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. ••EndFragment