Prosecution Puts the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Trial

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
April 17, 2012

Shortly before court opened Monday, defense lawyer Jeff Lindy was trying to make a point with the judge before the jury entered the courtroom.

"The archdiocese isn't on trial, the monsignor is on trial," Lindy asserted.

At issue was whether the prosecution was justified in treating current employees of the archdiocese as hostile witnesses, as was the case last week when Bishop Robert P. Maginnis testified. The retired 78-year-old bishop, the former vicar of Montgomery County, didn't seem to have much of a memory on the witness stand. He told prosecutors he couldn't recall many details about a 1985 incident where the feds raided a rectory in Montgomery County, and arrested a priest, Father Edward DePaoli, after they found $15,000 worth of foreign kiddie porn under his bed.

You'd think an incident like that would stick in your mind. The bishop, however, said he couldn't remember; the prosecution thought he was stonewalling.

"The archdiocese is not a hostile party, the archdiocese is not a party," Lindy argued. He was talking about the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William J. Lynn, Edward V. Avery and James Brennan, now playing in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center.

Lindy is one of four defense lawyers representing Monsignor William J. Lynn. Technically, Lindy is right; the archdiocese of Philadelphia is not listed as a defendant in the case. But thanks to a favorable ruling by Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, that's exactly what the prosecution has been able to do, put the archdiocese on trial in Courtroom 304. And it was never more in evidence than on Monday.

As the archdiocese's secretary for clergy from 1992 from 2004, Msgr. Lynn was in charge of making personnel recommendations, although for most of his tenure, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had the final say on what priest was assigned to what parish. Lynn is charged with conspiring to aid his co-defendants, Father Brennan, accused of attempted rape of a 14-year-old, and Father Avery, who before the trial began, pleaded guilty to charges of raping a 10-year-old, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years in prison.

A grand jury found in 2011 that Lynn had "abetted the perpetrators' crimes [Father Brennan and Father Avery] by systematically assisting sexually abusive priests to remain in ministry, where they had easy access to hundreds of children."  Prosecutors say Lynn conspired to shuffle Father Avery and Father Brennan  from parish to parish, while ignoring the risks to future victims, and not warning parishioners.

That's a bad enough case for the defense to argue against. But thanks to Judge Sarmina, the prosecution was allowed to bring into the case the histories of 21 former archdiocese priests previously accused of sex abuse. Those added cases date back to 1948, two years before Lynn was born, to allow the prosecution to show the jury an alleged pattern of behavior, namely giving abuser priests a pass.

In court Monday, the prosecution brought in three witnesses who testified that they were molested as minors by three of the 21 additional priests not on trial in the current case: Father Thomas J. Smith, Father Stanley M. Gana, and Father Francis X. Trauger. And the cumulative effect of that testimony was devastating.

The most powerful witness of the trio was a slender 45-year-old bearded priest who wore eyeglasses and a suit. Unlike other victims who have appeared as witnesses during this trial, the priest never shed a tear, raised his voice, or made wild accusations. He was chillingly calm, as if he had had plenty of time to reflect on his ordeal. And during the dispassionate, almost scholarly analysis that he shared with the jury, the witness had several chances to take shots at Msgr. Lynn, but he acted in a priestly fashion, and never did. As a result, his testimony was even more powerful.

The priest told the jury that he was born into a hard-core Catholic family with three older sisters and a younger brother. The family belonged to Our Lady of Calvary Church in Northeast Philadelphia.

"Our life revolved around the Catholic Church," the witness testified. His family had "great respect and admiration for any priest."

The witness was a 13-year-old eighth-grader in 1980 when he first saw Father Stanley M. Gana pull up in a station wagon at Our Lady of Calvary, where he had just been appointed as the new pastor. The first time the pastor spoke to the boy, he complimented him on well he read at Mass. The compliment "meant the world to me," the boy told the jury. As a boy, his deeply religious mother wanted him to be a priest. She was thrilled when Father Gana began showering attention on her son.

Father Gana owned a farm outside of Scranton, where he invited the boy to spend the weekend. To the boy's devout Catholic parents, "It was a no-brainer," the witness testified. "It was an honor to go."

Father Gana was a huge man, more than 350 pounds. He liked to play cards in his bedroom with the boy, because there was "more room to stretch out," the witness told the jury. "Why don't you take off your shirt," the witness recalled the priest telling the skinny youth. Next it was his pants.

"He was telling me he loved me," the witness said. The priest told the boy that he appreciated his hairless body. Father Gana introduced the boy to oral sex. "He tried to penetrate me anally many times," the witness said. "I could not tolerate that pain."

