Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Cardinal Sin: Disobeying the Big Guy

Monsignor William J. Lynn doesn't get excited when he's told that archdiocese priests are sexually abusing altar boys.

He doesn't loose his cool when he discovers that one priest has young boys living with him in the rectory, or that another priest has a farm where he keeps three young boys rotating through his bedroom.

That same monsignor doesn't hit the panic button when he learns that one of his predator priests just busted out of the sex clinic, and is AWOL from the archdiocese, or that another predator priest who just molested a 13-year-old girl has fled the Commonwealth.

Nope, after six weeks of testimony in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial, the monsignor comes across as a guy who doesn't rattle easily, even when he's getting grilled by a grand jury prosecutor who's obviously gunning for him. But Wednesday, the jury in Courtroom 304 learned what really gets a rise out of the monsignor, and by extension, his late boss, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

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 and is the pastor of St. Andrew's Church in Newtown, Bucks County. He had by all accounts a stellar reputation as pastor of the archdiocese's largest parish -- 6,000 families -- until one day in 1996 when he found out that Cardinal Bevilacqua had just approved the transfer of Father Donald J. Mills to St. Andrew's, to work as an assistant on Picard's staff.

Msgr. Picard, then Father Picard, had a problem with Father Mills. Picard talked to Mills' former pastor and found out that Father Mills had a reputation for refusing to participate in youth ministry, and for lecturing parishioners from the pulpit in a nasty way.

"I feel sorry for you that you're getting him," Picard recalled Mills' former pastor telling him.

Father Mills was gay, several priests told Picard, and had "inappropriate relationships" with other men. If Father Mills is coming to your parish, one parishioner told Picard, you'd better make sure you have room in the rectory for his boyfriend.

So what was Msgr. Picard's unpardonable sin? When he got the news that Cardinal Bevilacqua had just approved the transfer of Father Mills to St. Andrew's, Picard got on the phone with Msgr. Lynn and said no way.

And what was Msgr. Lynn's reaction, the prosecutor wanted to know. Lynn became "very upset because the die was cast, the letter was written," Msgr. Picard told the jury.

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.

Bishop Joseph R. Cistone, then assistant vicar for administration, wrote the cardinal, saying that Picard had committed a grave offense. "He did disobey the archbishop, and this is what's out on the street," Cistone warned. And worse, Father Picard "denied being disobedient."

In the secret archive files, Cardinal Bevilacqua stated, "He will not tolerate even the appearance of disobedience by any priest." Father Picard's act of disobedience was exacerbated because "He made public what should have be kept private ... If he had any concerns about a priest, he should not say anything."

The cardinal's men discussed having Father Picard write a letter of apology to Father Mills, another letter of apology to Cardinal Bevilacqua, and finally a third letter of apology to every priest in the archdiocese. At the end of the meeting, the records noted, the cardinal thanked the members of the priest personnel board for their "wisdom and support."

If Picard was in the military, the secret archive files said, he'd be court-martialed for his offense. When the cardinal met personally with Father Picard, Bevilacqua went one step further, comparing Picard's act of disobedience to Peter's denial of Jesus.

Father Picard was summoned to the cardinal's mansion, for a personal meeting with Bevilacqua. When asked by a prosecutor what happened during the meeting, Picard replied, "A lot."

The cardinal told Picard he was weighing several punishments. They included taking away Picard's pastorate at St. Andrew's, and transferring him to another parish. Since Father Picard had turned down the transfer of Father Mills, he was told not to expect any replacements at St. Andrew's for the foreseeable future. A church deacon, a seminarian in his eighth and final year of studying for the priesthood, had been sent to St. Andrew's, to help out. But after the flap over Father Mills, the cardinal decided that Picard might be a bad influence on the deacon, and so the deacon was shipped to another parish.

After much prayer and deliberation, the cardinal decided that Father Picard could stay on as pastor of St. Andrew's. But he would have to serve a two-week retreat "to reflect on my disobedience to the archbishop," Picard testified. "I needed to be made an example."

