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