Priests' trial proving to be complex 'paper case'


The pro­sec­u­tion of a Ro­man Cath­ol­ic cler­ic ac­cused of en­abling child-mo­lest­ing priests is, in part at least, built on piles of pa­per — years of memos, notes and let­ters. 

As the tri­al of Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn and co-de­fend­ant the Rev. James Bren­nan opened last week, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Jac­queline Coelho told jur­ors, “This is a pa­per case.”

That be­came evid­ent as the pro­sec­u­tion’s first wit­ness took the stand. In his first three hours of testi­mony on March 26 and 27, De­tect­ive Joseph Walsh went over more than 50 doc­u­ments.

The doc­u­ments read in­to court re­cords as the tri­al of Lynn and his co-de­fend­ant opened last week provided glimpses of how the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic hier­archy handled priests who were ac­cused of be­ing child mo­lesters and some­times ad­mit­ted to it.

Lynn, who served as sec­ret­ary for clergy un­der Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua from 1992 to 2004, is charged with en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren and con­spir­acy for al­legedly en­abling priestly mo­lesters by keep­ing them in min­is­tries in which they had ac­cess to chil­dren.

One of Lynn’s co-de­fend­ants, de­frocked priest Ed­ward Avery, pleaded guilty to rape and con­spir­acy a week be­fore the tri­al began. His oth­er co-de­fend­ant, the Rev. James Bren­nan, faces at­temp­ted rape and con­spir­acy charges. Two oth­er de­fend­ants,  the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former lay teach­er Bern­ard Shero, will be tried in Septem­ber.

The pa­pers dis­played last week on the court’s big-screen TVs in­cluded let­ters from vic­tims and memor­anda about arch­dioces­an of­fi­cials’ meet­ings with ac­cused priests, re­com­mend­a­tions for ther­apy, coun­sel­ing and trans­fers with­in the arch­diocese.

For ex­ample, one priest who was or­dained in 1962 was the sub­ject of al­most 20 years of writ­ten com­mu­nic­a­tions about ac­cus­a­tions of his sexu­al ab­use of boys, his treat­ment, his ad­mis­sions of guilt, let­ters from con­cerned par­ents, fur­ther treat­ment, fur­ther ad­mis­sions of guilt and fur­ther ther­apy and coun­sel­ing.

There was even one re­com­mend­a­tion that the priest should be trans­ferred to a Bucks County par­ish be­cause it was one of two places in the arch­diocese in which his scan­dal­ous be­ha­vi­or was not known.

That man quit the priest­hood in 1980, but the pa­per trail didn’t stop then. With­in a few years, the man wanted to come back, a de­tect­ive said in court on March 29. He was not ac­cep­ted again, but he kept on try­ing for years.

In 1998, the ex-priest brought his case to Lynn, ask­ing if he could again be­come a priest or get a re­com­mend­a­tion for a job in an­oth­er dio­cese. Lynn, who pro­sec­utors said had cre­ated a chro­no­logy of the ex-priest’s ca­reer, would not agree to any of the man’s re­quests.

In memos Lynn wrote to oth­ers in the arch­dioces­an hier­archy, in­clud­ing Bevilac­qua, he made ref­er­ence to his fear of the risks of scan­dal that could af­fect the church and the ex-priest.

Was there any men­tion of risk to vic­tims or oth­er Cath­ol­ic pa­rish­ion­ers in those com­mu­nic­a­tions, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mark Cipol­letti asked De­tect­ive James Dougherty? No, there wasn’t, the de­tect­ive answered.

Us­ing doc­u­ments isn’t usu­al — or un­usu­al — in pro­sec­ut­ing sex crimes, said Vikt­or­ia Kris­ti­ans­son, a former Phil­adelphia as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­ney who is now based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“We fol­low the evid­ence,” she said dur­ing a phone in­ter­view Monday, adding, that, in this case, the pur­suit of evid­ence took pro­sec­utors to doc­u­ments.

Adding to the writ­ten ma­ter­i­al presen­ted in the early stages of what could be a four-month tri­al was testi­mony from vic­tims.

One vic­tim told jur­ors a priest re­peatedly groped her when she worked in the rect­ory of a sub­urb­an par­ish dec­ades ago. She star­ted work­ing on week­ends at the par­ish when she was a young teen­ager. It was a job her moth­er had ar­ranged for her, she told jur­ors on March 29.