On the retreat, Father Picard was instructed to reflect on his relationship with the archdiocese, especially from the archdiocese's point of view. Father Picard was told that his reputation had been tarnished by his disobedience. And that when he was through with his penance, he was told he could seek another meeting with the cardinal, where they could talk again as spiritual "father and son."

During his first meeting with Cardinal Bevilacqua, it was noted in the secret archive files that "there is no remorse on the part of Father Picard at all." But after he went on his retreat, it was noted in the secret archive files that Father Picard "exhibited more contrition" than in previous meetings. Obviously, the retreat had given Father Picard a "better understanding of the situation."

Father Picard testified that he was in the archdiocese doghouse from 1996 until 2009, until he made monsignor, long after many of his contemporaries had been given the honor. On the witness stand, Picard told how Msgr. Lynn congratulated him at the ceremony, and then said, "Everyone deserves to get out of the penalty box."

The archdiocese secret archive files say that besides disobeying Cardinal Bevilacqua, Picard had also injured the reputation of Father Mills.

When Father Mills called Father Picard back in 1996, to find out what day he could move his furniture into the rectory, along with his baby grand piano, Father Picard told him, "I do not want you. I'm going to call Bill Lynn."

Father Mills told archdiocese officials he was "shocked almost speechless," because Father Picard "really blasted him." The cardinal also criticized Picard for relying on hearsay evidence. Picard, however, said he had not slandered Father Mills' reputation; rather that reputation preceded him.

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.


  1. Much thanks, Ralph. As usual, you provide an accurate and detailed account of this ongoing trial. In your opinion, what does the jury look like, in terms of digesting all this information? Do they look engaged, frustrated, tired, shocked, apathetic? I know, just from keeping up with the trial, it is a LOT of information to rein in. Being a cradle Catholic, I am disheartened on a daily basis. How will they be able to piece all this together at the end?

  2. (Part 1 of 2)

    Now this is the type of stuff that has exercised many Catholics for a long time – and rightly so. As in any organization, when a genuine problem mutates into a personal-power issue between the Boss and the subordinate instead of focusing on the problem itself then you are going to create even more problems than simple ‘obedience’ (and shutting-up) will solve.

    The military always lives under the shadow of this corrosive possibility. Yes, it’s in military law that a subordinate need not – indeed cannot – obey an order he believes to be “unlawful”. But the chances of mounting a good defense are never good. The military tries to solve this problem by appointing only mature and competent commanders – especially at the general-officer level – but that doesn’t always pan out for a number of possible reasons. No doubt there were many – even of high rank – who disagreed with the Bush-Cheney plan (such as it was) for the Iraq invasion, and I have no doubt that those officers would have been tamped down – even by their peers – for ‘not being a team player’ and would have been urged to ‘get with the program’ and would most likely also have been warned gently but ominously that ‘the President wants this to happen’. This type of problem is built into organizations. (Surely, somebody at General Motors headquarters must have tried to suggest in 2000 that the Hummer as a civilian vehicle was a baaaad idea. – with all due respect to that vehicle in its military role,)

    Comments looking to recent cultural history are well-directed, I would say. The Church, it has always seemed to me, was confronted with a rather hellish problem in this country in the past 40-odd years: given the tightness of the conceptual weave in its doctrine, homosexuality could not be condoned.

