The rising tide of child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church in America was lapping at the doors of its highest leadership yesterday with reports that the Cardinal of New York, Edward Egan, had mishandled several paedophilia cases in his former position as Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Cardinal Egan, who was appointed by the Vatican in 2000, has not commented on reports carried by The Hartford Courant newspaper in Connecticut that he failed to act aggressively to cull his diocese of priests cited in molestation cases and instead allowed them to remain in the Church.
The revelations, gleaned from sealed court documents obtained by the Courant, signal further trouble for the Church. The storm blew up in January with the conviction of John Geoghan, a former priest from Boston, who is accused of molesting 130 boys over decades. Church leaders in Massachusetts had known of his activities and had shunted him from parish to parish instead of defrocking him.
New tremors are striking the Church daily. In recent weeks, a bishop has been forced to resign in Florida while the lid has been peeled from other cases all over America, Los Angeles to New York.
The Church is being portrayed as an institution that has deliberately sought to cover up cases of child abuse while putting the protection of its priests before the protection of children.
A newspaper published by the Church in Boston, meanwhile, has shocked many by printing an editorial asking whether the time has come for the Church to question whether celibacy among priests should be reconsidered and whether the priesthood attracted high numbers of homosexuals. The commentary prompted an angry response from the Vatican, saying celibacy remained vital to the Church.
The court documents obtained by the Courant showed that while Cardinal Egan was Bishop of Bridgeport he was called to testify in depositions relating to eight priests in his diocese. Another nine had also been accused of child abuse. The documents show Bishop Egan was sceptical about many of the claims.
"Allegations are allegations," he said in one deposition. "These things happen in such small numbers," he said, "it's marvellous when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests, how very few have even been accused." Among those priests allowed to continue their work in the church was Father Raymond Pcolka of Greenwich, Connecticut. The Courant says Bishop Egan allowed Father Pcolka to stay in his Church even after hearing a dozen abuse complaints against him. The priest was not suspended until 1993 when he refused to seek psychiatric help. The court papers include details of Mr Pcolka committing sexual acts on minors. Among his victims was a girl on her seventh birthday.
New York Catholics are holding their breath to see how Cardinal Egan responds. "He is my cardinal, I am a Catholic; I give him every benefit of the doubt," the former New York governor Mario Cuomo said. "At this point I'll wait for the Cardinal to speak. He's entitled to that respect".
In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law has been under growing pressure to resign because of the Geoghan case. After announcing a zero-tolerance policy in his diocese he has given prosecutors the names of 80 former and current priests who have been named in molestation complaints.
Over the past 17 years, the church in America has quietly paid out $1bn (£700m) to settle suits. Usually, the plaintiffs have then been asked to keep silent about their ordeals. Many, however, are now coming forward to tell their stories for the first time.