Northeast Times

Courtroom drama at abusive-priests hearing

Start­Frag­ment

A lit­any of al­leg­a­tions of priests gone wrong was re­cited in a Phil­adelphia courtroom Monday, and de­fense at­tor­neys didn’t like it.

As­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­neys are go­ing to con­duct “28 mini­tri­als,” com­plained at­tor­ney Thomas Bergstrom as the first of sev­er­al dec­ades-old case his­tor­ies of sexu­al ab­use com­plaints against 28 priests were read by pro­sec­utors.

“It’s all an­cient his­tory,” Bergstrom said.

Pro­sec­utors want to use the ma­ter­i­al in the up­com­ing sexu­al tri­al of three priests and a former priest.

The few cases re­viewed Monday con­tain al­leg­a­tions that priests en­gaged in sex acts with minors for years be­fore they were re­moved from their min­is­tries. Both boys and girls were in­volved. Ac­cord­ing to pro­sec­utors, one of the priests said he nev­er had any­thing to do with grade school chil­dren and that the high school girls he was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing were will­ing sexu­al part­ners.

Us­ing ma­ter­i­al from arch­dioces­an files, pro­sec­utors lis­ted church case his­tor­ies of priests, some of whom were sta­tioned in North­east par­ishes, that in­cluded de­scrip­tions of “groom­ing” and se­duc­tions of vic­tims that in­volved giv­ing them al­co­hol, wrest­ling with them, kiss­ing them, grop­ing them and rub­bing ice cubes on their gen­it­als.

Only a few of the cler­gy­men whose activ­it­ies as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­neys out­lined to Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina this week ac­tu­ally are sched­uled to go on tri­al at the end of March.

Former priest Ed­ward Avery, priest James J. Bren­nan and Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn will be tried with Charles En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales.

Avery, Bren­nan and En­gel­hardt have been ac­cused of child mo­lesta­tion; Lynn, however, is charged with en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren be­cause he al­legedly made it pos­sible for Bren­nan and Avery to con­tin­ue to sexu­ally ab­use minors. All four are charged with con­spir­acy; all have pleaded not guilty.

Pro­sec­utors are seek­ing this week to al­low the al­leg­a­tions against oth­er priests to be used in evid­ence in the up­com­ing tri­al, a point dis­puted by de­fense law­yers, not­ably Bergstrom, one of Lynn’s at­tor­neys, and Wil­li­am Bren­nan, who rep­res­ents Bren­nan.

De­fense at­tor­neys ar­gued that bring­ing up old cases – some of which date back to the 1960s and 1970s – had no rel­ev­ance to the cases against their cli­ents.

Avery and En­gel­hardt. along with former lay teach­er Bern­ard Shero, who will be tried sep­ar­ately, are charged with ab­us­ing the same young St. Jerome’s ele­ment­ary school pu­pil in the late 1990s. Bren­nan is charged with mo­lest­ing an­oth­er teen.

Lynn, as sec­ret­ary for clergy for Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, pro­sec­utors said, knew of pre­vi­ous al­leg­a­tions of sexu­al ab­use against Avery and Bren­nan but al­lowed them to con­tin­ue liv­ing in par­ishes where they would have ac­cess to kids.

As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton and oth­er pro­sec­utors main­tained that bring­ing up oth­er cases handled by Lynn and oth­er church of­fi­cials showed how the arch­diocese, over time, al­legedly failed to ad­equately ad­dress com­plaints of sexu­al ab­use of minors against sev­er­al priests, warn par­ents and oth­er pa­rish­ion­ers or call po­lice.

The arch­diocese, one de­fense at­tor­ney com­plained, had be­come an un­in­dicted co-con­spir­at­or. Pro­sec­utors did not dis­agree.

The pro­sec­utors also told Sarmina that the arch­diocese had re­cords of the ac­cused priests meet­ings with arch­dioces­an of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Lynn, along with re­com­mend­a­tions for treat­ment, com­plaints about those priests and com­mu­nic­a­tions from those who had been ab­used by the priests con­tinu­ing to ask why their al­leged ab­users re­mained in their min­is­tries.

Re­ports that some nuns had com­plained in the 1990s that Bren­nan had noisy parties at his res­id­ence and that he was liv­ing with two teens he had de­scribed as re­l­at­ives drew angry ob­jec­tions from Wil­li­am Bren­nan, who labeled the sis­ters “rats, whiners and wimps.”

ADA Mark Cipol­letti star­ted off by re­count­ing the case his­tor­ies of Avery and Bren­nan fol­lowed by oth­er ADAs de­tail­ing the same for priests Mi­chael Murtha, Stan­ley Gana and Nich­olas Cu­demo as Bergstrom and Wil­li­am Bren­nan con­tinu­ally at­tacked the rel­ev­ance and evid­en­tiary value of their state­ments. Cu­demo, Bless­ing­ton said, over dec­ades had more than 10 vic­tims, some of them girls who had at­ten­ded Car­din­al Dougherty High School.

Wil­li­am Bren­nan also stated that pro­sec­utors were present­ing a lot of spec­u­la­tion about his cli­ent and that, oth­er than the one case for which Fath­er Bren­nan will be tried, the as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­neys were not nam­ing any vic­tims.

“This is a cloud the com­mon­wealth has puffed up,” he said.

Bergstrom said the ma­ter­i­al about the old cases, whose present­a­tion was con­tin­ued Tues­day, would be a prob­lem dur­ing the tri­al. He ar­gued that the cases re­coun­ted Monday showed that Lynn ac­ted on them when he be­came sec­ret­ary for clergy in 1992, but couldn’t be held re­spons­ible for them be­fore then. The cases re­viewed Monday did in­clude notes about Lynn re­com­mend­ing ther­apy for the priests as well as re­as­sign­ments.

Al­leg­a­tions about all the vic­tims didn’t come out un­til Lynn left in 2004, Bergstrom said, and he asked the judge how Lynn could have done any­thing about things he didn’t know about. Lynn didn’t know about the vic­tims and, be­sides, he isn’t a po­lice of­ficer, Bergstrom ad­ded.

Cipol­letti countered that Lynn didn’t call po­lice either and in­dulged in “will­ful blind­ness.”

“They es­sen­tially tried not to know,” he told the judge.

Later dur­ing the hear­ing, Bergstrom also said pro­sec­utors were push­ing what he called a mis­taken char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of Lynn, who handled per­son­nel mat­ters for Bevilac­qua. The at­tor­ney said Lynn didn’t act on his own and was not the ul­ti­mate au­thor­ity in de­cid­ing how the arch­diocese handled child mo­lesta­tion cases.

In Bren­nan’s case, Bergstrom said, the priest was at times liv­ing out­side the arch­diocese so he was out of the con­trol of the arch­diocese, and arch­dioces­an of­fi­cials might not have even known where he was.

Cipol­letti said that the arch­diocese had to have known where he was to be able to mail him his “priestly sti­pend.” Also, Bless­ing­ton said that arch­dioces­an re­cords showed that Lynn char­ac­ter­ized him­self as “the car­din­al’s del­eg­ate” in in­vest­ig­at­ing sexu­al ab­use com­plaints.

The evid­ence hear­ing con­tin­ued Tues­day as the Times went to press. Tri­al is sched­uled for March 26. ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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