I got a queasy feeling reading details of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's testimony in 2003 before what would turn out to be the first of two grand juries investigating cases of priest sex abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
It wasn't his relentless obfuscation that got me feeling a little ill, nor his wave after wave of amnesia over cases he was known to have direct knowledge of. And it wasn't his attempt to wave off pointed questions from prosecutors and grand jurors, who grew weary of his Sgt. Shultz "I know nothing. I see nothing" routine. For those of you who never saw that routine, click here.
It was the totality of Bevilacqua's act before the grand jury.
Here was a grand jury looking into dozens of cases of priests abusing teenagers, usually males. It had credible evidence of both the crimes committed by the perps and the cover ups engaged in by higher ups.. The 2003 grand jury later reached the conclusion of Bevilacqua "excused and enabled" years of abuse.
The latest grand jury was more direct. Sexual abuse of minors by priests was "known, tolerated and hidden by high church officials up to and including the cardinal himself."
By the way, the 1,200 pages of previously secret grand jury testimony from 2003 was released by prosecutors last week as part of the criminal proceedings against Msgr. William Lynn, a former Bevilacqua aide, who handled the cases. Later, Lynn fulfilled the same role under Cardinal Justin Regali. Lynn is facing charges for his role in alleged cover ups he engaged in while working for Rigali.
Neither he nor Bevilacqua were indicted after the 2003 grand jury report because statute of limitations had expired. (In fact, no priest was indicted in 2003 for the same reason.)
Had the first grand jury had it within its power to indict, it likely could have charged Lynn and the Cardinal with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and endangering the welfare of children.
And Bevilacqua, instead of Lynn, would have been the highest member of American clergy charged in the priest abuse scandals.
But, Bevilacqua is not only out of each of the law, he is out of reach of reason. The Cardinal is 88 and reported to be suffering from cancer and dementia.
(For details of the grand jury testimony, read The Inquirer's version here.)
It's hard to feel sorry for Bevilacqua. Much was made by church attorneys in 2003 about how the grand jury had disrespected the Cardinal by badgering him about the scandals. Reading the transcripts, it's more a case of the grand jury getting frustrated at getting straight answers from the Cardinal, because damned if he intended to give them any.
Like other CEO's in trouble, he was quick to employ the Reverse Nuremberg Defense - "I was only giving orders."
Though he was in charge of the archdiocese, how could he be expected to pay attention to every piece of paper that came across his desk? Every case of a priest being shuffled from one parish to another because he was doing the nasty with teenage boys?
"There are details that I leave to my secretary for the clergy," Bevilacqua testified, essentially pointing the finger at Lynn.
Yet, no one who knows how the Catholic Church works would ever find it credible that a subaltern, such as Lynn, would make these decisions without his boss's direct knowledge. There are no renegades in the church hierarchy. Power flows from the top.
Bevilacqua could not credibly critique the church's handling of these cases because he was the one responsible for it. Hence, the obfuscation and amnesia.
His actions revealed a shocking lack of care or concern for his flock. Young men were sexually abused. Parishioners were kept in the dark about it. Problem priests were shifted from one assignment to another. Victims were abused - not just by a priest, but by the system. And during his reign as Cardinal not one priest was referred to criminal authorities for prosecution for rape or sexually assaulting a minor.
The Cardinal was not charged in a court of law, but that does not lessen the evil of his deeds. The whole episode still reeks of corruption.
Postscript: The Inquirer reports that on Monday a judge decided to ban reporters and the public from access to the records and transcripts of the 2003 grand jury.
-- Tom Ferrick