Charge Dropped in Priest-Abuse Trial

Charge dropped after prosecutors rest in rare clergy-abuse trial

A Philadelphia judge has dropped one of four felony charges in the clergy-abuse trial of Monsignor  William Lynn.

After eight weeks, Philadelphia prosecutors have rested in the trial of a Roman Catholic church official accused of helping bury complaints that priests were raping or molesting children.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington says the evidence shows the church kept priests in ministry and the public in the dark amid the complaints. He calls actions by the archdiocese “disgraceful” and “criminal.”

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has granted a defense motion to drop one conspiracy count against Lynn and his co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan.

Lynn still faces another conspiracy charge and two child-endangerment counts. Brennan is charged with attempted rape and child endangerment.

Lynn is the first U.S. church official charged for his administrative role in the priest-abuse scandal. Prosecutors say the former secretary for clergy helped known predators stay in ministry. He is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy.

Defense lawyers counter that Lynn tried to address the problem, but took orders from Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. 

Jurors have heard painful testimony from more than a dozen men and women who say they were abused by priests as children. And they have viewed about 2,000 documents, most unearthed from the secret archives.

The defense begins their case Tuesday. It's not yet clear if the 61-year-old Lynn, now on leave from the church, will testify.

The trial caps a 10-year investigation for Philadelphia prosecutors, who began their work after the crisis broke open in Boston in 2002. They produced an explosive 2005 grand jury report that named 63 Philadelphia priests as likely predators, but bitterly concluded that no one could be charged because of legal time limits.

But they got a second chance when more recent accusations surfaced, and they charged Lynn last year after a second grand jury probe. The report alleged that Lynn knew the accused priests had prior complaints in their files, but allowed them to remain in jobs around children.

In a blow to the defense, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled that prosecutors could tell the jury about 20 uncharged priests whose cases had crossed Lynn's desk as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Those cases mostly came from the first grand jury report.

As early as 1994, Lynn had prepared a list of about three dozen problem priests based on his review of the secret files, and sent it to Bevilacqua. The list, shown to jurors, classified three as diagnosed pedophiles and 12 more as “guilty” of the abuse. Another 20 were inconclusive, Lynn had said.

Many remained active priests in the archdiocese for years. And one was suspended as pastor of a South Philadelphia parish only this year.

The list is the closest thing to a smoking gun in the case, yet both sides have characterized its significance differently.

Prosecutors say it shows Lynn knew all too well the church had dangerous predators in its midst. The defense says it shows the loyal aide trying to get Bevilacqua to address the problem.

Lynn told the grand jury about the list in 2002, but said he couldn't find it in his office.

Then a memo surfaced in February -- just days after the cardinal's death -- that shows Bevilacqua had ordered it shredded. A surviving copy of the list was also found.

Prosecutors closed their case Thursday with a detective testifying about the list, and its belated discovery.

Lynn is on trial with Brennan, one of four co-defendants charged last year. Former priest Edward Avery -- deemed “guilty” on Lynn's 1994 list, and defrocked in 2006 -- pleaded guilty before trial to sexually assaulting an altar boy in a church sacristy in 1999. He is serving a 2-1/2- to five-year prison term. The two others will be tried separately.

Brennan, 48, denies the charges, and his lawyer attacked the accuser's credibility when he testified.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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