On Final Day of Testimony, Philadelphia Monsignor Apologizes for Priest's Sex Assault

Washington Post
May 30, 2012

PHILADELPHIA A Roman Catholic church official apologized to a priest sex-abuse victim on the final day of testimony in his groundbreaking child-endangerment trial.

Jurors are set to hear closing arguments Thursday after the defense rested Tuesday afternoon for Monsignor William Lynn and a co-defendant.

Lynn, 61, who served as the Philadelphia archdiocese secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, is the first U.S. church official charged over his handling of priest-abuse complaints. He and the Rev. James Brennan have been on trial for 10 weeks.

Brennan has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting a teen in 1996. Defrocked priest Edward Avery pleaded guilty to a 1999 sexual assault days before trial and is in prison.

Lynn testified that he tried to get accused priests out of parishes and into treatment, but said his power was limited because Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had the final say.

Avery's victim was abused years after Lynn had deemed the priest and part-time disc jockey "guilty" of an earlier abuse complaint. Lynn said that Avery was one of his first referrals, however, when an archdiocesan review board was formed after the priest-abuse crisis exploded in Boston in 2002.

That was "way too late" for Avery's victim, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington snapped.

"And I'm sorry about that," Lynn replied.

Lynn said that Bevilacqua would not permanently remove a priest unless he was a diagnosed pedophile. That was rare among the dozens of priests accused of raping or molesting children in Philadelphia.

Defense lawyers call the mild-mannered Lynn a scapegoat for the alleged failings of the archdiocese.

Asked Tuesday if it isn't immoral to keep predators in ministry, a weary Lynn asked, "You want me to answer for the whole church?"

No other Catholic officials in Philadelphia have been charged despite two scorching grand jury reports on priest sexual abuse, one in 2005 that did not lead to any charges because the statute of limitations had expired on the accusations, and another last year that led to the charges against Lynn and four others. The remaining two men, a priest and teacher charged with abuse, will be tried separately because they are not archdiocesan priests.

Lynn testified that he drew up a list of accused priests in 1994, to let Bevilacqua and his top aides know the scope of the abuse complaints contained in secret, locked archives at the archdiocese.

"I think the whole purpose in sending that list up was action should be taken on a number of people," Lynn told Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who had a list of questions of her own for the defendant.

Instead, the cardinal had the list destroyed soon after he read it, according to a memo turned over by the archdiocese just weeks before trial. Lynn said he never knew that until the memo surfaced.

Lynn also offered an explanation for why the archdiocese didn't act on old complaints, some of which dated to the 1940s, before the 2002 reforms. He said that either Monsignor James E. Molloy or now-retired Allentown Bishop Edward Cullen, two top Bevilacqua aides, told him "that for many of the priests, the actions happened so long ago, if the cardinal had taken action, Rome would overturn it."

Cullen, Molloy and the Rev. Joseph Cistone, now bishop of Saginaw, Mich., ranked above Lynn in the church hierarchy. Molloy shredded the list of accused priests, and Cistone witnessed it, according to the signed memo. Three of the 35 priests were diagnosed pedophiles, and a dozen more deemed "guilty" by Lynn, mainly because they had admitted it.

Molloy died in 2006, and Bevilacqua died in January. Neither Cullen nor Cistone were called to testify.

Both Lynn and Brennan had a series of character witnesses testify before the parties rested Tuesday. And more than a dozen people from St. Joseph's in Downingtown, a large suburban parish that Lynn led from 2004 until his arrest last year, stood to support him.

"This man has so much integrity, he'd never throw anyone under the bus," said parishioner Florence Buttner, 69, of Downingtown.

Brennan's lawyer has attacked the credibility of the accuser, who testified earlier in the trial.

Lynn faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted of two counts of child endangerment and conspiracy. Earlier Tuesday, Sarmina refused a defense motion to throw out the child-endangerment count linked to Brennan's victim. The defense argued the charge was filed too late.

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