Father Gana would stop out of concern for the boy. "As a manipulator, he knew what to say. I was so trusting, and so naive," the witness said. But Father Gana persisted until he finally raped the boy anally. The priest would have sex with the boy three and four times a week, either at the priest's farm house, or at the rectory. The abuse continued for years, the boy said, because he was afraid of angering Father Gana. He also said he made the mistake of "believing that a Catholic priest would never harm me." The witness said he was also "afraid of losing his love."

Father Gana would reward the boy's family for allowing him to spend time with their son by dropping off groceries and cleaning supplies. "He bought in bulk," the witness said. The priest would drop off a case of paper towels at the boy's home and, "It was such an honor to my mom."

Father Gana would say, "I need [the victim] to run some errands. Can he go? And the answer was always, 'yes,'" the witness told the jury. Father Gana showed the boy naked pictures of another boy he was having sex with, something the victim hadn't done. "This is why you'll never be as good as him," the witness recalled Father Gana telling him.

Father Gana would have sex with one boy, and then tell the witness, "I'll see you after the 6 o'clock Mass." That meant it was his turn.

The abuse continued when the victim entered the seminary at St. Charles Borromeo in 1984, to become a priest. At the seminary, the victim made new friends, which made Father Gana jealous. The victim also told his new friends about what Gana had done to him. The next year, 1985, the victim confronted the priest, who was always showing up at the seminary. "I know what he's doing to me, and it's going to stop," the witness said he told Father Gana.

Father Gana started crying, and saying, "This is hurting me." The priest got angry, saying he had been good to the victim, and had done more for him than his family did. But the man on the witness stand said he was determined to break "the chains of the relationship that bound me."

The victim went to see Father William J. Lynn, who at the time, was dean of students at the seminary, and said he needed counseling. He made the request even though he didn't think that Lynn thought much of him.

"I just didn't think Father Lynn would be supportive of me," the witness said. But he was desperate.

"I knew that I needed help," the victim said. " I couldn't help but blame myself. With the physical act, comes physical shame. You feel dirty."

 The victim figured that without counseling, he might commit suicide or become addicted to drugs, to numb the pain.

But Lynn told the victim he was worried that people would start thinking that there was a problem at the seminary because so many students needed counseling. "They'll think we're all crazy here," the victim recalled Father Lynn telling him.

But the victim insisted on, and got counseling. In the 1991-92 academic year, his eighth and final year at the seminary, when he had been approved as a church deacon, the victim found that he was under investigation. The charges were allegedly having sex with another seminarian, and questioning church teaching. During the investigation, [The victim] said he told Monsignor James Molloy, vicar for administration, about the abuse by Father Gana. Also listening to the story was William Lynn, at that time the assistant vicar for administration.

The inquiry of the seminarian concluded that the charges against him were inconclusive. But that didn't mean he'd been exonerated. The man on the witness stand, who was viewed as spreading rumors about Father Gana, was given a choice by Cardinal Bevilacqua: seek another diocese to become a priest at, or the archdiocese would begin laicization, the formal process of busting the victim from deacon to lay person.

The victim transferred to the diocese of Bridgeport, Ct., where he became a priest in 1993. While the victim's family was planning his ordination, his father wanted to invite Father Gana to the ceremony. The victim said he told his father, "It's my ordination, and he's not coming."

By then his mother was dead. The man on the witness stand said he still could not tell  his father the reason why he didn't want Father Gana to come to the ordination. "I could never tell my parents," he said. "They loved the church so tremendously that I could never break their hearts."

In 1998, the victim, who was now a priest, heard that Father Gana was still ministering as a priest. He wrote a letter to William J. Lynn, then secretary for clergy, saying, "I had serious concerns about Stanley Gana's presence in the archdiocese of Philadelphia."

Lynn met with the victim and told him that Father Gana had not been classified as a pedophile, and that he was not a risk in his present assignment as chaplain to a Carmelite monastery of nuns. He said the priest had been found to be stealing money from his former parish. The victim told the jury that he had "a very pleasant conversation" with Lynn, and that he felt "Father Lynn respected and believed me." Lynn also told the victim that the investigation of him as a seminarian "would have been handled differently" if it had been done in 1998.

In 1999, the victim heard from his sister that Father Gana was working as a substitute priest in the archdiocese, saying Mass at St. Catherine of Sienna, and that she saw him in the sanctuary with altar boys. The victim spoke to Lynn again, and Lynn told him that the mother superior at the church knew about Father Gana's past, and kept an eye on him to make sure that he was never alone with the altar boys.

"He doesn't need to be alone with those boys," the victim said he told Lynn. But Father Gana went on saying Mass.

