Archdiocese Priest Fondled 13-year-old Girl in Rectory
It was a job that she never applied for. The victim was 13 years old when her mother accepted the position on her behalf. The victim's mother went to Mass every day; sometimes twice a day. The only thing that mattered to Mom was that the church was in need.
The victim, the parish cook at St. John of The Cross in Roslyn, had phlebitis, so she needed help serving meals to priests on weekends. The victim was the help. For a weekly salary of $5, she served dinner on Saturday nights to the priests in the rectory, and then she came back on Sunday mornings to serve breakfast.
Sunday mornings were the worst. That's when Father Albert T. Kostelnick waited at the end of a long mahogany table. The priest would hold the girl's hands in his, and make small talk. Meanwhile, the priest's hands would wander up to the girl's chest.
On Thurday, the victim, now in her 50s, told her tale of long-ago abuse to the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case. Monsignor William J. Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for the clergy, is on trial on felony counts of endangering the welfare of children, and conspiring to endanger the welfare of children. He is the first Catholic administrator in the country to be charged for his role in the pedophile priest scandal.
"He was groping my breasts," the victim told the jury. "It happened every time he was alone."
The victim worked at the rectory for two years. The prosecutor asked if she ever told her parents about Father Kostelnick. "I never told them," she said. She didn't think they would believe her, and even if they did, she didn't think they would do anything about it.
The victim was the fifth of seven children in a very Catholic family. When she quit her job at the rectory, the position was filled by the victim's younger sister. And when the younger sister quit, another sister took her place. Years later, the victim discovered that Father Kostelnick had also molested both her sisters at the rectory.
When she was 33, and she gave birth to a daughter, the victim finally decided to tell her mother what had happened with Father Kostelnick. "My mother told me to just let it go," she told the jury. But when she was 38, and her mother died, the victim decided she couldn't let it go.
On Dec. 4, 2001, the victim, then 45, wrote a letter to Msgr. Lynn, whom she referred to in court as a childhood acquaintance, or "Billy Lynn from Roslyn." In the letter, she told Lynn that her assignment as a kid was to go to the priests on Sunday mornings and ask how they wanted their eggs cooked. That's when Father Kostelnick would abuse her.
"I did not know what to do," she wrote Lynn. "I felt helpless and trapped. I did not tell anyone ... I kept my secret deep." The victim wrote Lynn that she realized what the priest had done to her "was wrong and evil," and "left me totally violated." "At 13," she wrote, it was "a deep wound."
She told Lynn she realized that as an adult, she always had "an edge around men." "I trace it to this experience," she wrote. The letter to Lynn, she wrote, was part of "my healing process." She said she had also came to the realization that Father Kostelnick was "a very sick man."
The victim wrote that she felt guilty for not speaking out when she could have protected her two younger sisters. "I've since left the Catholic Church," she wrote Lynn. The decision was "a casualty of my awakening."
Father Vincent Welsh, who worked as Lynn's assistant, promptly wrote a reply, saying he was "sorry to hear of her private pain." Welsh offered to meet with her, and get her counseling. He closed the letter by saying that he and Lynn would pray for her. "May God be with you in this holy season of advent," he wrote.
The victim testified that in a subsequent phone conversation, Welsh told her Father Kostelnick had been confronted, and, "He denied ever having touched me." Despite the denial, the priest was sent for psychological evaluation at St. John Vianney, the archdiocese facility where priests with sex problems were evaluated.
"They didn't find anything, any deviant behavior," she testified.
The prosecutor asked the victim whether archdiocese officials ever informed her about other accusations of abuse against Father Kostelnick.
"No," she said.
The victim and her sisters weren't Father Kostelnick's only victims.
The 2005 grand jury report branded Father Kostelnick as "a serial molester." In one 1971 incident, the grand jury found that Father Kostelnick had groped a teenage girl as she lay immobilized in traction in a hospital bed, following an auto accident.
Father Kostelnick was reported to the police in 1987 for fondling an 8-year-old girl. Additional reports of abuse were made to Cardinal Bevilacqua in 1988 and 1992, yet the cardinal allowed Father Kostelnick to continue as pastor of St. Mark's in Bristol, Pa.
In 1997, the grand jury said, "Cardinal Bevilacqua honored the serial molester at a luncheon at the cardinal's house, and set him loose as a senior priest in a new parish, Assumption BVM in Feasterville."
Father Kostelnick was finally removed from active ministry in 2004, after Bevilacqua retired, and the archdiocese had received complaints from 18 alleged victims over a 30-year period. The grand jury report said Father Kostelnick revealed to an archdiocese review board that he continued his "long-standing habit" of "fondling the breasts of young girls" after victims' complaints were ignored in 1992.