A Northeast pastor was the first witness the defense called to the stand on Tuesday in a clerical sexual abuse trial that began in late March.
Monsignor Joseph Garvin, pastor of St. Christopher’s parish in Somerton, explained the hierarchy of the city’s Roman Catholic Church archdiocese, noting that defendant William Lynn had no hiring or firing powers as secretary of clergy. He reported to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who did.
Over the previous eight weeks, prosecutors questioned scores of witnesses and went through boxes of documents as they worked to convince a jury that Lynn had endangered children by allowing predator priests to continue their ministries and, thereby, have continued access to juveniles.
Lynn’s attorneys, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy, have maintained their client had no final say in how priests accused of sexual misconduct were assigned. Garvin and the defense’s second witness, Monsignor Michael McCulken, testified that Lynn’s recommendations about priests accused of molesting children went through two superiors before they even got to the cardinal.
McCulken said Lynn, one of six priests who had the title of “secretary,” occupied the bottom rung of management at archdiocesan headquarters on 17th Street. He said he had worked for three years in the secretary of clergy’s office with Lynn in the 1990s and likened the office to “HR.”
It was Cardinal Bevilacqua, said both Garvin and McCulken, who had decision-making power.
Bevilacqua, the city’s former archbishop who died in January, has been mentioned frequently during the trial and the hearings that preceded it. He gave videotaped testimony months before the trial started.
On trial with Lynn is the Rev. James Brennan, who is accused of attempting to rape a Bucks County teenage boy. He also was accused of conspiracy, but Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina dismissed that charge last week.
Garvin, who served as secretary for Catholic human services from 1981 to 1997, said Brennan was named in a January 1995 memo from Jack Smith, who was in charge of archdiocesan facilities for children and people with mental challenges.
Smith told him that a nun who worked at Divine Providence Village, which serves mentally disabled women in Springfield, Delaware County, had complained about Brennan, the facility’s chaplain, because his brother had been living with him in the chaplain’s suite.
Garvin said he told Lynn about the complaint and that Lynn advised him to talk to Brennan, then on the Cardinal O’Hara High School faculty, about asking his brother to move out and about moving out himself. Garvin said he reported back to Lynn that Brennan was agreeable.
Garvin said it was unusual for a chaplain to have a guest room. When there are such accommodations the idea is to provide space to any visiting priests, not room for permanent guests.
The Divine Providence nun also had complained about noisy parties and that a young man, identified either as Brennan’s cousin or nephew, also had once occupied the guest room. Garvin said some nuns had reported talking to the man and that he had told them he was a former O’Hara student.
Brennan’s lawyer, William Brennan, who is no relation to the defendant, asked if there had been any suggestions the defendant had been sexually assaulting minors. Garvin said there had been none.
Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho, Garvin confirmed that Divine Providence Village’s nuns had wanted to get rid of Brennan. He also said it was up to Lynn to make recommendations to Bevilacqua about Brennan.
McCulken, who worked as Lynn’s assistant, said he and Lynn had been seminarians together and were friends. He said Lynn had told him about an opening in his office, but it was Bevilacqua who had to appoint him.
He said it was Lynn who conducted investigations of sexual misconduct allegations against priests, and that that work occupied about 15 percent of Lynn’s time. McCulken said he and Lynn had no special training in investigating child sex abuse cases. He later said between 10 and 16 people now do the work that just Lynn and he did.
Brennan and Lynn were arrested in February 2011 along with another priest, a defrocked priest and a former Catholic school lay teacher. All but Lynn were charged with sexually abusing minors. The Rev. Charles Engelhardt, former priest Edward Avery and ex-teacher Bernard Shero all were accused of molesting the same St. Jerome parish altar boy in the 1990s.
Lynn, however, was never accused of touching a child. Grand jurors said Lynn endangered children by allowing Avery and Brennan to remain active priests even though the grand jury said Lynn knew they were child molesters.
Authorities began investigating Engelhardt and Avery after the archdiocese itself referred their cases. The probe of those two priests led to a grand jury investigation and to the arrests of not only Engelhardt and Avery, but also of Brennan, Shero and Lynn.
Prosecutors had intended to try all five defendants together, but attorneys for Shero, and then Engelhardt, successfully argued for separate trials. Avery, who had been defrocked, pleaded guilty the week before the trial began on March 26. Shero and Engelhardt are expected to go on trial in early September.
The prosecution rested last week. The trial, originally projected to run four months, continues in Courtroom 304 in the Criminal Justice Center, 13th and Filbert streets. ••EndFragment