Another Episode of the Bumbling Monsignor on the Trail of a Predator Priest
By Ralph Cirpriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
May 2, 2012
On Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Pomeranz took the witness stand and read another volume of Monsignor William J. Lynn's grand jury testimony into the record.
Pomeranz is growing into the role. He's got that deer-in-the-headlights look down pat, and he reads his lines with the carefree assurance of a man with a grant of immunity, which is what the monsignor must have thought he had when he appeared before the grand jury in 2002, and made one forehead-slapping admission after another.
The most recent volume of grand jury testimony was about the hapless monsignor's pursuit back in 2000 of a 27-year-old Lothario priest named Father Sylwester Wiejata.
Father Wiejata was having affairs with married women. To the jury, hearing the priest's heterosexual exploits must have been a welcome relief from the usual tales in Courtroom 304, where gay predator priests are usually stalking pre-pubescent altar boys. But sadly, Father Wiejata had another problem; not only did he love the moms, but he also couldn't keep his hands off the daughters.
On the witness stand Tuesday, DA Pomeranz, as Lynn, was trying to figure out how many parishioners had heard about Father Wiejata's latest affair with a married woman. "I just wanted to see how widespread this was," the monsignor told the grand jury.
So the monsignor sat down Father Wiejata in his office of the secretary for the clergy, and asked the priest how he ended up in bed with another married woman. "She really threw herself at him, and he gave in," was how Msgr. Lynn recorded the incident in the secret archive files. "At the time, I believed him," Lynn told the grand jury.
Father Wiejata was the parochial vicar at Our Lady of Calvary in Northeast Philadelphia from 1996 to 1999, when he had an affair with a married woman with kids. The archdiocese's solution was to ship Father Wiejata off to another parish, Assumption BVM in West Grove, where he promptly had an affair with another married woman with kids.
The priest was dispatched to St. John Vianney, the archdiocese clinic for sex-addicted priests. The therapists at St. John's decided Father Wiejata was "not currently able to carry out his ministerial responsibilities in a manner that's productive and safe."
Father Wiejata suffered a setback after eight months of in-patient therapy. One therapist had called Msgr. Lynn to say he had made the mistake of inviting Father Wiejata over for dinner. At the therapist's house, the monsignor told the grand jury, Father Wiejata asked the therapist's two daughters, both in their early twenties, if they would sit on his lap. He told one daughter he was having dreams about her.
Then, Msgr. Lynn told the grand jury about a phone call he received on Aug. 4, 2000, from another woman, who said she also was having an affair with Father Wiejata. "She wouldn't give her name," the monsignor told the grand jury. Msgr. Lynn, the eternal boy scout, also brought his notes with him to the grand jury, instead of say, burning them.
In the monsignor's notes, the grand jury prosecutor flagged the words "Pat Smith." Was the woman who called him named Pat Smith, the grand jury prosecutor wanted to know. In the courtroom, the part of the grand jury prosecutor was once again played by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, whose job is to sound incredulous while asking every question.
"It could be," was the monsignor's response.
But Msgr. Lynn said his cousin's name was also Pat Smith, and that he was planning a party for her at the time, which might have been why he wrote her name in the middle of his notes about the woman who was having an affair with Father Wiejata.
Msgr. Lynn said he was suspicious of the woman who called him because, "she was claiming she knew his [Father Wiejata's] history. But then Pat Smith/the anonymous woman told Msgr. Lynn something else. While Father Wiejata was over her house, she went to the store, and when she came home, she found the padre kissing her 13-year-old daughter, and fondling her breasts.
The monsignor's suspicions, however, were further aroused because the woman who called him sounded more concerned about Father Wiejata than her daughter. "He needs help or he's going to hurt himself," the woman told Msgr. Lynn, according to his handwritten notes.
Msgr. Lynn told the grand jury he was upset. "I can't have this going on," he said. "I have to confront him again." That afternoon, Father Wiejata was back in the monsignor's office.
But was that Pat Smith on the phone, the grand jury prosecutor wanted to know.
