Witness, 56, says priest fondled her when she was 12

The Rev. Edward M. DePaoli.
The Rev. Edward M. DePaoli.
Posted: April 10, 2012

Through almost 20 years of disputes with church superiors over his addiction to pornography, the Rev. Edward M. DePaoli inevitably returned to a last defense: It was fantasy; he had never sexually touched another person.

That defense crumbled in 2002 after a Bucks County woman came forward to tell church officials that DePaoli fondled her breast when she was a 12-year-old catechism student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Doylestown.

"I jabbed him [with my elbow] and looked at him like, 'What are you doing?' " the woman, now 56, told a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury. "I was 12 years old and no one had ever touched me like that before."

Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho, the woman testified that DePaoli said nothing.

"I don't think he expected my reaction," she said. "I was a quiet, shy person when I was young."

The woman, whose name is being withheld by The Inquirer, was the final witness Tuesday to testify about DePaoli's clerical career before he was defrocked in 2005 at age 60.

The testimony was part of Philadelphia prosecutors' efforts to show the jury that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had a tradition of wrist-slapping priests accused of sexual misconduct - at the expense of past and future victims.

Msgr. William J. Lynn, who as secretary for clergy was the archdiocesan official responsible for investigating wayward priests, is on trial in the landmark case, the first church official criminally charged with enabling or covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests.

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

Both have denied the allegations.

The woman said that she and her mother did not come forward when the incident occurred because they felt no one would believe them.

A refugee from Cuba newly arrived in the United States, the woman said her mother believed her but "wanted to play it down. . . . She didn't want to cause any problems."

The woman said she came forward in 2002 after the clergy sex-abuse scandal erupted in Boston.

She said she had two meetings with Lynn and other church officials, and her mother corroborated her accounts.

She said she later had a one-hour meeting with then-Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who gave her a rosary and prayer book.

The groping allegations by the woman were new in 2002 and Lynn's three lawyers seized on them Tuesday to show that Lynn quickly responded and acted.

Though she agreed with Lynn defense attorney Allison Khaskelis that Lynn had reacted promptly, the woman added that she did not feel any empathy from church officials.

"They didn't really seem to care," she said. "They were going through the motions."

DePaoli's legal problems began in 1985 when he was federally indicted on a child-pornography charge while teaching morals and ethics at Bishop McDevitt High School in Cheltenham.

DePaoli pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year's probation and mandatory mental-health treatment, which he completed and pronounced cured.

But, according to archdiocesan correspondence read to the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury by a detective from the District Attorney's Office, when DePaoli was assigned to a new parish, pornographic materials soon began arriving with the parish mail.

Much of the church hierarchy's dealing with DePaoli and his personal problems occurred before Lynn began his 12-year tenure as secretary for clergy in June 1992.

That was emphasized by Lynn's attorneys.

In questioning Detective Joseph Walsh, defense attorney Thomas A. Bergstrom noted that Lynn's predecessor, just weeks earlier in 1992, had recommended to Bevilacqua that DePaoli be permitted to return to the Manayunk parish where he had been removed earlier that year for having adult pornography.

The Rev. Robert Feeney, an associate priest at St. John the Baptist who saw the material, told the jury that he found it so vile he tore it in pieces and threw it out. Then, after reporting DePaoli to the archdiocese, Feeney said he had to dig the pieces out of the trash to give them to church officials.

"It was difficult to live with the man," Feeney said of DePaoli, who came to St. John the Baptist in 1991. Feeney said parish workers hated going into DePaoli's room to clean because the walls were covered with pictures of "naked Roman soldiers" and a crucifix on which Christ was naked.

But by September 1992, according to an internal memo written by Lynn and highlighted by Bergstrom, the new secretary for clergy was recommending against DePaoli's return to St. John the Baptist.

Instead, Lynn wrote, he was preparing to discuss retirement with DePaoli.

"His words indicated that he has not accepted responsibility for his own actions," Lynn wrote, referring to DePaoli's insistence that he be given another chance at St. John the Baptist.

Lynn wrote that he told DePaoli that the other priests at St. John did not want him back and one threatened to ask for reassignment if DePaoli returned.

The two clerics talked of possible teaching assignments, hospital chaplaincies, and other posts but reached no conclusion, the memo reads.

Other memos highlighted by the defense described Lynn's reaction three years later after he allowed DePaoli - then unassigned - to live in another parish rectory, St. Gabriel's near Pottstown.

DePaoli was removed after about a year when the education director discovered pornographic materials being shipped to him at a church building.

Lynn, in internal memos, expressed frustration that, counter to his explicit orders to DePaoli and the pastor at St. Gabriel's, he was getting reports that DePaoli was celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and preaching.


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

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