Landmark Priest Abuse Case Underway

Prosecution tells jurors the church kept secret files dating back to 1948

A high-ranking monsignor on trial in Philadelphia ``won't run'' from the Catholic Church's sex abuse crisis, his lawyer said Monday when the landmark child endangerment trial opened.

Monsignor William Lynn supervised more than 800 priests as the secretary for clergy in Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. He's the first U.S. church official ever charged over his handling of abuse complaints.
Prosecutors charge that he kept dangerous priests in parish work around children to protect the church's reputation and avoid scandal.
“There is documentary evidence that the sexual abuse of children happened in the Catholic Church. We're not going to run from that,” defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said in opening statements. “He, perhaps alone, is the one who tried to correct it.”
Bergstrom said his client had prepared a list of 35 accused priests in 1994, based on his review of secret archives kept in a locked room at the archdiocese's headquarters. Lynn gave the list to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and other superiors, but Bevilacqua ordered a bishop to shred it, Bergstrom said.
Lynn, 61, appears solemn in court, where he has spent much of the past few months attending pretrial hearings and jury selection. He has been under investigation for eight years, through two city grand jury investigations. The grand juries blasted Bevilacqua and his successor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, saying they covered up child sex complaints lodged against more than 60 priests over several decades. But Lynn was the only supervisor charged.
Lynn had the “ugly job” of overseeing sex abuse complaints, but Bevilacqua alone determined priest assignments and transfers, Bergstrom said.
The cardinal died in January, but the jury might see the videotaped deposition he gave weeks earlier. The trial is expected to last several months.
Earlier Monday, prosecutors said the archdiocese had protected sexual predators in its ranks for more than 70 years, putting the church's reputation over the safety of children.
The church kept secret files dating back to 1948 that show a long-standing conspiracy to doubt sex abuse victims, protect priests and avoid scandal, Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho said in opening statements.
Coelho called the case “a battle between right and wrong within the archdiocese and the office of secretary for clergy.”
No matter the evidence, priests were not deemed pedophiles or ousted except in a few rare cases when they admitted abusing children, prosecutors have said.
Lynn is on trial with the Rev. James Brennan, who is charged with raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Both men entered not guilty pleas before the jury Monday.
Brennan's accuser has served time for theft and filing a false police report _ and called Brennan when he needed to do court-ordered community service, a defense lawyer said.
“If you don't believe (him), ... the case is over,” said lawyer William Brennan, who is of no relation to his client.
Co-defendant Edward Avery, a defrocked priest, entered a surprise guilty plea Thursday to a sexual assault charge and will serve 2{ to five years in prison. Avery also acknowledged that the archdiocese kept him in parish work despite knowing of an earlier complaint lodged against him, a point that could bolster the conspiracy charge against Lynn.
His plea could undermine plans to attack the credibility of at least one of the two accusers in the case, since he admitted that he sexually assaulted him at church when he was a 10-year-old altar boy.
Avery's accuser said he was passed around by two priests and his Catholic schoolteacher at St. Jerome's Parish in northeast Philadelphia, starting in 1999.
Prosecutors say the 61-year-old Lynn transferred priests to new parishes when a problem arose or told parishioners that their priest was taking a “health leave” when he was going for therapy or to a “safe” assignment at an old-age home. Before long, problem priests were back in parish work, with unsupervised access to children.
“By ignoring warning signs or red flags, Fr. Lynn kept Brennan and Avery in ministry, where they were able to hurt children,” Coelho said.
Lynn could get up to 28 years in prison if convicted of two counts each of conspiracy and child endangerment.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us