New York Cardinal Edward Egan once encouraged a priest who admitted sexually abusing a teen-ager to continue to serve in the priesthood, a newspaper reported Saturday.
The revelations came in videotaped testimony produced five years ago for a civil trial involving a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.
A copy of the videotape was obtained by The Washington Post, which reported Saturday that Egan said at the time he would not summarily suspend a priest, even in the face of shocking allegations of sexual abuse. He said diocesan priests were "self-employed" and not the bishop's responsibility.
"I would have to know the complete circumstances," said Egan, who now is head of the Archdiocese of New York.
A lawyer then presented a hypothetical case with a fact pattern identical to the Martinelli case.
What if this priest was a teacher, the lawyer asked, and sexually assaulted a student and bit the student's penis?
"That would be sufficient cause (for suspension), I'm sure, in many bishops' minds," Egan responded.
The lawyer then asked: "Would it be sufficient cause in your mind?"
"I would have to know all of the details," Egan replied. "The suggestion is so strange I would want to know more about it."
The 1997 lawsuit was filed on behalf of Frank Martinelli who claimed that the Rev. Laurence Brett sexually assaulted him three times over a two-year period ending in 1963, including biting him during oral sex. The lawsuit was eventually settled; the amount of the settlement was not disclosed.
Egan, who was appointed bishop of the Bridgeport Diocese in 1988, met with Brett in 1990 when the priest expressed concern that past allegations might interfere with his work.
According to the Post, Egan read from a memoranda he wrote soon after that meeting that Brett "made a good impression on me, he spoke with grace." He also testified that at the time he was inclined to write Brett a letter encouraging him to go on with his work.
Egan eventually suspended Brett amid mounting allegations of sexual abuse. Brett was barred from the active priesthood and stripped of his authority to administer sacraments or pursue his ministry.
Although Egan has never directly acknowledged missteps in handling allegations of abuse against priests, he recently addressed the issue in a pastoral letter.
"If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry," he wrote.
Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the New York archdiocese, said Saturday: "If we receive an allegation that a priest has abused a minor, then that priest will be asked to leave his ministry until the matter is clarified."
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."