Northeast Times

For church, $11.6 million in legal bills

The Phil­adelphia Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Arch­diocese has paid $11.6 mil­lion in leg­al costs in the past two years, mostly stem­ming from a grand jury re­port on sexu­al mis­con­duct by clergy mem­bers.

Arch­bish­op Charles Chaput (right) sits next to Jack Quindlen, Chair of the Blue Rib­bon Com­mis­sion, dur­ing the news con­fer­ence an­noun­cing the clos­ing of four Cath­ol­ic High Schools and 45 ele­ment­ary schools due to de­clin­ing en­roll­ment.

Trouble isn’t cheap. Phil­adelphia’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Arch­diocese has paid heav­ily for the trouble it has seen over the past few years.

The church spent $10 mil­lion up to March 31 this year and an­oth­er $1.6 mil­lion last year on the costs re­lated to a grand jury re­port on sexu­al mis­con­duct by its clergy, in­tern­al in­vest­ig­a­tions of priests, re­lated crim­in­al and civil cases and an un­re­lated $900,000 em­bez­zle­ment. The fig­ures were con­tained in a re­port re­leased by Arch­bish­op Charles Chaput.

Those fig­ures do not in­clude the bulk of what is be­ing spent in the cler­ic­al ab­use tri­al that began March 26. The arch­diocese is pay­ing for the de­fense of Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, its former sec­ret­ary for clergy, who charged with con­spir­acy and en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren. He is ac­cused of al­low­ing priests sus­pec­ted of child sexu­al ab­use to re­main in their min­is­tries.

Lynn, 61, the first high-rank­ing Ro­man Cath­ol­ic ad­min­is­trat­or in the United States to be ar­res­ted in con­nec­tion with a child-mo­lesta­tion case, is on tri­al with one of those priests, the Rev. James Bren­nan, who is ac­cused of at­tempt­ing to rape a sub­urb­an boy in 1996. The jury de­lib­er­at­ing their cases stopped work on Thursday af­ter­noon after ask­ing Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to al­low them to take off Fri­day and re­sume talks Monday af­ter­noon.

In re­leas­ing the Phil­adelphia church’s “sober­ing” fin­an­cial stat­ist­ics on Tues­day, Chaput, the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic lead­er, said the church was pay­ing leg­al bills out of cash and in­vest­ment re­serves, and cash pro­ceeds “gen­er­ated from the sale of ex­cess real es­tate hold­ings or oth­er as­sets owned by the arch­diocese it­self.” The church’s budget op­er­ates on a fisc­al cal­en­dar.

The fisc­al drain on the five-county arch­diocese comes at a time when its par­ishes are ex­per­i­en­cing cash pains them­selves.

“Many of our par­ishes struggle fin­an­cially due to changed demo­graph­ics and a de­crease in Mass at­tend­ance and of­fer­tory con­tri­bu­tions,” Chaput stated.

The jury, which got the case on June 1, has de­lib­er­ated for five days.

Even if Lynn’s case ends in an ac­quit­tal, there are civil law­suits — and their costs — wait­ing in the wings.

Lynn, Bren­nan, Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt, former priest Ed­ward Avery and former Cath­ol­ic school teach­er Bern­ard Shero were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary after a Phil­adelphia grand jury re­leased its re­port on cler­ic­al sexu­al ab­use.

Soon after those ar­rests, “nine sep­ar­ate civil law­suits were filed in Phil­adelphia County against the arch­diocese and cer­tain in­di­vidu­al de­fend­ants based on al­leged sexu­al ab­use of minors,” Chaput stated.

Marci Hamilton, an at­tor­ney who rep­res­ents sev­en of those plaintiffs said she ex­pec­ted more suits to be filed, es­pe­cially if Lynn is found guilty. She said Tues­day that she has been hear­ing from al­leged cler­ic­al ab­use vic­tims as the tri­al has pro­gressed, and has been pre­par­ing more cases. A guilty ver­dict would provide a wealth of evid­ence for the law­suits, she said.

“We have com­plaints ready to go,” she said.

Dur­ing the tri­al, pro­sec­utors presen­ted scores of wit­nesses and hun­dreds of doc­u­ments to press their case that Monsignor Lynn was en­gaged in a con­spir­acy to en­danger chil­dren by al­low­ing Bren­nan and Avery to re­main as arch­dioces­an priests and con­tin­ue to have ac­cess to chil­dren. His de­fense has ar­gued that Lynn had no power to fire priests, and that de­cision was made by his boss, Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua. The car­din­al died in Janu­ary.

A week be­fore the tri­al began, Avery pleaded guilty to a con­spir­acy charge and to the 1990s mo­lesta­tion of a 10-year-old St. Jerome par­ish al­tar boy. Judge Sarmina sen­tenced him to two and a half years to five years im­pris­on­ment.

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales who had taught at Fath­er Judge and North Cath­ol­ic, is ac­cused of con­spir­acy and mo­lest­ing the same child at St. Jerome. Shero, who had been a St. Jerome school­teach­er, also is ac­cused of rap­ing the same boy. A con­spir­acy charge against Shero was dis­missed last year, and the former teach­er and En­gel­hardt had their cases sep­ar­ated from the oth­er three de­fend­ants. They’ll be tried in Septem­ber. 

Their de­fense at­tor­neys will not be paid by the arch­diocese; Bren­nan’s de­fense law­yer’s fees  have not been covered by the church, either. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at  215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

 

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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