Category Archives: Southdown Institute in Toronto
Father John P. Connor
Father John P. Connor
Father John P. Connor, an admitted child molester in his home diocese of Camden, New Jersey, served from 1988 until 1993 as assistant pastor of Saint Matthew parish in
He did so thanks to an understanding described by Cardinal Bevilacqua’s assistant from his tenure in Pittsburgh as a “tradition of bishops helping bishops.” That “tradition” led Cardinal Bevilacqua to help his friend, Bishop George H. Guilfoyle of Camden, by assigning Fr. Connor to a diocese where parishioners did not know that the priest had molested a 14-year-old student.
Bishops Guilfoyle and Bevilacqua agreed to place Fr. Connor first in the diocese of Pittsburgh and later, after Bevilacqua’s transfer, in Philadelphia, each time with access to a fresh group of children unprotected by informed parents.
When Archbishop Bevilacqua assigned Fr. Connor to duties at Saint Matthew Church, it was with the directive to “educate youth.”
Cardinal Bevilacqua tried to justify his actions to the Grand Jury by claiming that he first learned that Fr. Connor’s 1984 arrest was for sexual abuse of a minor by reading about it in a newspaper in April 2002. The Grand Jury finds that this testimony was untruthful.
In 1985, before he accepted the priest into the Diocese of Pittsburgh, then-Bishop Bevilacqua handwrote on a memo that Fr. Connor could present a “serious risk” if assigned there.
In 1993, when Fr. Connor’s New Jersey victim threatened to sue the Camden diocese and expose Fr. Connor’s abuse, Cardinal Bevilacqua was fully aware of the potential scandal and acted quickly to have Fr. Connor transferred out of the Philadelphia Archdiocese and back to Camden.
Cardinal Bevilacqua’s decision to place this dangerous New Jersey priest in a Philadelphia-area parish, coupled with his refusal to inform its pastor or parishioners of the priest’s predilections, certainly put the children at Saint Matthew at “serious risk.”
Indeed, a year after Fr. Connor returned to Camden, a priest and a teacher from Saint Matthew warned Secretary for Clergy William J. Lynn that Fr. Connor was continuing a “relationship” he had developed with an 8th-grade boy at the Conshohocken parish.
Monsignor Lynn acted promptly – notifying the Chancellor in Camden and the Archdiocese’s attorney, John O’Dea. He did not notify the boy’s mother who, in 1994, had no way of knowing the priest she trusted with her son was an admitted child molester.
Father Connor is arrested in 1984 in New Jersey for molesting a minor.
Ordained in 1962, Fr. John Connor was a 52-year-old theology teacher and golf coach at Bishop Eustace Preparatory School in Pennsauken, New Jersey, when he was arrested for molesting a 14-year-old student in October 1984. According to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Fr. Connor befriended the victim, “Michael,” when he was a freshman honors student at Bishop Eustace. The priest invited the boy to Cape May for a weekend to play golf and help repair the roof on Fr. Connor’s trailer. The boy’s mother agreed, she said, because “he was a priest.”
The priest and student played a round of golf and then went to Fr. Connor’s trailer. There, the priest served beer to the 14-year-old and announced he was about to have a “religious experience.” Michael described the experience to prosecutors as mutual masturbation.
When the priest attempted another sleepover the next weekend, Michael’s mother alerted police. With Michael’s assistance, they caught the priest in a sting operation and recorded an incriminating phone call with the boy. Father Connor was arrested in the principal’s office at Bishop Eustace.
The priest did not, however, go to jail or even trial. Lawyers for the Diocese of Camden negotiated a pretrial intervention with the Cape May Prosecutors’ Office. The terms of the deal Connor cut were that he would admit molesting the boy in exchange for having the record of his arrest erased if he were not rearrested within one year.
Michael’s mother later complained to a newspaper reporter that, while Fr. Connor’s life and career went on as if nothing happened, her son was so humiliated that he fled school, changed his name, and moved far away. In the April 21, 2002, Philadelphia Inquirer article, she referred to the year of his abuse as “the year my son died.”
Cardinal Bevilacqua, then Bishop of Pittsburgh, agrees to accept Father Connor into the Pittsburgh Diocese to accommodate Bishop Guilfoyle of Camden, New Jersey.
After his arrest, Fr. Connor spent much of the following year in treatment at the church-affiliated Southdown Institute outside of Toronto. As the priest’s release neared, Fr. Connor’s bishop in Camden, Bishop Guilfoyle, wrote to Bevilacqua, who was then Bishop of Pittsburgh. In a confidential letter of September 5, 1985, Bishop Guilfoyle asked Bishop Bevilacqua whether he would consider accepting into the Pittsburgh Diocese a priest who had been arrested and was coming out of Southdown Institute, a facility that treated sexual offenders. He stated in the letter that he would call Bishop Bevilacqua with details. Bishop Guilfoyle explained to Bishop Bevilacqua later that he could not keep Fr. Connor in Camden because of scandal.
