Settling Things Quietly

In newly unsealed court documents, S.F.'s archbishop makes an eyebrow-raising comment in the case of a pedo-priest

A former federal prosecutor in Michigan before he realized his lifelong dream of becoming a priest, Conley first told former Auxiliary Bishop Patrick J. McGrath (now bishop of San Jose) what he had seen. In court documents, Conley says that McGrath, while not directly discouraging him from going to police, as required by law, asked him, "Are you sure you really want to do this?," adding that "prior to this we've always handled these things in-house." (McGrath has declined to comment on the matter.)

According to his testimony, Conley arrived back at the church about 8 p.m. after teaching a class and heard a suspicious noise in a darkened hallway. He pushed open a door and, he says, spotted the altar boy, one of several youths Aylward had recruited as volunteers to answer phones and greet people upon entering the church. In his deposition, Conley said the boy was kneeling in the dark and was "panting" and out of breath.

"I said, 'Hey, what's going on? What's happening? Are you wrestling?'" Conley testified.

"Yeah, yeah, wrestling," the boy replied, according to Conley.

"I said, 'Who is that in there with you?'"

After hesitating, the boy answered, "Father Aylward." Conley says he then saw a hand reach from the floor and turn a doorknob on the other side of the hallway and that Aylward crawled away.

In settling the case, Levada avoided the public airing of a matter that could have been deeply embarrassing to the archbishop and some of his top lieutenants at a time when he had assumed a key role in shaping church sex-abuse policy.

Conley was castigated by archdiocese officials who rallied behind Aylward. As court documents show, Aylward supplied a negative report to Levada about Conley, which the archbishop acknowledged played a role in his removing Conley from active ministry. Levada's spokesman, Healy, accused Conley of conducting a "witch hunt." That was before Aylward's unexpected admission – in May 2000 during a deposition in the lawsuit brought by the altar boy's parents – that he had wrestled with altar boys for years, at times becoming aroused enough to ejaculate.

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