Northeast Times

The jury's out

Every seat was filled in the courtroom dur­ing last week's clos­ing ar­gu­ments in the city's his­tor­ic priest sex ab­use tri­al.

Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn enters the court­house in Cen­ter City for the last day of his hear­ing, Thursday, May 31, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

It’s about money.

The cler­ic­al ab­use tri­al that closed last week in a packed Phil­adelphia courtroom is about sexu­ally pred­at­ory priests, scan­dal, power and be­tray­al. But per­haps un­der­ly­ing it all, the case against Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn is about cash, a pro­sec­utor told jur­ors as he made his clos­ing ar­gu­ment on Thursday.

“Doesn’t it al­ways come down to money?” As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton asked jur­ors, who on Fri­day began their de­lib­er­a­tions in the land­mark tri­al. Lynn is the only high-rank­ing, ad­min­is­trat­ive of­fi­cial in the Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church to go on tri­al in the child sex ab­use scan­dal.

Why else would Lynn, who in­vest­ig­ated sexu­al mis­con­duct al­leg­a­tions against priests, per­mit the “soul murder” of child mo­lesta­tion to con­tin­ue, if not to keep those priests on the job, bring­ing in funds for the city’s arch­diocese, Bless­ing­ton said.

Jur­ors, who have heard testi­mony from scores of wit­nesses and have seen hun­dreds of doc­u­ments since the tri­al began on March 26, re­ceived their in­struc­tions Fri­day from Com­mon Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.

Lynn, 61, is charged with two counts of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren and con­spir­acy. The pro­sec­u­tion claimed Lynn’s ac­tions, or in­ac­tions, led to fur­ther ab­use by two priests, one of them, Lynn’s co-de­fend­ant, the Rev. James Bren­nan, who is ac­cused of the at­temp­ted rape of a sub­urb­an teen­age boy in the 1990s.

The tri­al was to have a third de­fend­ant, de­frocked priest Ed­ward Avery, but be­fore the tri­al began, he pleaded guilty to mo­lest­ing a St. Jerome’s par­ish al­tar boy in the 1990s.

Lynn’s at­tor­ney, Thomas Bergstrom, told the jur­ors that Lynn, who served from 1992 to 2004 as the arch­dioces­an sec­ret­ary for clergy, did not have the power to re­move or re­as­sign priests. That au­thor­ity be­longed to Lynn’s boss, Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, then the city’s arch­bish­op, Bergstrom said. Bevilac­qua died in Janu­ary. In his clos­ing ar­gu­ment, Bergstrom men­tioned the car­din­al more than 20 times. 

The monsignor, whose du­ties were de­scribed as akin to those of a per­son­nel dir­ect­or, could in­vest­ig­ate al­leg­a­tions against priests and make re­com­mend­a­tions about those priests to the car­din­al, Bergstrom said. But Lynn did not have the fi­nal say on re­mov­ing priests or where priests were as­signed and, there­fore, could not be held ac­count­able for any crimes the priests com­mit­ted.

Bergstrom said Lynn in­vest­ig­ated sev­er­al priests and painstak­ingly doc­u­mented every step he took. He tried to get priests treat­ment and tried to get them as­signed where they could do no harm to chil­dren. Many of the same memos and let­ters that doc­u­ment Lynn’s ac­tions were used in the tri­al by both the de­fense and the pro­sec­u­tion.

Us­ing them to con­vict Lynn “simply makes no sense,” Bergstrom said.

Lynn saw the dark side of the church, the at­tor­ney said, and “it was he and he alone who tried to heal it.”

Bless­ing­ton scoffed at that claim, of­ten mock­ingly re­fer­ring to Lynn as “our hero.”

The pro­sec­utor main­tained Lynn was an ac­com­plice in an arch­dioces­an game plan to shield priests, not pro­tect chil­dren. At times, grim­acing as if in pain and his voice full of out­rage, Bless­ing­ton called Lynn’s de­fense pre­pos­ter­ous and galling. 

Lynn looked you in the eye and told you he put vic­tims first, Bless­ing­ton told jur­ors.

“How dare he!”

The pro­sec­u­tion charged that Lynn as­signed Avery to St. Jerome’s and it was at the Winchester Park par­ish that he sub­sequently mo­les­ted a 10-year-old boy. Lynn knew Avery was a threat to chil­dren, Bless­ing­ton said, but he put him near chil­dren any­way.

