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 firstname.lastname@example.org