Northeast Times

Attorney: Lynn tried to put collar on preists

— The monsignor, on tri­al in the arch­dioces­an child sex-ab­use case, did his best to keep sus­pect cler­gy­men from hav­ing con­tact with par­ish young­sters, his law­yer said.

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Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, the highest-rank­ing Cath­ol­ic cler­ic charged with shield­ing child mo­lesters, did just the op­pos­ite, one of his law­yers claimed Monday.

Lynn, said at­tor­ney Thomas Bergstrom, did everything in his power to get priests sus­pec­ted of ab­us­ing minors away from chil­dren. But, Bergstrom said, de­cisions on those priests were not his alone. Ul­ti­mately, those de­cisions res­ted with Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, head of the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia when Lynn worked as sec­ret­ary for clergy and in­vest­ig­ated child ab­use cases.

The car­din­al died in Janu­ary, but his video­taped testi­mony might be heard in the tri­al of Lynn and the Rev. James Bren­nan, who is charged with mo­lest­ing a teen­ager dur­ing the 1990s and with con­spir­acy. Lynn is charged with con­spir­acy and en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren for shield­ing Bren­nan and former priest Ed­ward Avery.

Avery, who was de­frocked, last week pleaded guilty to mo­lest­ing a St. Jerome’s par­ish al­tar boy in the 1990s and to con­spir­acy charges. He was im­me­di­ately sen­tenced to two and a half to five years im­pris­on­ment. He had been sched­uled to go on tri­al with Lynn and Bren­nan this week.

In open­ing state­ments Monday, pro­sec­u­tion and de­fense at­tor­neys offered jur­ors two dis­tinct per­spect­ives of the evid­ence they’ll see in what could be a very long tri­al.

The pro­sec­u­tion painted the case with a broad brush, claim­ing the church spent years try­ing to avoid scan­dal rather than pro­tect chil­dren. De­fense at­tor­neys con­ten­ded the charges against their cli­ents were very nar­row and that the evid­ence and testi­mony presen­ted in what is ex­pec­ted to be a four-month tri­al will show the de­fend­ants are not guilty.

Cit­ing the cases of many un­charged priests, sev­er­al of whom had worked at North­east par­ishes, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Jac­queline Coelho said Phil­adelphia’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic arch­diocese spent years pro­tect­ing it­self from the scan­dal of sex ab­use by its clergy rather than pro­tect­ing the chil­dren they al­legedly mo­les­ted.

The prob­lem was kept a secret, she said. It was that secrecy that Lynn par­ti­cip­ated in when he was Bevilac­qua’s sec­ret­ary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. The charges against him are that he en­dangered chil­dren who were mo­les­ted by Bren­nan and Avery by keep­ing al­leg­a­tions against them secret and by al­low­ing them to con­tin­ue to serve in min­is­tries in which they had ac­cess to minors.

Prov­ing the case will be long and com­plex, Coelho said, but the crime it­self is simple.

“This is a pretty straight­for­ward crime,” the pro­sec­utor said. “It’s just com­mon sense; you don’t put chil­dren at risk.”

Early in his ten­ure as sec­ret­ary for clergy, she said, Lynn had enough know­ledge to un­der­stand the nature of the arch­diocese’s prob­lem with priests who mo­les­ted chil­dren.

But, she said, “Lynn’s con­cer­ted ef­fort was to pro­tect the church from scan­dal.”

Bergstrom countered that he would not de­bate that there is a Cath­ol­ic Church sex scan­dal.

“It is a doc­u­mented truth that sexu­al ab­use of chil­dren happened in the Cath­ol­ic Church,” the at­tor­ney said.

But he said he would de­fend Lynn against a nar­row set of charges that he had fa­cil­it­ated that ab­use and he said there were no grounds for the con­spir­acy charge against Lynn.

Lynn, Bren­nan, Avery and two oth­ers were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2011 after a grand jury is­sued a re­port on its in­vest­ig­a­tion of sexu­al mo­lesta­tion al­leg­a­tions against Phil­adelphia’s Cath­ol­ic clergy.

The five, which in­cluded the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former St. Jerome’s par­ish school teach­er Bern­ard Shero, ini­tially were not charged with con­spir­acy. Pro­sec­utors later ad­ded con­spir­acy charges, al­though that charge against Shero was sub­sequently re­moved by a judge. En­gel­hardt and Shero will be tried later.

Bergstrom said Lynn had nev­er spoken to or met the men who said they had been mo­les­ted by Avery and Bren­nan when they were minors.

“Yet, he is charged with en­dan­ger­ing their wel­fare,” Bergstrom said.

At­tor­ney Wil­li­am Bren­nan, who is not re­lated to his cli­ent James Bren­nan, said there is no grand con­spir­acy in­volved in his case. He said 99 per­cent of the case against Lynn has noth­ing to do with Fath­er Bren­nan. There is just one wit­ness against Bren­nan, the law­yer said, and he told the jur­ors it was up to them to see if that wit­ness is re­li­able.

The law­yer claimed that wit­ness was a man who had a troubled youth and that he has been con­victed of sev­er­al crimes, in­clud­ing falsely re­port­ing an of­fense that had not oc­curred. Once jur­ors see that wit­ness is not be­liev­able, the at­tor­ney said, the case is over.

In her open­ing state­ment, Coelho had told jur­ors this is “a pa­per case,” in­volving boxes of doc­u­ments.

That state­ment was un­der­lined by the first pro­sec­u­tion wit­ness.

In the first three hours of his testi­mony Monday and Tues­day, Joseph Walsh, a dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice de­tect­ive, read and answered ques­tions about al­most 50 doc­u­ments.

Twenty jur­ors were able to read along with the de­tect­ive on two large-screen TV screens placed near their seats and on a large pro­jec­tion on the op­pos­ite wall.

Doc­u­ments Walsh read un­der ques­tion­ing from As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton dated back to early 1992 and 1993 and con­cen­trated on Monsignor Lynn’s know­ledge of sexu­al mis­con­duct al­leg­a­tions against Avery.

On Monday af­ter­noon and Tues­day morn­ing, Walsh went over doc­u­ments that de­tailed Lynn’s re­ac­tions to a com­plaint from a then 29-year-old mar­ried med­ic­al stu­dent that Avery had fondled his gen­it­als and had giv­en him beer when he was a teen.

Most of the pro­sec­u­tion ex­hib­its were in­tern­al arch­dioces­an memos about the com­plaints and dir­ec­tions for Avery’s psy­cho­lo­gic­al eval­u­ation, treat­ment and as­sign­ments.

However, by Tues­day morn­ing, Walsh was read­ing let­ters from Avery’s pa­rish­ion­ers who praised him and were con­cerned about his where­abouts.

In Au­gust 1993, after months of treat­ment, Avery resigned as pas­tor of his Mount Airy par­ish. Lynn, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments shown in court, told pa­rish­ion­ers that Avery resigned for health reas­ons.

There ori­gin­ally were 12 jur­ors and 10 al­tern­ate jur­ors chosen, but two were re­moved Monday morn­ing after Com­mon Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina and at­tor­neys ques­tioned them about their know­ledge of Avery’s guilty plea.

The tri­al is con­tinu­ing in Courtroom 304 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter, 13th and Fil­bert streets. ••

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You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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