Witness says she was told not to ask questions about priest

Posted: April 09, 2012

Sister Joan Scary said she got one clear instruction when the Rev. Edward M. DePaoli arrived at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in September 1995: Don't ask questions.

Though she had been director of religious education at the Pottstown-area church since 1989, Scary told a Philadelphia jury Monday that St. Gabriel's pastor, the Rev. James Gormley, warned her that if she talked about DePaoli, "I could pack my bags and leave."

But Scary testified that she remembered that DePaoli had been arrested for something 10 years earlier and kept trying to find out what. Eight months later, Gormley angrily confronted her and reminded her about "spreading rumors about Father DePaoli. . . . He told me to get the hell out of here."

What Scary learned was that DePaoli, a moral and ethics teacher in a local Catholic high school, had been arrested on child pornography charges in 1985, convicted, and sentenced to probation.

Scary was the first witness to testify before a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury Monday as prosecutors began the third week of the trial of a church official and priest in the landmark clergy sex-abuse case involving the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

On trial is Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former church official in charge of investigating wayward priests and the first church official criminally charged with enabling or covering up sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Lynn's codefendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, is charged with attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

Both have denied the allegations.

Scary did not implicate Lynn or Brennan in her testimony. Instead, Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho used her testimony to build a record prosecutors say will show a pattern of Lynn and other church officials protecting sexually abusive priests.

DePaoli's assignment to St. Gabriel's seemed unusual, Scary said, because "he didn't really have duties. . . . He didn't do anything other than just be there."

Scary said she saw DePaoli hear confessions twice and celebrate one Mass when a blizzard made it impossible for Gormley or a retired priest to get to the church.

A few months after DePaoli's arrival, Scary testified, mail for him was delivered to her address at the parish building where she had an apartment rather than the rectory where DePaoli lived.

It was addressed to DePaoli but did not use his clerical title, Scary said. The mail was from Denmark and contained computer disks and magazines with sexually graphic content.

Scary said she put one of the magazines in an envelope addressed to then-Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the archbishop of Philadelphia. She said she included an anonymous note that read: "Is that anything that a Catholic priest should be getting?"

Scary said she also called a county church official to say she worried about DePaoli's assignment at St. Gabriel's, given that the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office was investigating child pornography.

Scary was fired by Gormley on May 30, 1996.

DePaoli was defrocked by the church in 2005, the same year the District Attorney's Office made public its first grand jury investigation of clergy sexual abuse.

A second witness, Shirley Birmingham, a parishioner at St. Gabriel's, testified that she and another congregation member were counting the Sunday collection in the parish center in April 2002 when she noticed a mail package addressed to DePaoli. The package, from a studio in California, was slightly torn, she said. Inside was an unmarked videotape.

Birmingham recalled that Scary had told her about DePaoli's background and said she decided to tell Msgr. John Marine, the archdiocese's vicar for Montgomery County, about the package.

"Knowing his past, it was just a nagging feeling that I had that I should do something about this, so that nothing happens to any of our kids," she told jurors.

But the vicar seemed most interested to hear that DePaoli had been giving homilies, Birmingham testified.

Under cross-examination from Jeffrey Lindy, one of Lynn's lawyers, Birmingham like Scary before her acknowledged she had never before met or seen the former secretary for clergy.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joeslobo.

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