According to documents from the Pittsburgh Diocese, Bishop Bevilacqua consulted with his personnel aide, Fr. Nicholas Dattilo, and showed him Bishop Guilfoyle’s letter. Father Dattilo raised several appropriate concerns about bringing Fr. Connor to Pittsburgh. In a memo dated September 11, 1985, Fr. Dattilo told Bishop Bevilacqua that they needed more information about the nature of Fr. Connor’s “problem.” Assuming there must be “scandal to necessitate an assignment outside the diocese,” Fr. Dattilo wanted to know, “what happened?” He noted that “if the problem is homosexuality or pedophilia we could be accepting a difficulty with which we have no post-therapeutic experience.” He concluded: “If, after you have talked to Bishop Guilfoyle you believe there is no serious risk in accepting Fr. Connor, we will do everythi ng we can to keep the tradition of bishops helping bishops intact.” (Appendix D-16)
After speaking to Bishop Guilfoyle, Bishop Bevilacqua wrote on Fr. Dattilo’s memo: “I cannot guarantee that there is no serious risk.” Despite this acknowledgement, and after receiving reports from Southdown that spoke of Fr. Connor’s “sexual preference for late adolescent males,” Bishop Bevilacqua agreed to give Fr. Connor an assignment in Pittsburgh.
The file contains no further detail about the basis for his decision, and Cardinal Bevilacqua could provide none when the Grand Jury questioned him about the matter. Rather, the Cardinal tried to place blame on Fr. Dattilo (who died recently, after becoming Bishop of Harrisburg): “It’s the responsibility of the Clergy office to follow up any kind of concerns.” Memos from Pittsburgh’s files, however, suggest that Fr. Connor was hired at Bishop Bevilacqua’s insistence. Father Dattilo said in his memo of September 11, 1985, to Bishop Bevilacqua: “If, after you have talked with Bishop Guilfoyle you believe there is no serious risk….” Father Dattilo’s “recommendation” to accept Fr. Connor, written one day after his bishop responded, “I cannot guarantee there is no serious risk,” was less than enthusiastic. Father Dattilo listed, prominently, among the reasons for the recommendation, “what [he] perceive[d] as [Bishop Bevilacqua’s] inclination to assist Bishop Guilfoyle and Fr. Connor.”
Cardinal Bevilacqua also refused to admit in his Grand Jury testimony that he was aware of the nature of Fr. Connor’s crime at the time he hired him. But the Southdown Institute report, which Bishop Bevilacqua received, specifically warned against giving the priest responsibility for adolescents. Father Dattilo’s September 18, 1985, “recommendation” cited the “serious consequences of a recurrence” given “the nature of the incident for which he was apprehended.” Bishop Bevilacqua initialed this memo, adding a note that: “He must al so be told that his pastor/supervisor will be informed confidentially of his situation.” There is, therefore, excellent reason to believe that Cardinal Bevilacqua did know the nature of Fr. Connor’s crime when he agreed to accept him.
Father Connor stays in Pittsburgh only so long as Bishop Bevilacqua is there; Archbishop Bevilacqua then finds a parish for him in Conshohocken.
Father Connor began work in Pittsburgh in October 1985 after his release from Southdown. He remained there three years, first in a hospital chaplaincy, then in a parish. From the start he was anxious to return to Camden, but, as reflected in a May 12, 1986, memo from one of Bishop Guilfoyle’s aides, Msgr. Buchler, to his bishop, Bishop Guilfoyle repeatedly put him off.
Efforts to find other dioceses willing to take Fr. Connor were unproductive. As noted in the same memo: “Ordinaries of dioceses are beginning to become somewhat ‘gun shy’ about accepting priests from other dioceses. The potential for legal ramifications are becoming more and more prohibitive.” September 1986 memos from Bishop Guilfoyle’s aides, Frs. Frey and Bottino, to their bishop recorded that some dioceses, such as Baltimore, were so wary of taking on Fr. Connor that they said they would require the extraordinary protection of an “indemnity agreement” whereby the Camden diocese would agree to “exonerat[e] them from any incident and damages caused by any acts of Pedophilia on the part of Father Connor . . ..” After Bishop Bevilacqua left Pittsburgh, Fr. Dattilo revoked Fr. Connor’s assignment. A 1988 letter from Fr. Connor to Bishop Guilfoyle recorded that Fr. Dattilo cited “legal complications” and suggested Fr. Connor apply to Philadelphia since Archbishop Bevilacqua had been willing to accept the priest before.
TO FINISH READING THE REPORT PLEASE CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINK: http://www.bishopaccountability.org/reports/2005_09_21_Philly_GrandJury/Philly_05_08_Connor.pdf