In 2002, the Boston pedophile priest scandal exploded, and victim realized he had not been the victim of an isolated incident, but an epidemic. When a grand jury in Philadelphia began investigating sex abuse, the victim was summoned to testify. It was "a very very emotional experience for me," the victim said. He also realized, "selfishly," he said, that Father Gana was still continuing in ministry in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, the same archdiocese that did not want the victim as a priest.

Soon, the witness said he came to another realization. "I could no longer represent an institution," he said, that would not protect children. "I could no longer represent an institution that did not protect me."

So the priest asked for, and received, a leave of absence. "I knew I needed to distance myself from the church."

When it came time for cross-examination, Thomas Bergstrom, representing Msgr. Lynn, asked the victim about a letter Lynn had sent him that said, "I do not act independently of Cardinal Bevilacqua." The victim agreed. Within ten minutes, he was off the witness stand.

Also testifying Monday was a second victim, a 50-year-old man, who told the jury what happened when he was in seventh or eighth grade. His family was "very close with Father Smith. "He was at our house many times for dinner." He also took the second victim and another boy on a trip to Hershey Park.

On the way to Hershey Park, the priest's RV developed mechanical problems, so they had to stop at a hotel.

In the hotel, the priest drank whiskey and gave the boys whiskey mixed with soda while they played cards. The boys were wearing t-shirts and underwear. "He started chasing us around the room," the second victim said, and then the priest stuffed ice in their underwear.

When it came time for bed, the priest told the boys they couldn't sleep in wet underwear. So the boy took off his clothes, and got into bed with the priest, while the other boy slept on the floor. During the night, the witness testified, he woke up and, "I was on top of him naked ... I had an erection and so did he."

"His eyes were open; so were mine," the witness said. The priest let go. The rest of the night, "I just laid there staring at the ceiling."

"Did you say anything," Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked.

"No," the witness said. "I've asked myself that question for years."

Jeff Lindy, representing Msgr. Lynn, had only one question for the witness on cross-examination. When the victim finally told a detective representing the archdiocese his story in 2004, did he know that it was two months after Bill Lynn had stepped down as secretary for the clergy?"

"No," the witness said. And then he was dismissed.

A third victim, a 43-year-old man with a shaved head, told the jury about what happened back when he was 14, in junior high, and a member of the swim team and the track team.

His family looked up to Father Trauger like a "a trusted family friend," he testified. So that's why the priest was allowed to take the 14-year-old to the priest's cabin in the Poconos, so he could do some chores for the priest like mow the lawn.

The priest wanted to camp out in the yard, in a small tent. The boy had his shirt off and wore jogging shorts; the priest wore a t-shirt and shorts. What happened that night in the tent, the prosecutor asked the witness.

The witness turned to the jury. The priest tried to "take advantage of me," he said. Father Trauger began by putting his hand on the boy's knee and offering to give him a massage. Then his hand moved up the boy's thigh. "He tried to fondle my penis. I told him to stop," the witness said, while crying. "It seemed like forever."

The boy ran out of the tent and into the cabin. He had a pen knife with him. "I swore if he came in, I was gonna kill him." The boy stayed in the cabin. The next day the priest acted like nothing happened. The priest drove the boy home to his family's place in the Poconos. When they got there, his parents weren't home, and the boy ended up on the floor watching TV, with his dog.

The priest suggested they wrestle, and have a tickle fight. The boy told him he wasn't interested. "I ran out of the house crying," he said. He stood outside until his parents came home. Then he told him what happened. His father, a Philadelphia police officer, went inside and confronted the priest, who left shortly thereafter. The victim's father went down to the archdiocese and told them what happened. The father later told his son that the priest "was being sent away.

In 2003, after the pedophile priest scandal in Boston, a detective from the archdiocese of Philadelphia showed up to take a statement. "Twenty-one years after this event, was the church interested in what I had to say," the witness said.

His cross-examination lasted two minutes. Jeff Lindy tried to ask the witness a question, namely was it in 2003 that you first contacted the archdiocese? But the witness didn't want to answer that question with a simple yes or no. Instead, he kept repeating, while staring at the jury, that the archdiocese had waited 21 years to question him. After a few go-arounds, Lindy angrily gave up. "I think the jury knows what's going on here," he said, before sitting down.

It's an old rule that when a witness is killing you, get rid of him fast. The defense got rid of three witnesses Monday with a total of less than 15 minutes of cross-examination. But that was after the trio had inflicted heavy damage.

As the nun with the cross around her neck who left the courtroom said, "The archdiocese of Philadelphia is on trial in this case." And for the defense, the worst thing that could happen is if the jury starts wondering why Bill Lynn didn't do what the first victim did, namely the seminarian who became a priest, and then decided he couldn't be a part of it anymore. Why, the jury might ask, didn't Bill Lynn at some point just walk away?


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