Prosecutor grills Lynn about protecting minors

When Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn took the wit­ness stand in his own de­fense, he test­i­fied re­peatedly that he did the best he could, with­in his lim­ited power, to in­vest­ig­ate child sex ab­use al­leg­a­tions that had been made against par­ish priests.

But As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Patrick Bless­ing­ton was hav­ing none of it. On cross-ex­am­in­a­tion, Bless­ing­ton went on the at­tack, ask­ing if Lynn’s best ef­forts had saved a North­east boy from a priest who was a mo­lester.

Lynn, who is on tri­al in Com­mon Pleas  Court on charges he had en­dangered chil­dren by shield­ing pred­at­or priests, answered that he tried to put the con­cerns of sex ab­use vic­tims first.

“Every time, you put the vic­tim first?” asked the ADA, his voice drip­ping with hos­til­ity.

“I be­lieve I did,” said Lynn, who was briefly flustered. “I did my best.”

But that wasn’t good enough for [the young North­east vic­tim], was it? Bless­ing­ton asked.

That vic­tim, who was named in court last week, was a 10-year-old St. Jerome’s par­ish al­tar boy in the 1990s when he was mo­les­ted by the Rev. Ed­ward Avery.

“I did the best I could…with the para­met­ers that were giv­en to me,” Lynn replied.

Lynn, the first high-rank­ing Ro­man Cath­ol­ic ad­min­is­trat­or charged in an Amer­ic­an sex ab­use case, took the stand in his own de­fense on Wed­nes­day, a day after the de­fense opened.

And al­though a strict ju­di­cial gag or­der barred in­form­a­tion leaks about the case, news that Lynn would take the stand had been well-cir­cu­lated be­fore he was sworn in. Courtroom seats re­served for Lynn’s fam­ily and benches set aside for journ­al­ists were packed.

Lynn’s de­mean­or was calm and agree­able when he answered ques­tions posed by his own at­tor­ney, Thomas Bergstrom. He main­tained that he was not the man who made the fi­nal de­cisions about as­sign­ing priests ac­cused of, and some­times treated for, sexu­al mis­con­duct. It had been the pro­sec­u­tion’s con­ten­tion through eight weeks of testi­mony that Lynn could have kept cler­ic­al mo­lesters away from chil­dren, but didn’t.

Lynn, however, said he only could make re­com­mend­a­tions to his su­per­i­ors. He could re­move a priest ac­cused of sexu­al mis­con­duct only if the priest ad­mit­ted it. Oth­er­wise, he would ask the priest to vol­un­tar­ily sub­mit to a psy­cho­lo­gic­al eval­u­ation, and most agreed. If the priest did not com­ply on his own, Lynn said he could re­com­mend to his su­per­i­ors that the tests be con­duc­ted. Lynn test­i­fied he could also re­com­mend, but could not or­der, treat­ment if it were needed.

Lynn was on the stand all day Wed­nes­day and re­turned for a second day of testi­mony on Thursday. The tri­al, in Courtroom 304 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter,  re­sumes on Tues­day.

The monsignor, who handled cler­ic­al sexu­al ab­use al­leg­a­tions dur­ing his 12 years as sec­ret­ary for clergy un­der Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, is, in a very real sense, a vet­er­an wit­ness.

He test­i­fied in 2002,  2003  and 2004 be­fore a Phil­adelphia grand jury that was in­vest­ig­at­ing sex ab­use al­leg­a­tions, he told the court on Wed­nes­day.

A second grand jury, whose work led to Lynn’s ar­rest in early 2011, men­tions him fre­quently in its re­port, stat­ing that his “in­sti­tu­tion­al lax­ness” left two pred­at­or priests in place to con­tin­ue mo­lest­ing minors. 

Al­though those most re­cent grand jur­ors lis­ted years of cases in­volving Lynn’s work for the car­din­al, they called for the ar­rests of Lynn, Avery, the Rev. James Bren­nan, the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former Cath­ol­ic lay teach­er Bern­ard Shero be­cause Pennsylvania’s Le­gis­lature had changed the stat­ute of lim­it­a­tions on sex mo­lesta­tion crimes in 2002 and 2006. All but Lynn were charged with mo­lest­ing minors in the 1990s. In their re­port re­leased in Feb­ru­ary 2011, the grand jury al­leged Lynn en­dangered chil­dren.