    (The Catholic vision is actually a rather integrally structured thing, conceptually speaking: you can’t pull out one particular piece without generating consequences for the structural integrity of the whole conceptual system. It was for this reason that an otherwise scientifically supportive Church became tremendously hesitant in the face of the Copernican discoveries: the Church wasn’t opposed to the science of it – but rather Copernicus’s discoveries overturned the Aristotelian cosmology and the Church’s moral and ethical system was also based in Aristotelian and Platonic thought (synthesized with Christian theology and revelation by Aquinas). So the fear – and not unfounded – was that if you admitted the validity of Copernicus and thus admitted that Aristotle was wrong in his cosmology, were you not opening the door for the claim that Aristotle (and Plato and Aquinas) was also wrong in the ethics? It took a while to work through that, although – I would say – subsequent developments in Western philosophy proved the fear about the ethics to be well-founded. I don’t apologize for this mention here, since it seems relevant and the more pixels in the conceptual screen, the clearer the resolution. Although to ‘advocacy history’ (see my comment towards the end of the comments-section of the immediately preceding Post on this site) all this is merely ‘unnecessary’ introduction of irrelevant material, which if you grant the purpose of “law office history” or advocacy-history is true enough.)

  3. (Part 2 of 2)

    To the doctrinal problem of accepting homosexuality in the priesthood there was added the movement toward a ‘third way’ (reflecting the strong cultural tides running in this direction) that ‘sex’ was pretty much good in all respects, necessary for ‘healthy’ functioning, and concern about its indiscriminate or active employment merely demonstrated a ‘hang-up’. Which then devolved into some of the very derangements that have been demonstrated of late.

    Whether such blatant Boss-ism is still the rule – especially in matters of abuse after the developments of the past 10 years – is another question, and one not likely to be considered in the case at bar.

    And there still remains the problem of how the Church – or any large organization – responds to the need for change and the admission of management failures in the highly-charged (and legally dangerous) atmosphere of a Mania or a ‘panic’ (again, see my comment towards the end of the comments-section of the immediately preceding Post on this site); any organization is going to instinctively respond with some concern for its own protection. Public-education bureaucracies and unions, for example, vigorously reject the possibility of significant abuse-issues in their areas of responsibility, as does the medical profession.

    But human nature is what it is, and human organizations run by humans are what they are.

    How the Church has re-formed her praxis in the past 10 years is, as I have said, a significant issue – though not likely to be considered in the case at bar.

    In that regard, it remains a question for me as to why the prosecution did not bring ‘recent’ rather than ‘historical’ cases to bar. Did the prosecution have no such sufficiently actionable ‘recent’ cases? If it did, why did it not choose to bring them? If it did not, then what does that mean? I have no answers to these questions, but they remain active and germane to any genuine historical comprehension of the matter.

  4. Great post and ties in perfectly consistent with your "Hoover" post and the story of the poor Seminarian who was railroaded when he complained about being abused by Gana. It is also completely consistent with the Vatican's recent crackdown on the nuns. The Church leaders want obedient sheep --from their subordinate priests all the way down to the parishioners. Dissent cannot be tolerated and is promptly punished. Immorality, hypocrisy, criminal and deviant behavior, can all be tolerated, provided the person tows the party line.

    If this is your own narrative you are pulling out of the trial, kudos to your reporting. It is the real story of an autocratic institution that is so concerned with its own power that it betrays basic moral values. If the ADA's are putting on this narrative, I give all props to them. WIth all this evidence and the varying stories, it is difficult to put together a common story that brings it all together. This is a very powerful narrative. The church that cares more about "backtalk" than child abuse. And unfortunately, all Bergstrom and Lindy have is the Nuremberg defense.

    Great post. makes me miss the old PI before it became a collection of AP and Reuters stories with a few ridiculous human interest columns or stories that the reporter completed without doing any real reporting. Yes, this is what reporters used to do. They went to the actual event and found the Who, What, Where, Why, analyzed it objectively and reported it to interested people. Man I miss newspapers. I delivered the PI when I was also an altar boy; and to the folks who waited for it every morning, the service was just as sacred. Back then, your posts would have been on the front page and read by millions. Now newspapers deliver a sterile feed back from the courthouse that cannot offend the graying readership.

    Thanks again. This piece and the Hoover piece are the best things written on this trial.

    1. Totally agree, Kopride! I still get the PI delivered every day. Even though it is not as good as it once was, I still think the journalists that are there are some of the best. My hub used to deliver the PI AND the Bulletin. I miss good print! Again, much thanks to Ralph for this comprehensive series of reports on the trial. Without them we would only know a partial story.

