Watchdog Group Releases Details of Philadelphia’s Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

Trove of documents reveals evidence against convicted priests Edward Avery and William Lynn.

Perhaps more so than anyone else, defrocked priest Edward Avery has been at the heart of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s child sex abuse scandal. In March of 2012, Avery pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999. In June, Monsignor William Lynn became the first U.S. Catholic priest convicted of covering up the sex abuse of children, for his failure to expel Avery from the church following an earlier report of abuse. Finally, just last week, Avery recanted his March 2012 confession while testifying as a witness in an ongoing case.

On Tuesday, the watchdog group Bishop Accountability released the first trove of over nearly 6,000 documents it will publish about the scandal in Philadelphia. (It’s released similar documents for other cities.) This initial batch details the first allegations to emerge against Avery, in 1992, by a man who said he was abused as a teenager in the 1970s and 1980s. It was for covering up these allegations–allowing Avery to abuse another child later on–that Lynn was ultimately convicted of child endangerment.

Though these documents were first made public during Lynn’s trial in 2012, they’ve never before been catalogued online, and much of their content hasn’t been reported. Below, among other revealing documents, are some of the most troubling allegations about Avery that Lynn was aware of.

1. March 31, 1992: From a letter William Lynn received from Avery’s first accuser. Lynn had recently taken over as secretary for the clergy, and was in charge of handling such accusations.

I am writing today in the hope that God may be better served. Enclosed is a copy of the most difficult letter I have ever written. It’s a letter I’ve put off writing for over 10 years and wish I had written many years ago. You see I was hurt deeply by Father Avery and at the time ashamed and afraid to confront this issue.

2. From the letter addressed directly to Avery, which Lynn also received.

Then one night after I had helped you at a dance [“The Smiling Padre” Avery moonlighted as a DJ] and had quite a lot to drink I awoke to find your hand on my crotch. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do so I turned over and pretended to be asleep …Eventually I was able to block the episode out of my mind …

So I forgot about it and let my guard down. This time after a ski trip in Vermont, you committed the same violation of my trust but this time I was sober and awake lying with my eyes closed. I was devastated, confused, and angry … I knew one thing, I didn’t want you to touch me that way and I didn’t want to have sex with you or any other man.

3. September 28th, 1992: Notes from an interview Lynn and another clergyman conducted with the victim, in which Avery’s encouragement of underage drinking, as well as the existence of third abuse incident, were divulged.

Father Avery was responsible for James’s first drink of beer at the age of 12 …When assisting Father Avery’s work as a DJ at weddings, he would have alcohol served to him to the point of being sick and vomiting…

On one occasion, Father Avery took a group of altar boys to the shore. The boys slept together in the loft. Father Avery would come up and wrestle with the boys and tickle them. During this encounter, VICTIM recalls that Father Avery’s hand slipped to X’s crotch, at least on two or three occasions.

4. March 11, 1993: After a loyal parishioner caught wind of allegations against Avery, Lynn wrote back to her, with assurances Avery was in good standing.

There have never been anything but compliments heard in this office about Father Avery, and I was happy to read you feel the same way about him.

5. March 23, 1993: Notes from meeting Lynn conducted with Avery’s brother, who disputed the allegations of abuse in Vermont.

Concerning [Avery] getting sick at dinner [Avery’s explanation for bizarre behavior that night], BROTHER said he had same meal for dinner and did not get sick. He wonders if VICTIM slipped his brother a “Mickey Finn” or something … BROTHER noted that VICTIM would wear girls’ pants all the time and believes that VICTIM is really fantasizing.

6. August 5, 1993: Letter from a doctor revealing to Lynn that Avery had admitted wrongdoing.

Despite the fact that Father Ed has expressed a great deal of shame … he has acknowledged that the incident “must have happened.”

7. June 20, 2002: From a conversation Lynn had with victim’s brother, about other inappropriate behavior Avery had with minors.

When he was 14 or 15, he was at Avery’s house in Wildwood. He said there had been drinking going on during the day. Avery was driving a van with five or six kids in it. They had all been drinking. The door of the van was open and the gas station attendant saw them. He [stated] that later that night, they were all in the loft. He said that Avery was jumping on each kid. He stated that Avery was “tickling me … felt like he was going to grab me.”

In the mid-1990s, after Avery spent some time undergoing psychiatric evaluation, Lynn helped reassign him to a new church, St. Jerome’s, which also housed an elementary school. It was there that he abused an altar boy in 1999. He also continued to DJ school dances throughout the ’90s. In 2003, after the Philadelphia District Attorney began investigating him, the Archdiocese asked the Vatican to defrock Avery, which it did in 2005.