She test­i­fied she en­dured the priest touch­ing her for two years. She didn’t tell her moth­er, she said, be­cause she felt her moth­er, a very de­vout Cath­ol­ic, wouldn’t have be­lieved her. Even when the vic­tim did tell her mom al­most two dec­ades later, she said her moth­er’s re­ac­tion was to tell her it was a long time ago and to for­get about it.

When she was 44, the wo­man wrote to Lynn about what the priest had done, telling him that the in­cid­ents “left me totally vi­ol­ated.”

She nev­er heard from Lynn, but from an­oth­er priest, who as­sisted the monsignor. She was told the priest she had ac­cused had denied the al­leg­a­tions and that he had been eval­u­ated and no psy­cho­lo­gic­al prob­lems were found. In 2003, she said, she was in­formed the priest was be­ing sent to ther­apy. She was nev­er told about any­one else who com­plained about the priest.

Pro­sec­utors of­ten see delayed com­plaints from vic­tims, said Kris­ti­ans­son, who had worked from 2003 to ’06 in the dis­trict’s at­tor­ney’s fam­ily vi­ol­ence and sexu­al as­sault unit.

Piece­meal dis­clos­ures also are not un­usu­al, she said.

People will ex­pect a vic­tim to “cry, cry, cry and scream and re­port right away,” Kris­ti­ans­son said. “But we see vary­ing de­mean­ors and re­ac­tions from vic­tims. … All of us have dif­fer­ent re­ac­tions to trauma.”

The vic­tims of one priest asked about him more than once, ac­cord­ing to De­tect­ive Walsh, who was back on the stand Tues­day morn­ing, again go­ing through about 50 doc­u­ments.

The priest who was the fo­cus of those memos and let­ters had once served in the North­east’s Our Lady of Cal­vary par­ish.

One of his vic­tims be­came a priest. He and an­oth­er asked about their ab­user over the years.

In al­most a dec­ade of cor­res­pond­ence from the mid-1990s to 2004, the priest’s treat­ment for drug and al­co­hol ab­use as well as his is­sues with au­thor­ity and his own self-im­age were de­tailed.

He was ad­mit­ted to a Ca­na­dian treat­ment fa­cil­ity twice, and, ac­cord­ing to let­ters sent to Lynn, he ad­mit­ted hav­ing sex with eight people, some of whom were minors when the li­ais­ons began.

However, those treat­ing him said the priest was not a pe­do­phile and that his sexu­al “act­ing out” could be tied to his drug and al­co­hol prob­lems.

Lynn knew the priest had ad­mit­ted his sexu­al mis­con­duct, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton said, when talk­ing to a re­l­at­ive of one of the vic­tim’s, but told the wo­man the ac­cused priest had con­tin­ued to deny the al­leg­a­tions.

“He lied,” the ADA said.

A few of the cor­res­pond­ences from Lynn men­tioned his worry about “un­wanted pub­li­city” if the priest’s vic­tims went pub­lic with their com­plaints.

Even­tu­ally, the priest was al­lowed to re­turn to the arch­diocese — un­der many re­stric­tions and su­per­vi­sion. He was per­mit­ted to serve as a chap­lain at a con­vent and could help out at some par­ishes as needed as long as those par­ishes were not in the North­east or have a school.

Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ments read in court Tues­day, Lynn had also re­com­men­ded that the Phil­adelphia arch­diocese in­form any oth­er dio­cese in which the ac­cused priest wanted to work of the priest’s his­tory.

In­stead, the re­com­mend­a­tion from the arch­dioces­an hier­archy was that Phil­adelphia would not stand in the priest’s way if he wanted to work some­where else.

The tri­al is con­tinu­ing in Courtroom 304 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter, 13th and Fil­bert streets.

There are now only six al­tern­ate jur­ors hear­ing the case along with the 12 picked from a large pool. Two were dis­missed be­fore the tri­al began. Two more were gone Monday. The Phil­adelphia In­quirer re­por­ted the tri­al judge, M. Teresa Sarmina, didn’t say why, but she told jur­ors not to re­port to their reg­u­lar jobs on Fri­days. The tri­al runs Monday through Thursdays. ••


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