Church Official Testifies at His Philadelphia Trial

By Jon Hurdle
New York Times
May 24, 2012

Msgr. William J. Lynn took the stand on Wednesday in a landmark trial to defend himself against allegations that he failed to prevent fellow Roman Catholic priests from abusing children during his tenure as secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The most senior Catholic Church official in the United States to be tried on charges related to sexual abuse of children, Monsignor Lynn said that he had little authority to discipline accused priests and that power rested mainly with his superiors.

Asked by a defense lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom, whether he had the power to dismiss priests who were accused of abusing children, Monsignor Lynn replied that he could do so only if pedophilia had been diagnosed or “if they had admitted sexual abuse.”

He also said that he did not have the ability to place priests on administrative leave, a policy used by the archdiocese to manage accused priests while it investigates charges against them.

“Who had the ability to do those things?” Mr. Bergstrom asked.

“The cardinal,” Monsignor Lynn said, referring to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, the former head of the archdiocese, who died in January.

Defense lawyers have sought to prove during the trial, which began on March 26, that Cardinal Bevilacqua, and not Monsignor Lynn, made the decisions that led to the archdiocese’s failure to stop dozens of priests from sexually abusing children.

A scathing grand jury report last year accused the archdiocese of failing to stop decades of abuse. On May 4, the current archbishop, Charles J. Chaput, announced that five priests had been judged unsuitable for ministry after an internal inquiry into abuse claims stemming from the grand jury report. Seventeen other priests are still under investigation.

Monsignor Lynn, who was responsible for investigating claims of abuse against priests from 1992 to 2004, is charged with suspected child endangerment and conspiracy. Those charges, which he has denied, stem from accusations that he allowed priests suspected of abuse to remain in positions where they could continue to prey on children.

He is accused of assigning the Rev. Edward Avery, a priest who pleaded guilty to abuse charges days before the current trial began, to a chaplaincy at a hospital in Northeast Philadelphia where he would have access to children at a nearby parish. Father Avery received psychiatric evaluation and treatment at a center for troubled priests in Downingtown, Pa., in 1993.

Monsignor Lynn told the court on Wednesday that Father Avery had been found during treatment to have an alcohol problem but not a sexual disorder, and so he had been reassigned by Monsignor Lynn, as required by archdiocese policy.

He said he interviewed Father Avery no more than a day after hearing a complaint that the priest had inappropriately touched a teenage boy during the 1980s. He said Father Avery had initially denied the story but later in the interview said the abuse “could have happened” because of the influence of alcohol.

That was not enough evidence to dismiss him, Monsignor Lynn told the court. “I couldn’t remove him on the basis that it could have happened,” he said.

Monsignor Lynn appeared relaxed and articulate during direct examination by defense lawyers. But under cross-examination, he struggled to explain why the archdiocese failed to stop abusive priests.

Patrick Blessington, an assistant district attorney, said abusive priests had been allowed to remain in ministry partly because they had not received a diagnosis of pedophilia.

“Just because some psychiatrist doesn’t want to put a label on them doesn’t mean they are not dangerous,” Mr. Blessington said.

“I think you have to go case by case,” Monsignor Lynn replied.

He admitted that he was responsible for sending information about accused priests to his superiors, including the cardinal.

“The only person who had the authority to send that information up the chain of command was you,” Mr. Blessington said.

“I provided them the information, yes,” Monsignor Lynn replied.








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