Priests in child molestation cases going to trial

Judge re­fuses to dis­miss charges against Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, who al­legedly en­dangered the wel­fare of chil­dren by re­as­sign­ing to oth­er par­ishes priests sus­pec­ted of mo­lest­ing stu­dents.

Pro­sec­utors nev­er said Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn ever sexu­ally ab­used a child, but they claimed his ac­tions al­lowed oth­er priests to mo­lest minors and charged him with en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of chil­dren.

A Com­mon Pleas Court judge on Fri­day re­fused to make that charge go away.

Earli­er this year, Lynn be­came the first Ro­man Cath­ol­ic ad­min­is­trat­or in Amer­ica to be charged with two counts of en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of chil­dren even though it was not al­leged he had had any con­tact with minors. 

It was on that point that his at­tor­neys had asked Judge Lil­lian Ransom to throw out the charges. How could Lynn, who had been head of the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia’s Of­fice for Clergy, en­danger the wel­fare of chil­dren when he had no dir­ect su­per­vi­sion of chil­dren, his at­tor­neys had asked the court.

Pro­sec­utors had main­tained that Lynn was re­spons­ible for mo­lesta­tions they said were per­pet­rated in the 1990s by two Phil­adelphia arch­dioces­an priests he did su­per­vise be­cause he al­lowed those crimes to con­tin­ue. 

Ransom also re­fused to quash some con­spir­acy charges against Lynn, the Revs. Ed­ward Avery, Charles En­gel­hardt and James Bren­nan or to give them sep­ar­ate tri­als.

She did grant a re­quest to throw out a con­spir­acy charge against Bern­ard Shero, a former teach­er at St. Jerome’s par­ish school.

En­gel­hardt and Avery also had worked at St. Jerome. Avery, Shero and En­gel­hardt all were charged with mo­lest­ing the same boy. Bren­nan had been charged with mo­lest­ing a teen­ager in the mid-1990s. 

Ransom let stand con­spir­acy charges that in­volved Lynn, Avery, En­gel­hardt and Bren­nan.

Early on in the case, pro­sec­utors had al­leged Lynn over­saw the priests, in­vest­ig­ated charges of ab­use against Avery and Bren­nan and trans­ferred them with­in the arch­diocese, thus keep­ing them free to mo­lest more chil­dren.

Mem­bers of the city’s second grand jury that in­vest­ig­ated sexu­al ab­use of minors by clergy stated in a pre­sent­ment early this year: “The sec­ret­ary for the Clergy [Lynn] did more than pass­ively al­low these priests to re­main in posts from which they should have been re­moved. When vic­tims com­plained or scan­dal threatened, he re­com­men­ded to the Car­din­al that ab­users be trans­ferred to new par­ishes, where the un­sus­pect­ing faith­ful would not know to be wary or vi­gil­ant. In this way, Monsignor Lynn ef­fect­ively shiel­ded pred­at­or priests from ac­count­ab­il­ity and en­sured them a con­tinu­ing sup­ply of vic­tims.”

Ransom last week agreed to de­fense at­tor­ney re­quests for the med­ic­al re­cords of the two com­plain­ing wit­nesses, but she re­fused to al­low the re­lease of the wit­nesses’ men­tal health or al­co­hol and drug treat­ment re­cords. Ransom also told pro­sec­utors that the wit­nesses’ crim­in­al re­cords should be re­leased to de­fense at­tor­neys.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted last week that Ransom had ordered that more than 1,000 pages of testi­mony by Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, the city’s former arch­bish­op, may not be re­leased.

Pro­sec­utors had filed the car­din­al’s 2003 grand jury testi­mony to sup­port charges against Lynn, who had worked for Bevilac­qua and his suc­cessor Car­din­al Justin Rigali, who re­cently an­nounced his re­tire­ment.

The Phil­adelphia Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice began in­vest­ig­at­ing Avery and En­gel­hardt in 2009 after the arch­diocese no­ti­fied au­thor­it­ies of com­plaints against the two men. Avery since has been de­frocked.

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales who once worked at Frank­ford’s Ma­ter Dol­orosa par­ish, was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a 10-year-old boy in the sac­risty of St. Jerome’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church in Winchester Park in 1998 and ’99. The grand jury said En­gel­hardt then told Avery about the boy, and that Avery star­ted mo­lest­ing the boy. The vic­tim, now an adult, was mo­les­ted the next year by Shero, the grand jury said.

The grand jur­ors said Lynn knew of pre­vi­ous al­leg­a­tions in­volving a minor and had ordered Avery to get ther­apy. The grand jury said Lynn ig­nored re­com­mend­a­tions that Avery not be trus­ted around chil­dren and had him as­signed to St. Jerome’s par­ish.

Dur­ing the course of the probe, in­vest­ig­at­ors star­ted look­ing in­to al­leg­a­tions Bren­nan had mo­les­ted a Chester County boy in 1996. Bren­nan was as­signed to St. Jerome’s par­ish in 1997. ••

Con­tact John Loftus at 215-354-3110 or at

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus