilacqua. "We cannot conclude that a successful prosecution can be brought against the cardinal - at least for the moment," the report said.

But the grand jury report includes testimony that claimed Bevilacqua had insisted that the dismissal or resignation of priests accused of sexual misconduct be explained as matters of health, and that parishioners were not to be informed.

While Bevilacqua was not charged, three priests and a parochial school teacher were charged with raping and assaulting boys in their care, while Monsignor William Lynn, a former top aide to Bevilacqua, was accused of allowing the abusive priests to have access to children.

Lynn, who served as the secretary for clergy for Bevilacqua, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assaults, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said earlier this month.

From 1992 until 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children, the district attorney's office said.

The grand jury found that Lynn, 60, endangered children by knowingly allowing dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to kids.

Lynn, who is out on bond, is set to be arraigned on the charges March 3. His attorney told CNN Lynn will plead not guilty. He also added that one of the charges, endangerment of a child, does not apply to Lynn as he is too high up of an official to have had direct contact with children, something he says a 2005 grand jury had recognized.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pennsylvania • Sex abuse • United States

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