Did Catholic Official's 'Willful Blindness' Open More Kids to Abuse?

By Mensah M. Dean
Philadelphia Daily News
January 24, 2012

JUST TWO altar boys are alleged to have been sexually assaulted by three Philadelphia Catholic priests who will stand trial in March with a church official accused of enabling the crimes by covering them up.

But the misdeeds of those priests and of Monsignor William Lynn ensnared a much larger pool of child victims, according to city prosecutors who spent much of yesterday trying to persuade a judge to let a jury hear about those incidents.

The "prior bad acts" hearing before Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is scheduled to resume this morning at the Criminal Justice Center.

Lynn, 61, a former top administrator for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Also to be tried are priest James Brennan, 48, charged with raping a 14-year-old boy in the summer of 1996 at his West Chester apartment while on leave from Springfield's Cardinal O'Hara High School; priest Charles Engelhardt, 65, and defrocked priest Edward Avery, 69, both of whom are accused of raping a boy at St. Jerome Parish in the Northeast beginning in 1998, when the boy was 10.

A fifth defendant, Bernard Shero, who'll be 49 tomorrow, will be tried separately for allegedly raping the same 10-year-old boy.

Aided by stacks of internal memos and documents from the Archdiocese - some containing information dating to the 1960s - the team of prosecutors cited shocking criminal and shady acts allegedly committed by the defendants and by priests who have not been charged.

The prosecutors contended that Brennan, for a time, lived and partied with two teenage boys and lied about the arrangement to O'Hara officials, telling them that one boy was his brother and the other his nephew, and that Avery, in the 1990s, despite church concerns about misconduct with boys, worked as a deejay at teen parties and took boys on overnight trips during which he gave them alcohol.

In the case of Lynn - who was responsible for investigating abusive priests as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 - the prosecutors presented evidence that he did little to discipline a string of priests after receiving often graphic complaints from the children and their families.

They cited Father Stanley Gana, who carried on sexual relationships "with countless" boys from the 1970s until he was finally forced to retire in 2002 in the wake of the Boston clergy scandal; and Father Michael Murtha, who in 1995 was found to have a stash of gay child pornography in his bedroom and a sex-fantasy letter he wrote - but did not deliver - to a seventh-grade boy at St. Anselm, in the Northeast. When Lynn learned of this, the prosecutors said, he was more concerned about Murtha's privacy having been violated than he was the safety of the boy, whose parents were never notified.

Prosecutors are expected at today's hearing to discuss inaction on Lynn's part in the case of 24 other priests.

Lynn's attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, protested that much of the information that the prosecutors were seeking to have admitted as evidence happened before or after his client served as secretary of clergy and said that Lynn never had the ultimate authority to discipline errant priests.

"Father Lynn is not a police officer," Bergstrom told Judge Sarmina. "He was the secretary of clergy for over 800 priests. His job was not to go out to beat the bushes."

"No, he's not a police officer," responded Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti. "But the one thing that he didn't do is call a police officer so somebody could investigate.

"It was a willful blindness, your Honor. He turned a blind eye so he would not create a scandal," the prosecutor added.



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