Live

Watch CBSN Live

Report: NYReport: NY's Egan Backed Sex Abuser

New York Cardinal Edward Egan testified five years ago that he encouraged a Roman Catholic priest to continue working and offered to write him a letter of recommendation even though he knew the priest had admitted to sexual abuse, The Washington Post said in its Saturday editions.

Last month, Egan, the spiritual leader of about 2.4 million New York Catholics, issued an apology for mistakes he "may have made" in failing to address cases involving sexual abuse of children by priests. In March he said any priest who abused a child will be removed from ministry.

But the Post reported that in videotaped testimony in a 1997 lawsuit brought against the diocese at Bridgeport, Connecticut, which Egan headed at the time, he said he would not summarily suspend a priest even in the face of allegations of sexual abuse.

The lawsuit was brought by Frank Martinelli who had testified that a priest named Laurence Brett had sexually assaulted him three times as a teen-ager.

Egan testified that he knew Brett had admitted to sexual abuse when the two held a meeting in 1990, the paper said.

It quoted Egan as saying Brett "made a good impression on me, he spoke with grace" in a memo he wrote soon after the meeting, which he read in his testimony. "I'll be inclined to write (him) a letter encouraging him to go on with his work."

Egan eventually suspended Brett after learning of many more allegations of sexual abuse, the Post said. The lawsuit ended with a secret monetary settlement, the newspaper said.

"As cardinal, Egan leads the most powerful Catholic diocese in the United States at a time when church leaders have come under intense criticism for failing to dismiss priests who are pedophiles," the Post points out. In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law is in the midst of an unprecedented deposition during which he has been forced to defend his decisions to transfer a priest accused of sexually molesting children.

In the past month, Egan has written several pastoral letters adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward priests accused of sexual abuse, the Post adds.

Egan and seven other leading U.S. cardinals were summoned to the Vatican by Pope John Paul II for a crisis meeting last month about the scandal over sex abuse by priests. After the meeting, the pope condemned pedophilia and said there was no place for it in the Church.

Egan's predecessor in Bridgeport, Bishop Walter Curtis, acknowledged in 1995 testimony that the diocese deliberately moved priests accused of pedophilia among parishes to give them a "fresh start."

Bridgeport Diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer said the diocese had no comment.

Also Saturday, the Connecticut Post of Bridgeport reported that court records show the Rev. Martin Federici was picked up by police in 1968 for allegedly molesting a boy in his car. Police didn't arrest the priest, but reported the incident to the diocese.

Federici and five other priests are the target of lawsuits brought by 26 people who claimed they had been molested by the clergymen since the 1970s. The diocese agreed in March 2001 to settle the lawsuits for millions of dollars before they went to trial.

View CBS News In