"the Defense Calls Monsignor Lynn"
By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
May 24, 2012
At 11:10 a.m. Wednesday in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center, defense lawyer Thomas Bersgstrom stood up and made a surprise announcement.
"Your Honor, the defense calls Msgr. Lynn."
The monsignor left the defense table, where he had been held hostage the past eight weeks, and walked over to the witness stand to testify in his own defense.
The courtroom was packed with relatives and men in collars, who turned out to display their support for the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy. Lynn is on trial for conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children by allowing abuser priests to continue in ministry. He is the first Catholic administrator in the country to be charged for allegedly covering up sex abuse of minors by priests.
In three hours on the witness stand, the monsignor appeared relaxed, smiled often, and never raised his voice, even when the prosecutor was tossing fastballs at his head.
He said he stayed on the job as secretary for clergy for 12 years because, "I thought I was helping people." Lynn asserted that he provided pastoral care to fellow priests, as well as aid and counseling to victims of sex abuse.
Lynn, 61, testified that he had been a priest for 36 years. He said he only made recommendations about priestly assignments, and that only the cardinal had the power to move priests, or put them on administrative leave, or restrict their ministries.
Lynn said he decided to compile a list of abuser priests in 1994 after he was asked to investigate Father James Dux, accused of molesting at least 11 boys. Father Dux was encouraged to retire in 1994 by Cardinal Bevilacqua.
"It concerned me that there might be others like him," Lynn told the jury. The monsignor said he wanted "to look and see whether there were any other priests like James Dux out there, and get the names to my superiors."
Lynn told the jury how he combed through 323 secret archive files and compiled a list of 35 active priests accused or convicted of sexually abusing minors. He attached the list to a memo he wrote that talked about Father Dux spurring a search through the secret archive files.
Lynn said the last time he saw the list and the Father Dux memo was at an "issues meeting" he attended with his bosses, Bishop Edward P. Cullen, Msgr. James E. Molloy and Cardinal Bevilacqua. The cardinal ordered the list of 35 abuser priests shredded in 1994. Lynn said he didn't hear about the shredded memo until he was preparing for this case, and found out during a visit to his lawyer's office.
When a grand jury was investigating sex abuse in the archdiocese, Lynn was subpoenaed and asked to produce the list.
"I couldn't find it," Lynn testified.
Lynn's direct testimony ended in a flourish, when Bergstrom asked the monsignor why he didn't just quit his job as secretary for clergy, as some critics have suggested.
It's "not in my nature to do that," Lynn said. He explained he had a "simple faith" that "the will of God works through the bishop as far as your assignments are concerned." He said he preaches that belief to fellow priests. It was a belief that provoked classmates in the seminary to call him a fool, Lynn said with a smile. But the monsignor said he sincerely believed it, so how could he quit his job as secretary for the clergy under Cardinal Bevilacqua?
"It's just not who I am," Lynn said.
"That's all I have," Bergstrom said.
It was time for cross-examination. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington didn't stand up. From his seat at the prosecution table, he just glared at Lynn.
"You said you were doing the will of God?" Blessington asked incredulously.
That's not what I said, Lynn told the prosecutor. He repeated his belief that the will of God works through the bishop, when he doles out assignments to priests.
Blessington brought up a passage from the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus warned that if anyone causes "little ones to stumble," it would better if for them they had a millstone around their neck.
What about that will of God, Blessington wanted to know. Did you really think when you were working as secretary for clergy, that you were actually helping children?
"I believe in my heart I was," Lynn testified.
"Didn't work out that way for Danny," the prosecutor said, referring to a victim who had been raped by a priest.
"I did my best for what I can do," Lynn replied.
Blessington brought up Msgr. James E. Molloy, who taught Lynn how to investigate sex abuse cases. He cited a handwritten note that he thought Molloy had written on a 1991 memo from Lynn. "Unnecessary statement," the note said. "Never admit to victims that there are other cases."
That wasn't Molloy's handwriting, Lynn told Blessington, that was Cardinal Bevilacqua's handwriting. That caused a stir in the courtroom, as Lynn dropped the dime on his dead boss. Bevilacqua was found dead on Jan. 31, a day after Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled the cardinal was competent to testify as a witness at this trial.
You did whatever the cardinal told you to do, Blessington asked.
"I did do what the cardinal asked," Lynn said.
Blessington asked if Lynn had ever lied to victims of sex abuse. Only once, Lynn said. Blessington sneered at that. The prosecutor charged that Lynn had also routinely lied to parishioners by not usually telling them the real reason that abuser priests were being removed from parishes, so they could be shipped out to sex clinics for psychiatric evaluations. But parishioners were told the priest had Lyme disease, Blessington said, or that Father was leaving for health reasons.
"The cardinal wouldn't allow me to announce why someone was leaving," Lynn responded. And the dead cardinal took another hit.
And as far as the one priest Blessington mentioned, "He did have Lyme disease," Lynn said.
As for protecting children, "I was doing that every day," Lynn said.
So why didn't he do more? "I didn't have any power," Lynn told the jury. "I could only make recommendations." Unless a priest confessed that he sexually abused someone, Lynn said. Then he had the power to remove a priest.
Blessington brought up several instances where the priests that Lynn shipped out for psychiatric evaluations had a pattern of abusing more children when they were transferred to new assignments. So you were harming kids with your actions, Blessington said.
"At that time, I had no knowledge that I was hurting kids," Lynn claimed.
Don't you know that pedophilia is incurable, the prosecutor asked.
"I did not," Lynn said.
Blessington brought up the shredded memo, and asked if it would be helpful to Lynn if that list of 35 abuser priests disappeared.
"No," Lynn said.
Blessington asked Lynn if he remembered who typed the list. "I believe I did," the monsignor responded. But he did not remember doing it. In previous testimony, Lynn's assistant. Msgr. James Beisel had told the jury he did not remember who typed the memo either.
Blessington suggested that Lynn's memory lapse showed how he didn't care about the safety of children.
Lynn disagreed, but didn't raise his voice. "It doesn't show I don't care," he said.
When court adjourned for the day, at 4 p.m., it appeared that Blessington was just getting warmed up. The cross-examination resumes Thursday morning.