  5. Just subscribing to comments this morning, nothing to say

  6. From the archdiocesan website,

    ".....Our attorneys are committed to cooperating fully with law enforcement....."

    Mark your calendars…’s May 3, 2012 and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and its attorneys are committed to cooperating fully with law enforcement.

    Why the change? Is being "committed to cooperating" the same as "cooperating" with law enforcement?

  7. Catholic priests are like the gang of losers that are the pitiful, petty, freak fraternity from any high school. No one would care, except they rape children, lie about it, bully the victims, and try to convince people that they have the only free tickets to heaven, as if God would put these freaks in charge of tickets.

    It isn't the military. Its a club of cowards, where one petty boss wants to make sure he keeps his power, since he has nothing else in life. If it were a military group, it would be one waging war on innocent children, killing them one at a time and covering up for their soul murdering assassins.

  8. Ralph Cipriano wrote: "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."

    So true, except not just for Philadelphia. In every city in the USA the priests and bishops responded to child sex crimes in the exact same way.

    That's why we need a Federal Investigation and Prosecution of the bishops at a National Level. They belong in federal prison, not out here influencing politics and government. The Philadelphia DA is very brave to pursue this, now why can't this same level of indictment happen in other cities?

    The same pattern of crimes in city after city apparently across the world. And every archdiocese has a "secret archive" so what more is there to find out?

    Thanks, Ralph, this coverage is the best. Keep writing and keep expressing how you feel about what you are observing. It's important!

    1. Kay: I have prayed for a Federal Investigation under the RICO Act for years. The coverups have been almost identical, not just in the United States, but all over the world. The bishops are using the same, Vatican playbook: "Crimen Sollicitationis!" The bishops of the United States have knowingly kept criminal Pedophiles in the ministry! This should be actionable under Federal Law. What is our government waiting for? A change in Administration, maybe?

  9. Kay is so completely right. Ralph you seem to be a truth teller. That's just what is needed here.
    You may want to look into another scandal created by the Church. It's called SNAP. Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is not what it's title claims. Please google Victims of and read the documents. We victims have been deeply betrayed again.

    1. I have seen this same post, trashing SNAP, at another website today. I believe that it was in an Irish newspaper, following calls for Ireland's Cardinal Brady's removal. Without SNAP, I believe that we would still be living in the Dark Ages, when it comes to the knowledge of Priest Pedophilia, the coverups by the Hierarchy and sexual abuse. Because stories of sexual abuse by priests, all over the nation were similar, in addition to their local parishes' responses and coverups, SNAP was able to identify a pattern before any other group did. If SNAP were on the Vatican's side of the fence, the US Council of Catholic Bishops wouldn't be fighting them in court right now, in Missouri. Jim, I don't think that you should believe everything that you read!

  10. I hope and pray that Catholics are not too discouraged by this whole atrocity. Just always keep in your minds and hearts that the offender are flawed and criminal individual offenders and not the Church itself. We lose sight all too often to the fact that human beings are flawed but Jesus is always with us until the end of the age.

    1. Keep drinking the Kook-aid.

      The Catholic church is not God's church, and God couldn't make it clearer. It fragmented from Christ's "one, holy and apostolic church" long ago, and now

      - raped 100,000+ children
      - moved and hid known child rapists
      - lied about it
      - still bullies the victims
      - keeps unparalleled riches
      - gives its followers nothing but excuses

      Jesus is trying to tell you to make the right decision and overthrow this church, but its much easier to follow a church that drops your standards so far you think you'r eliving a good life by comparison.

      It IS the church itself that did this - the pedophile priests, the bishops who moved and lied about them, and the congregation (like you) that supports them regardless of their crimes.

      You think about this - you never mentioned or cared about the victims, God's best children, who thought they were being stabbed to death by Christ on earth when they were 10 years old. That's how the Catholic church made you think, and God will make you pay for thinking like them.


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