Priests' trial to begin on Monday

— Two are charged with rap­ing minors; a third is charged with al­low­ing the first two to be in con­tact with chil­dren.


The sex ab­use tri­al of three Cath­ol­ic cler­ics will be­gin next week in a Phil­adelphia courtroom, but, in the court of pub­lic opin­ion, it’s the Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia that also will be judged.

An ex­am­in­a­tion of how the arch­diocese handled al­leg­a­tions that some of its priests sexu­ally ab­used chil­dren will be a key part of the pro­sec­u­tion’s case against the Rev. James Bren­nan and former priest Ed­ward Avery, both of whom are charged with rap­ing minors. It will be es­pe­cially cru­cial in pro­sec­ut­ing Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, who is charged with en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren by keep­ing Bren­nan and Avery in par­ish roles in which they could have con­tact with kids.

It was Lynn, who served as sec­ret­ary of clergy un­der Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, who pro­sec­utors main­tain in­vest­ig­ated Avery and Bren­nan and knew of mo­lesta­tion al­leg­a­tions against both men.

The jury tri­al be­fore Com­mon Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is ex­pec­ted to last four months, which is a long time for al­leg­a­tions that the church took no ac­tions against mo­lester priests to re­main in front of the pub­lic.

Even one of Lynn’s at­tor­neys, Jef­frey Lindy, said that there was no deny­ing the arch­diocese is the case’s un­in­dicted co-con­spir­at­or.

The Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice star­ted in­vest­ig­at­ing Avery and the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt in 2009 after the arch­diocese no­ti­fied au­thor­it­ies of com­plaints against the two men, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Evan­gelia Manos said in Feb­ru­ary 2011, months be­fore a gag or­der was im­posed on every­one in­volved in the case.

A grand jury began in­vest­ig­at­ing Avery and En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, in 2010, Manos said. The jury’s re­port, which in parts is sexu­ally ex­pli­cit, was an­nounced in Feb­ru­ary 2011. Ar­res­ted were En­gel­hardt, Avery, Bren­nan, Lynn and Bern­ard Shero, a former teach­er at St. Jerome’s par­ish in Winchester Park.

Grand jur­ors had ac­cused En­gel­hardt, Avery and Shero of ab­us­ing the same St. Jerome’s al­tar boy in the 1990s. They had be­gun look­ing in­to Shero while in­vest­ig­at­ing the two priests, and also began ex­amin­ing Bren­nan’s activ­it­ies, char­ging him with rap­ing a Chester County boy. All four were charged with rape, child mo­lesta­tion and re­lated of­fenses.

The grand jur­ors held Lynn re­spons­ible for the crimes they said were com­mit­ted by Bren­nan and Avery.

They pulled no punches in their com­ments about the monsignor, who was sec­ret­ary for clergy from 1993 to 2004:

“The evid­ence be­fore the Grand Jury sug­gests that the Sec­ret­ary for Clergy was acutely in­ter­ested in shield­ing ab­us­ive clergy from crim­in­al de­tec­tions, the car­din­al from scan­dal and the church from fin­an­cial li­ab­il­ity. It shows no in­terest on Monsignor Lynn’s part in de­fend­ing chil­dren en­trus­ted by their par­ents to arch­diocese schools and churches. In­stead of pro­tect­ing chil­dren, Monsignor Lynn en­dangered them.”

In the cases of both Bren­nan and Avery, the grand jur­ors wrote, Lynn knew of mul­tiple com­plaints against both men, did not call law en­force­ment and took no ac­tion to keep them away from chil­dren.

Grand jur­ors called on evid­ence presen­ted to an earli­er grand jury whose re­port was is­sued in 2005 that Lynn know­ingly trans­ferred priests who had sexu­ally ab­used minors to po­s­i­tions in which chil­dren would be en­trus­ted to their care.

Be­cause the stat­ute of lim­it­a­tions had ex­pired for those crimes, jur­ors wrote, Lynn and those priests couldn’t be then pro­sec­uted. However, Judge Sarmina will al­low pro­sec­utors to tell jur­ors about those cases dur­ing the tri­al.

Mem­bers of the 2011 grand jury said they were ap­palled by the vic­tims’ as­sist­ance pro­gram set up by the arch­diocese after the 2005 grand jury re­port was re­leased. They charged that the arch­diocese coun­selors didn’t keep vic­tims’ in­form­a­tion con­fid­en­tial.

Since the 2011 re­port was re­leased, sev­er­al civil suits have been filed against the arch­diocese, its top of­fi­cials, priests and em­ploy­ees by men who said they had been mo­les­ted by priests when they were chil­dren.

Lynn and the oth­er four were ar­res­ted last year. Con­spir­acy charges soon were ad­ded against all de­fend­ants but Shero, and then Shero and En­gel­hardt’s tri­als were severed from the tri­al that will be­gin next week. They’ll be tried in early Septem­ber. All de­fend­ants have pleaded not guilty.

Also, one of the as­ser­tions made by the 2011 grand jur­ors was that more than 30 priests against whom there were cred­ible mo­lesta­tion ac­cus­a­tions re­mained in act­ive min­istry.

Car­din­al Justin Rigali, then the arch­bish­op, im­me­di­ately denied that charge, but not long after that, the arch­diocese an­nounced sev­er­al of those priests were placed on ad­min­is­trat­ive leave. Just last week, The Phil­adelphia In­quirer re­por­ted an­oth­er, Monsignor Richard Powers, 76, was put on leave. The pa­per said Powers’ name was on an in­tern­al arch­dioces­an memo in which he was sus­pec­ted of mo­lest­ing a 17-year-old Venezuelan girl in that coun­try.

Rigali has since re­tired. His pre­de­cessor, Bevilac­qua, died one day after Sarmina ruled that he could be called to testi­fy. He still might. He gave testi­mony that was video­taped in the fall, and it’s pos­sible that could be used in the tri­al.

Oth­er de­fend­ants have tried to get their cases sep­ar­ated, and de­fense at­tor­neys have tried to get Sarmina to re­cuse her­self from presid­ing over the tri­al. None of those moves was suc­cess­ful.

There have been nu­mer­ous mo­tions filed by both de­fense and pro­sec­ut­ing at­tor­neys. Oth­er than sever­ing two of the de­fend­ants from the tri­al that be­gins next week, de­fense vic­tor­ies have been rare. One of Lynn’s law­yers com­plained to Sarmina that she hadn’t ruled in Lynn’s fa­vor once. Sarmina re­spon­ded that she hadn’t been keep­ing score.

Two oth­er judges handled the pre­lim­in­ar­ies, but the case has been in Sarmina’s fifth-floor courtroom since Au­gust. Be­cause a large num­ber of wit­nesses, spec­tat­ors and new me­dia mem­bers are ex­pec­ted, the tri­al will be con­duc­ted in the lar­ger Courtroom 304. The tri­al starts at 9 a.m. Monday.

Seat­ing will be on a first-come-first-served basis. Those com­ing in­to the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter at 13th and Fil­bert streets must go through met­al de­tect­ors be­fore they can get to the stairs or el­ev­at­ors.

Sarmina said last month that she will not al­low elec­tron­ic devices — mo­bile phones, PDAs, iPads, iPods, Nooks, Kindles, Black­ber­ries or laptops — in the courtroom. It will not mat­ter that such devices are switched off; any­one who has one will not be al­lowed in court. ••

To see the 2011 grand jury re­port on sexu­al ab­use by clergy and its pre­sent­ment, vis­it­trictat­tor­ney


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