The top lawyer for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia said Monday that key aides to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua lied when they told him they did not know what happened to a secret list of 35 priests suspected of sexually abusing children.
"Everyone I spoke to said they didn't know where it was, and they didn't have a copy of it," Timothy Coyne testified Monday at the landmark conspiracy and clergy sex-abuse trial. He later added, "Somebody lied to me — or a lot of people lied to me."
The list included diagnosed pedophiles and priests who remained in active ministry despite admitting or being accused of abusing minors. It was locked away in the archdiocese's Center City offices for 18 years, through two grand-jury investigations and countless requests for it, until Coyne said he found it in a file given to him by a church official six years ago.
But even that is disputed.
Minutes after the lawyer testified, Bishop Timothy Senior, a top archdiocesan administrator, took the stand and denied seeing the file with the list or giving either to Coyne for safekeeping in 2006.
"With all due respect, bishop, it sounds like you're blaming him and he's blaming you," Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said.
"I don't know how to respond to that," Senior said.
The unexpected testimony from two prominent insiders added to the portrait of a church hierarchy rife with secrets, lies and dysfunction that both prosecutors and defense lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn could use to make their cases.
Prosecutors contend that Lynn, as secretary for clergy, drafted the list in 1994 and that it proves he allowed priests to remain in active ministry around the archdiocese despite knowing or suspecting they would abuse minors. Lynn's lawyers said it proves he was trying to identify and take action on abusive priests, but that his superiors ultimately decided the fates of those priests.
The existence of such a list had been mentioned in memos that Philadelphia prosecutors and detectives reviewed — and by Lynn himself — during the first grand-jury investigation into clergy sex abuse a decade ago. Coyne, then part of a team of outside lawyers representing the archdiocese, said that he searched extensively for the list in 2002 and 2004 but that no one knew where it was.
A secret memo suggests Bevilacqua had directed all copies to be shredded. But one was found in a locked safe in a file room near Lynn's former offices in 2006. In a safe on another floor, officials this year found a separate memo signed and witnessed by two of the cardinal's top aides, Msgr. James E. Molloy and the Rev. Joseph Cistone, describing the shredding directive.
Coyne said the memos indicated Bevilacqua was aware of the list, but he said he could not recall if he had asked the cardinal about it. He was more certain he asked Cistone and Molloy.
"Both of those men lied to you?" defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom asked.
"It appears so," Coyne said.
Molloy has died. Cistone now heads the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich.
When Coyne agreed with the prosecutor that Lynn must have also lied because the list and other memos drafted by Lynn were found a safe in a suite of offices he ran, Bergstrom erupted more forcefully than he had at any point in the two-month trial.
"You heard that for the first time today!" he challenged Coyne. "You didn't think he lied to you at all, did you?"
Coyne backed down.
"I did not," he replied.
The prosecutor took another angle. "Or, like, everybody lied to you?"
"That's fair," the witness said.
Coyne's hour-long testimony was a contest of sorts, equal parts chess and ping-pong, with the prosecutor and the defense lawyer alternately swatting questions at Coyne and setting up to return his next reply.
"This is getting fun," Bergstrom quipped.
Coyne was cautious and appeared weary at times. He was suspended from his job as chief counsel for the archdiocese in March, a few weeks after the secret list came to light, although church officials have declined to discuss the reason. And he had faced a similar line of questioning in February, during a closed-door hearing with the judge and lawyers in the case.
At least four times Monday, he echoed the same response to explain how he ended up with the file — "I was asked to hold onto it" — but he did not explain why he pulled the file this year.
And he sat on a long pause when Bergstrom asked if he believed that Lynn had genuinely tried to find the list back in 2002 and 2004. Ultimately, Bergstrom confronted Coyne with his own words, testimony he gave during the closed hearing in February when the lawyer had said he thought Lynn "looked everywhere" for the list.
"If that's what it states," Coyne conceded.
Bergstrom ended his cross examination by noting when the incriminating but missing list finally came to light — less than two weeks after Bevilacqua died.
Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at email@example.com. Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.