Lynn’s at­tor­ney had said the monsignor had used ther­ap­ists’ re­com­mend­a­tions about where to place Avery in the arch­diocese.

Bless­ing­ton later countered that those ther­ap­ists worked at St. John Vi­an­ney, an arch­dioces­an-owned treat­ment cen­ter, and were com­pany doc­tors. That was all ac­cord­ing to the game plan to shield priests and keep the pub­lic in the dark, he said.

Lynn main­tained dur­ing his testi­mony last week and the week be­fore that he had been fol­low­ing the in­struc­tions of his bish­op, Car­din­al Bevilac­qua, in mak­ing par­ish as­sign­ments for priests who either ad­mit­ted to be­ing mo­lesters or were sus­pec­ted of be­ing mo­lesters.

Fol­low­ing or­ders is not a de­fense, Bless­ing­ton said. The pro­sec­utor said Lynn lied to vic­tims and church mem­bers about what he was do­ing about pred­at­or priests.

In fact, Bless­ing­ton used the words lie, li­ar or ly­ing al­most 50 times dur­ing his clos­ing ar­gu­ment.

A CROWDED COURTROOM

Every seat was taken in the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter’s Courtroom 304 on Thursday as the de­fend­ants’ friends and re­l­at­ives squeezed in, join­ing the press, at­tor­neys and oth­er spec­tat­ors.

Three in­ter­na­tion­al news agen­cies, at least two ra­dio sta­tions and five TV sta­tions were rep­res­en­ted along with loc­al and na­tion­al news­pa­per re­port­ers. At­tor­ney Marci Hamilton, who rep­res­ents ab­use vic­tims who are su­ing the arch­diocese, was there, as was Phil­adelphia Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams, who sat in the back of the courtroom to watch the pro­sec­u­tion’s clos­ing ar­gu­ment.

Also in the gal­lery were sev­er­al mem­bers of the Sur­viv­ors Net­work of those Ab­used by Priests as well as the group’s pres­id­ent, Bar­bara Blaine, who flew in from Chica­go.

In a phone in­ter­view later, Blaine said she re­garded Lynn’s tri­al as a his­tor­ic first — the first time such a highly placed Cath­ol­ic of­fi­cial was charged as re­spons­ible for sexu­al ab­use by oth­er priests.

She said she thought the de­fense had tried to min­im­ize the im­pact of what sexu­al ab­use might mean to a child. What it really is, she said, is “a dev­ast­at­ing lifelong curse to the vic­tim.”

THE OTH­ER DE­FEND­ANT

The Rev. James Bren­nan’s at­tor­ney, Wil­li­am Bren­nan, brought up money, too.

He said the one wit­ness against his cli­ent is a troubled crim­in­al and li­ar who brought a com­plaint against the priest when he was broke and when his fam­ily was des­per­ate for money.

His fam­ily filed its com­plaint, and the arch­diocese star­ted pay­ing its bills, he said.

The wit­ness, who said Bren­nan was a fam­ily friend who at­temp­ted to rape him after show­ing him por­no­graphy when he was a teen in the 1990s, has stolen, made false po­lice re­ports and was guilty of iden­tity theft. Jur­ors should not be­lieve him, said at­tor­ney Bren­nan, who is not re­lated to his cli­ent.

James Bren­nan had a spot­less ca­reer that in­cluded con­tact with thou­sands of teen­age boys as a teach­er at Car­din­al O’Hara High School and in loc­al par­ishes, the law­yer said. He said there is no oth­er sexu­al ab­use com­plaint against his cli­ent.

But, ac­cord­ing to tri­al testi­mony, there were com­plaints about loud parties the priest had while he was chap­lain at Di­vine Provid­ence Villa in Delaware County. The nuns at Di­vine Provid­ence, a home for wo­men with men­tal dis­ab­il­it­ies, had also griped that James Bren­nan had what seemed to be per­man­ent guests — a former stu­dent and one of his broth­ers. 

Those were not crimes, at­tor­ney Bren­nan told jur­ors, and should not be con­sidered so.

There are only two charges lodged against his cli­ent, the at­tor­ney said, and they are the at­temp­ted rape of the teen­age boy and en­dan­ger­ing a child.  

The jur­ors de­lib­er­ated un­til 3:30 p.m.  Fri­day, and are ex­pec­ted to re­turn to their secret dis­cus­sions on Monday. ••

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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