Admitted abusive priest warned to stay 'low key'

Posted: April 04, 2012

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia let a priest who admitted abusing boys in Northeast Philadelphia return to a limited ministry in 1997 with a warning to stay "low key" and keep away from churches where he might be seen by his victims or other accusers.

A year after confessing the abuse to a counselor at a treatment center in Canada, the Rev. Stanley J. Gana was named chaplain of a Carmelite nuns' monastery in Philadelphia.

When he asked to expand his ministry to assist at other parishes, Msgr. William J. Lynn agreed - with conditions. "I said it would be fine if Gana helps out, if it was not a Northeast parish or a parish with a school," Lynn wrote in a confidential memo.

Prosecutors showed that letter and others to jurors Tuesday as they sought to prove that Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy, endangered children by enabling or failing to remove priests suspected of abusing children.

Gana was never criminally charged or accused of abusing anyone after the mid-1980s. But prosecutors won a legal battle to introduce evidence about him and 20 other priests to show jurors how Lynn, the clergy secretary from 1992 to 2004, and other church officials routinely handled abuse allegations.

They say evidence will help prove their contention that Lynn's actions enabled the two men he was charged with, the Rev. James J. Brennan and defrocked priest Edward Avery, to each abuse a boy in the late 1990s. Avery has since pleaded guilty.

As the church official tasked with investigating abuse claims, Lynn interviewed the men who came forward in 1992 and 1995 to say Gana had abused them when both were adolescents at Our Lady of Calvary Church in Philadelphia.

Gana initially denied the allegations, Lynn's memos show. But he agreed in 1995 to resign his post as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Bridgeport, Montgomery County, and be evaluated at Southdown, a Toronto-area treatment center.

Gana's resignation letter to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and the cardinal's reply said he was leaving for health reasons.

At Southdown, Gana admitted abusing the boys. "He admitted everything," according to a memo placed in Gana's personnel file by Lynn and read to jurors by Detective Joseph Walsh, one of the lead investigators on the case.

Four months after the confession, Lynn told one of Gana's victims, a man who threatened a lawsuit, that the priest was still denying the allegation, according to memos read for jurors.

That disclosure sparked a brief courtroom clash. One of Lynn's lawyers, Thomas Bergstrom, started to ask the detective if Lynn might have withheld Gana's confession because Lynn worried about violating medical-privacy laws, an argument Bergstrom said he might make again.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina cut the question short and sent the jury out of the room. Then she admonished Bergstrom for, even unintentionally, "trying to mislead the jury" and barred him from asking the question until he gave her proof that Lynn was bound by such a law.

Despite Gana's confession, a prosecutor pointed out, doctors at Southdown concluded that he did not suffer from pedophilia or ephebophilia - sexual disorders involving acts against children or teens - but instead acted out sexually because he was "very heavily addicted" to drugs and alcohol.

"He's admitted to having sex with 11- and 12-year-old boys, but he's not a pedophile or an ephebophile?" Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked the detective.

"That's what the report says," Walsh replied.

Because of the diagnosis, the archdiocese took Gana back. In September 1997, Bevilacqua wrote him a letter welcoming him.

But the records show that church leaders were concerned about where to put Gana, whether his past accusers would resurface, and whether more accusers might come forward. In one memo to the cardinal, Lynn said Gana's monastery assignment would "minimize the possibility of unwanted publicity."

In another, he wrote: "I explained to Father Gana that given the history he had, he had to be low key in the diocese."

During cross-examination, Lynn's lawyer pointed out that superiors at the monastery knew Gana's background and made sure he was not allowed unsupervised time with children.

Bergstrom also highlighted documents showing that Bevilacqua and two of his top aides, Bishops Edward Cullen and Joseph Cistone, were actively involved in decisions regarding Gana. One memo he cited suggested that Cullen, then the archdiocese's vicar for administration, directed Lynn to revise recommendations for when and how Gana could return to ministry.

Gana was not removed until 2002, after the clergy sex-abuse issue had exploded. A letter to him, and read aloud to jurors, explained a policy change for the church.

"It was determined that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is not able to provide and sustain an adequate level of supervision for their priests, even in a limited ministry," it said.

Later that year, another man came forward with claims that Gana had abused him in the 1970s. Gana was defrocked in 2006.

Also on Tuesday, jurors heard a 64-year-old witness describe being molested as a boy by another priest, the Rev. John A. Cannon, during summer camps run by St. Monica, a parish in South Philadelphia, in the 1960s.

The witness said that so many campers were aware of Cannon's assaults that some changed the lyrics of a popular song of the day, "Poison Ivy" by the Coasters, to add a refrain about the priest.

According to the man, they sang:

Late at night while you're sleeping,

Father Cannon comes creepin' around.


Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or jmartin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JPMartinInky.  

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|