by Susan Matthews
I successfully navigated I-95 rush-hour traffic, paid exorbitant parking prices and made my way into the Criminal Justice Center at 13th and Filbert this morning. I didn’t know what to expect in room 304. Thus far, I’ve somehow managed to escape jury duty and traffic court. I entered the double wooden doors. Instead of TV’s Judge Judy, it was Judge Sarmina. I had to make a seating decision. Was this like a wedding? If so, I knew whose side I wanted to sit on – the prosecution. I sat next to Kathy Kane on what must have seemed far too much like a pew to victims seated nearby.
“James” was on the stand calmly delivering his testimony in response to the prosecution’s questions. He was incredibly composed throughout the specifics of his molestation by Father Edward Avery and his subsequent recollection of communication with the archdiocese. His voice only wavered during a reading of a letter he wrote to Avery years later. His emotional conflict in reconciling Avery the dear friend and Avery the molester was heart-wrenching. The full impact of the betrayal was palpable.
“James” is now a doctor specializing in hospice care, married and a practicing Catholic with five children in Catholic school. When asked how the sexual abuse impacted his life, there was a long pause. Imagine what he must have been weighing. To say his life was ruined would diminish his family and all that he has accomplished. Yet, any one of us can imagine the toll.
The prosecution delivered the timeline of what Msgr. Lynn knew about Father Avery and when he knew it. If Lynn had acted appropriately on his knowledge, the next witness might not have been sexually abused by Avery as a fifth-grade altar boy at St. Jerome Parish. My own son is just a year older. I can’t bear to recount what happened to “Billy.” Please refer to the 2011 Grand Jury Report on our Resources page.
“Billy” took me by surprise. I hadn’t done the math. We tend to think of victims as being from the past. He is only 23 and even younger if you take into account that he hasn’t really lived a day since he was 10.
Instead of tears, his testimony triggered a “Chuck Norris” motherly instinct moment in me. In coping with the abuse, “Billy” turned to drugs. Those in AA know spirituality is critical to recovery. When you’ve been soul murdered, where does one find the faith? I hope this young man can take back his life from Avery.
At the lunch break, AJ Baselice, father of a clergy sexual abuse victim who committed suicide, suggested that Archbishop Chaput attend the trial. Church leadership should be there. Why aren’t they? I suppose other priorities top their list. Why worry about child sex abuse when rebel nuns tackling poverty need to be taken down?
On the ride home, I wondered what I would say to Lynn if given the opportunity. I settled on, “When did you stop believing in God?”
Click here to read: “Ex-altar boys testify of sex assaults by priest,” by John P. Martin and John Slobodzian, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 2012
Excerpt: “God loves you, and this is what God wants,” Avery allegedly told the Philadelphia altar boy after forcing him to dance a striptease and engage in oral sex at St. Jerome’s Church in 1999, when the boy was 10.
Together, their testimony represented a pillar of the landmark conspiracy and endangerment case prosecutors are trying to prove against Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy under Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua. They contend Lynn’s failure to remove Avery from active ministry after learning of one allegation in 1992 enabled the priest to abuse the fifth-grader at St. Jerome’s seven years later.”
Click here to read: “No return to courtroom for Father Avery,” by Ralph Cipriano, Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog, April 25, 2012