Landmark Clergy-abuse Case Hears Evidence in Philadelphia
March 30, 2012
A WITNESS in a landmark priest-abuse cover-up trial in Philadelphia described feeling "helpless and trapped" as a 13-year-old, because her priest was fondling her when she worked weekends at the rectory.
The woman says she didn't tell anyone for years, and later learned the same priest had fondled her younger sisters.
The woman testified on the fourth day of the child-endangerment trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy in Philadelphia. Lynn is the first Roman Catholic church official in the U.S. charged with child endangerment for allegedly leaving predators in jobs around children.
Defense lawyers say Lynn took orders from two archbishops. No other church administrators are charged.
The priest who allegedly fondled the woman at a suburban parish in Bristol around 1970 was removed from ministry after the church sex-abuse scandal broke in 2004. By then, he had admitted to an archdiocesan review board his "longstanding habit" of fondling girls' breasts, according to a 2005 grand jury report. The Associated Press is not naming him because he was never charged.
Prosecutors are showing jurors his personnel files, and those of 20 other accused priests, to try to show that they were left in ministry despite complaints, and some admissions, of child sexual abuse.
A fellow priest had contacted the archdiocese about the Bristol pastor in 1988. Police in Bucks County had received a complaint about him the previous year but declined to press charges. He was once accused of fondling an 8-year-old girl in traction at a hospital.
The woman said her mother had signed her up to cook for priests on weekends for $5. She said the molestation left her deeply wounded, with "an edge" around men.
On cross-examination, she acknowledged that the archdiocese responded when she first reported her story in 2002, offered to pay for therapy, and later informed her that the priest had been removed from ministry.
The trial is expected to last several months as prosecutors outline how the archdiocese handled sex-abuse complaints over several decades. Lynn's sole co-defendant is the Rev. James Brennan, charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Both he and Lynn have pleaded not guilty.
Earlier Thursday, jurors heard about a notorious Philadelphia priest who admitted he sexually assaulted three eighth-grade boys in one year alone.
He had become a priest in 1962 and resigned in 1980 after admitting to a string of abuse complaints. But he asked to be reinstated in the late 1990s.
Confidential church files read Thursday show that Lynn felt he should not be taken back, because of the risk to the archdiocese. There's no mention of the potential harm to children or need to contact police, prosecutors noted.
The ex-priest testified before the grand jury investigating priest sexual-abuse in 2005. He was never charged with a crime, because of legal time limits.
By then, he had become a Latin teacher at a middle school.
Also yesterday, jurors saw Lynn's post-treatment recommendations for a priest who had written a lewd letter to an altar boy. The priest described his sexual fantasies about the boy, and asked him to write "Yes" on a school bulletin board if he wanted to act them out. The priest acknowledged he had a compulsive interest in gay pornography and masturbation.
Doctors at St. John Vianney in Downingtown, a church-run facility for priests with alcohol or sexual problems, did not think the priest had "a pathological interest in children or adolescents," according to Lynn's 1996 memo to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. The doctors considered the letter a "single fantasy."
Bevilacqua ordered that the priest's Levittown parish be told he was on a "health leave" during his treatment, the confidential documents show.
Lynn recommended that he be assigned to a new parish afterward, given that another priest had found the letter and pornography in the rectory. Bevilacqua agreed.
Lynn's memo outlined a detailed, four-year follow-up program that included daily Sexaholics Anonymous meetings for 90 days and regular meetings with a support team that included Lynn or a designee. Prosecutors allege the archdiocese rarely followed through on such after-care programs.
Several Roman Catholic priests have testified in the landmark clergy-abuse case, including one who said Wednesday that he found pornography and a lewd letter to a boy in the rectory.
The priests are prosecution witnesses in the trial of a longtime supervisor in the Philadelphia archdiocese, Monsignor William Lynn. The former secretary for clergy is charged with endangering children by helping the church cover up abuse complaints.
The Rev. Joseph Okonski told jurors Wednesday that he found a box of pornographic magazines and videos in another priest's bedroom in 1995.
Okonski said he informed his pastor, who did nothing. But he soon called an archdiocesan official after finding the sexually explicit letter to a middle-school-age boy, which purported to be from a classmate and asked if the boy wanted oral sex.
"You are soooo cute. I have been thinking about you for a long time. ... You're the cutest in our grade," the typed letter said.
The author said he fantasized about seeing the boy getting spanked by his father. The boy was told to write "Yes" on a bulletin board at the parish school if he wanted to engage in sex acts with his "secret lover."
The priest admitted writing the letter and soon left the parish, but the next witness said he landed at his rectory, where he worked with altar boys and heard confession.
Prosecutors want to show that dozens of abusive priests were, at best, transferred if they got in trouble, and left in jobs involving children.
The witnesses, on cross-examination, said the archbishop had the final say in priest assignments. Lynn sometimes made recommendations, but the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua or his successor, retired Cardinal Justin Rigali, made the decision, they said.
"Inevitably, any movement of priests is done by the archbishop," Okonski testified.
The letter-writing priest was first transferred to another Philadelphia church for five years, and then to one in Levittown, north of Philadelphia. The Levittown pastor testified Wednesday that Lynn's successor paid a visit after the pastor found X-rated movie rentals on the rectory's cable bill.
The pastor said he ultimately requested that the priest be removed, and get the help he needed.
Two scorching grand jury reports blasted Rigali and Bevilacqua for leaving pedophiles in parish jobs around children, where they had access to countless victims. The District Attorney's Office has been investigating the archdiocese for 10 years, since the national priest-abuse scandal broke in Boston.
But both current D.A. Seth Williams and his predecessor, Lynne Abraham, felt they could not successfully prosecute the cardinals or their top bishops.
Williams last year charged Lynn with felony child endangerment and conspiracy. In court, prosecutors have called the archdiocese an unindicted co-conspirator.
Four others were charged with sexually assaulting boys. The Rev. James Brennan is on trial with Lynn. Defrocked priest Edward Avery will serve 2-1/2 to five years after pleading guilty last week to sexual assault and conspiracy. And two others, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, are set for trial later this year. They allegedly raped the same boy that Avery assaulted.
All but Avery have pleaded not guilty.