With the deeply troubling disclosure that Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua ordered aides to shred a memo identifying 35 suspected predator priests, there’s no longer any question that Pennsylvania should give victims of long-ago abuse an avenue to have their day in court.
The revelations about Bevilacqua present a textbook illustration of what’s at stake in victims’ efforts to uncover the truth about the apparent cover-up of alleged abuse by clergy spanning decades. The cardinal died Jan. 31, on the eve of the sex-abuse trial of a former church administrator and two former parish priests.
Just as two Philadelphia grand juries concluded, Bevilacqua’s reported 1994 shredding directive, brought to light only last week, appears to confirm that there was a carefully orchestrated effort by Archdiocese of Philadelphia officials to shield predators. Similarly, it has been revealed that Bevilacqua joined with other Pennsylvania bishops “to examine how the dioceses … can better protect their secret archives from civil-law discovery,” according to court records.
By hiding the truth from parishioners and police long after it was possible to prosecute alleged crimes, due to limitations statutes, the apparent church cover-up denied victims justice in the criminal courts.