"My recollection is I never got a name," Msgr. Lynn told the grand jury.
Did you know at that time that you were dealing with a crime, namely the molestation of a 13-year-old, the grand jury prosecutor asked.
"I have to say I wasn't thinking crime," Lynn told the grand jury. "I didn't have the name of the child ... I wasn't sure it was a credible call ... she was more concerned about the priest, rather than the daughter."
The grand jury prosecutor asked why Msgr. Lynn had never typed up his handwritten notes about the call from the mother who claimed her 13-year-old daughter had been molested by Father Wiejata.
"There's two of us" in the office of the secretary for clergy, Lynn told the grand jury. "I thought it [the call] was anonymous. I wouldn't have maybe even bothered to type it up."
Did you tell the mom to go to the police, the grand jury prosecutor asked.
"I don't remember," the monsignor testified. He said he was more concerned about the priest "who is acting out." Lynn said he wanted to "trick him," meaning Father Wiejata, into "being honest." So Lynn told the priest that the victim and her mother might go to the police.
"If we handle this appropriately," Lynn said he told Wiejata, "They [the victim and her mother] might not go."
"I was trying to him to cooperate with us," Lynn told the grand jury. "I was trying to paint a worst-case scenario."
One could argue that it was already a worst-case scenario -- another predator priest on the loose, and only the monsignor in pursuit.
Msgr. Lynn asked Father Wiejata if he kissed the 13-year-old girl on the lips.
"I don't know what to say," Father Wiejata responded, according to Lynn. "What if I say yes?" the priest said. Then Father Wiejata confessed it was true.
Msgr. Lynn tried to pressure Father Wiejata to go back into therapy, but the priest balked, Lynn told the grand jury. Instead, Father Wiejata suggested leaving the state. Lynn threatened to report the priest to the police.
Meanwhile, the mother of the 13-year-old called Msgr. Lynn back, but once again, he was unable to get a name.
Was her name Pat Smith, the grand jury prosecutor asked again. "I still maintain that it was an anonymous call," Msgr. Lynn told the grand jury, adding that he was "not required to go look for an anonymous girl."
Did Msgr. Lynn call Assumption BVM, and ask if they had a parishioner there named Pat Smith? No, the monsignor said. Did he call the police? No, the monsignor said. Did he do anything in an attempt to find "this little girl," the grand jury prosecutor asked.
No, the monsignor said. What he did do was agree to pick up the tab two weeks later for Father Wiejata to go on retreat in New York state.
Did it occur to you, the grand jury prosecutor wanted to know, that you're dealing with a predator priest who just confessed to molesting a 13-year old, and he talked openly about fleeing the jurisdiction, and you decide to pick up his expenses so he can go on a road trip to New York?
"I didn't think of it in that context," Lynn told the grand jury. "We paid for it after the fact. We didn't know it in advance."
Father Wiejata, who had been on administrative leave since 1999, was laicized by the Vatican in 2002, meaning he was stripped of his priestly rank and busted down to layman.
After the jury had left for the day, Thomas Bergstrom, a lawyer for Msgr. Lynn, asked that Judge M. Teresa Sarmina require the prosecution to tell the jury whether they had ever interviewed the 13-year-old girl that Father Wiejata had confessed to molesting back in 2000.
"It's not simply not fair to leave it hanging like that," Bergstrom told the judge. "The statute of limitations as of today has not run." He suggested that after accusing Lynn of doing nothing to find the 13-year-old victim, the district attorney had done the same.
In response, Blessington said that if the girl had been interviewed by the district attorney or the grand jury, the defense would know about it, because the prosecution is required to turn over all evidence. Blessington accused the defense lawyer of trying to "deflect blame" from his client.
"It's classic misdirection" to cover up "what lies he [Lynn] may have told the grand jury," Blessington said.
The judge told Bergstrom she wasn't going to grant his request. But she said that Bergstrom was not precluded from investigating what happened to the 13-year-old, and presenting that evidence in court. And if he turned up evidence that didn't help his side, the judge said, he wasn't required to tell the jury about it.