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  Church Official: 'I Would Never Put a Child in Harm's Way'
The grand jury concluded that the monsignor who handled complaints bullied victims and excused priests.

By Carrie Budoff, Kathleen Brady Shea and Benjamin Lowe
Philadelphia Inquirer
September 25, 2005

http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/12732399.htm

The grand jury report released last week on priest sexual abuse cases placed Msgr. William Lynn at the center of a church hierarchy that it said failed Philadelphia-area Catholics.

Now the pastor of St. Joseph Church in Downingtown, Lynn was tasked with casting light on dark allegations of misconduct as secretary of clergy for 12 years.

The report said Lynn played a key role under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua in excusing misconduct, intimidating victims and shuffling questionable priests between parishes.

Last night, the monsignor addressed his congregation - many of whom said they had no inkling of his role in the abuse cases - and delivered an emotional homily punctuated by apologies, regret, sadness and disavowals.

Lynn, who has led St. Joseph for two years, told a standing-room-only crowd that he believed the 418-page report's depiction of him as "harsh to victims" was inaccurate.

"I would never put a child in harm's way," he said, offering to meet one on one with any parishioners who had concerns. "I'm going to leave that to your judgment."

The congregation responded with a standing ovation.

Lynn said he joined Cardinal Justin Rigali in apologizing "to all of you for the embarrassment and pain this has caused."

The monsignor ended his tenure in 2004 as head of the archdiocese office that responded to abuse complaints, taking the helm at the 3,900-family St. Joseph Church and running its 800-student school.

The grand jury report was so replete with charges of ineptitude on Lynn's part - his name is mentioned 652 times, compared with Bevilacqua's 523 - that he countered after its release with a four-page dissent, disputing the grand jury account.

During last night's homily, Lynn echoed the themes in that document. He said that, although he was mentioned in 46 of the 63 cases in the report, the grand jury questioned him about only three. He said he did his best to offer help and compassion to both the abusers and the abused.

"I heard their stories; I heard their pain," he said of the victims, insisting that no cover-up occurred.

In hindsight, Lynn admitted, "things could have been handled better," but he did not elaborate.

"I apologize for any mistakes," he said, pausing to maintain his composure, "I made in handling these cases."

The grand-jury report said more aggressive action by the church could have narrowed the web of abuse that entangled hundreds of children, the report says.

"Msgr. Lynn's 'investigations' of abuse allegations were designed more to discredit the victims and conceal evidence of their abuse than to ascertain whether their alleged abuser was in fact a sexual abuser of children," the report states.

Bevilacqua made the final determination on how to deal with accused priests, but he relied upon Lynn's work to reach those decisions. Even then, the grand jury said it learned, Lynn's investigations - which "did not bother with witnesses, nor did they seek the truth or falsity of allegations, unless the priest happened to confess" - were handled "precisely as his boss wished."

In the archdiocese's 73-page rebuttal, Lynn said that a "definite anti-Catholic bias" colored the grand-jury proceedings.

Lynn said he was questioned about only three priests, despite appearing 13 times before the grand jury. "The rest of the report speaks emphatically about my thoughts and actions when I was never even asked about them," he wrote in his personal rebuttal.

But even that was disputed.

"Msgr. Lynn should be asked whether, under the veil of secrecy of the grand jury, he in reality invoked his Fifth Amendment right to silence, putting a complete halt to all questioning," the district attorney's office wrote in its counter-response.

Last night, Lynn ended his remarks with a plea for prayers for the victims, the abusers and the "many, many good priests."

"Our concentration needs to be on healing," he said.

After the service, some of the congregants said they were grateful for Lynn's thoughts; others shook their heads in disbelief.

Bob Sabatino, 47, of Downingtown, said he did not know about the monsignor's background until Lynn took the pulpit last night.

"I thought it was wonderful that he came forward," Sabatino said. "I thought he was sincere."

Mary Geschwindt, 77, of Downingtown, said it was hard to know how to react.

"I'm really crushed about the abuse," she said. "But it hasn't shaken my faith."

Here is a sampling of Lynn's involvement in abuse cases, according to the grand jury report:

In 1997, Lynn issued an "open-ended 'certificate of good standing' " to the Rev. Nicholas V. Cudemo, described to the grand jury by a top Bevilacqua aide as "one of the sickest people I ever knew." From the 1960s to the 1980s, Cudemo maintained sexual relationships with girls from the Catholic schools where he taught and once took an 11-year-old he raped for an abortion, the report said.

As uninvestigated allegations piled up through the 1990s, Cudemo moved among parishes until several victims pursued legal action. After the lawsuit was dismissed because the statute of limitations expired, Lynn provided the certificate, allowing Cudemo to continue ministering as a retired priest until several allegations were deemed credible in the summer of 2004.

When a man stepped forward in 2002 with allegations against the Rev. John P. Schmeer, pastor of St. Martin of Tours Church in New Hope, Lynn "questioned and requestioned" the victim "to 'get details - even unimportant.' " When two more victims emerged in 2004, Lynn ordered a subordinate to learn details of one man's learning disability and the other's "mental problems."

"Secretary for Clergy Lynn, often taking direction from the Archdiocese's attorneys, treated victims as potential plaintiffs," the report states. "Not only did they not receive apologies acknowledging their abuse, but many were bullied, intimidated, lied to, even investigated themselves."

In his rebuttal, Lynn said: "I treated each victim with dignity and compassion."


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Contact staff writer Carrie Budoff at 610-313-8211 or cbudoff@phillynews.com.

 
 

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