They also said he lied to Avery’s pa­rish­ion­ers when he was sent away for treat­ment at St. John Vi­an­ney, a sub­urb­an hos­pit­al owned by the arch­diocese. On cross-ex­am­in­a­tion, Bless­ing­ton asked Lynn if he had hid­den the truth about Avery’s treat­ment, and had lied to vic­tims about priests hav­ing oth­er vic­tims. Lynn said he had not.

Mem­bers of the re­cent grand jury, however, said Lynn had told pa­rish­ion­ers to dis­reg­ard any “un­to­ward re­ports” con­cern­ing Avery as mere ru­mors. Lynn re­as­sured those pa­rish­ion­ers, the grand jury wrote, that he knew of noth­ing but fa­vor­able re­marks about Avery.

In court on Wed­nes­day, Lynn test­i­fied he had handled more than 30 cases in­volving al­leged sexu­al mis­con­duct by priests and had lied one time when ques­tioned about a priest’s ab­sence from his par­ish.

In that case, he said, he was fol­low­ing Bevilac­qua’s in­struc­tions.

“The car­din­al didn’t al­low us to an­nounce in those days why someone was leav­ing,” Lynn said. “I was fol­low­ing the dir­ec­tions I got,” he said later.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina asked Lynn how he got those dir­ec­tions. He replied they came through his im­me­di­ate su­per­i­ors, Bish­op Ed­ward Cul­len and Monsignor James Mol­loy. Those men re­por­ted to the car­din­al, who died in Janu­ary.

Pa­rish­ion­ers were told a priest was leav­ing for health reas­ons, Lynn said, an­swer­ing Bless­ing­ton.

“Men­tal health is health,” Lynn said.

The arch­diocese pre­cip­it­ated the grand jury probe in 2009 when it re­por­ted Avery and En­gel­hardt to au­thor­it­ies.

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis de Sales who taught at Fath­er Judge and North Cath­ol­ic high schools, was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing the young St. Jerome al­tar boy in the 1990s. Grand jur­ors charged Avery had mo­les­ted the same boy at the Winchester Park par­ish. Jur­ors said Avery had re­ferred to En­gel­hardt’s en­coun­ters with the boy as “ses­sions,” a term En­gel­hardt al­legedly had used.

In March, a week be­fore he was set to go on tri­al with Lynn and Bren­nan, Avery pleaded guilty and was im­me­di­ately sen­tenced to two and half years to five years im­pris­on­ment. All oth­ers have main­tained their in­no­cence.

Al­though Lynn had said he could not as­sign priests to spe­cif­ic du­ties or par­ishes, the grand jury said Lynn had re­com­men­ded Avery’s St. Jerome par­ish as­sign­ment even though he had in­vest­ig­ated him for al­leged sexu­al ab­use of a minor, had ar­ranged for his treat­ment and had known he should not be near chil­dren.

St. Jerome par­ish is men­tioned sev­er­al times in the grand jury’s re­port. The vic­tim, whom jur­ors iden­ti­fied as “Billy” in that re­port, the next year was raped by Shero, then a lay teach­er in par­ish school, they charged.

Bren­nan, who is charged with mo­lest­ing a teen­age boy in the sub­urbs, at one point in his ca­reer, lived at St. Jerome’s rect­ory.

Shero and En­gel­hardt will go on tri­al in Septem­ber. Bren­nan, who is ac­cused of the at­temp­ted rape of a Bucks County teen­age boy, is rep­res­en­ted in this tri­al by Wil­li­am Bren­nan, who has re­minded jur­ors throughout the tri­al that his cli­ent, who is no re­la­tion, has had noth­ing to do with any of the cases pro­sec­utors brought up as they made their case against Lynn. The monsignor is charged with know­ing about al­leg­a­tions against Bren­nan and also keep­ing him in a pub­lic min­istry where he could have ac­cess to chil­dren.

Lynn said he be­lieved that God’s will came through his bish­op.

“When a bish­op told you to do something, you did it,” Lynn said.

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

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