Defense: Monsignor Not Liable for Sins of Church
By Maryclaire Dale
May 31, 2012
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Roman Catholic church official is being unfairly prosecuted for the sins of the church and the rogue conduct of predator-priests, a defense lawyer said Thursday as he asked jurors in a groundbreaking trial to acquit his client.
"You have witnessed evil in this courtroom. You have seen the dark side of the church. You've seen grown men come into this courtroom and weep because they were abused," said lawyer Thomas Bergstrom. "And now, the sins of all these fathers that he laid bare — that he laid bare — are now laid at his feet."
Prosecutors in Philadelphia are paving new legal ground as they pursue Monsignor William Lynn for his handling of abuse complaints when he served as secretary for clergy at the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004. Lynn, 61, is the first U.S. church official to be charged criminally for his administrative decisions regarding priests accused of sexual abuse. He faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy and felony child endangerment.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said Lynn stuck to "the game plan" by helping to keep pedophile priests in ministry and the public in the dark. Lynn could have called police or quit his job, but he cared more about keeping his job near the cardinal than protecting children, Blessington told the jury.
Bergstrom argued that Lynn alone tried to document the abuses, only to have Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and his bishops fail to act. Lynn reviewed or received hundreds of allegations lodged against more than 60 priests.
In 1994, he compiled a list of problem priests — including three diagnosed pedophiles and a dozen priests deemed "guilty" of the abuse — and sent it to Bevilacqua. Bevilacqua had the list shredded, according to a memo that surfaced only this year, days after Bevilacqua's death in January.
Lynn testified that he never knew the list was shredded, and his name is not on the "shred memo," the closest thing to a smoking gun in the case.
During three grueling days of testimony, Lynn insisted that he lacked the authority to remove or transfer priests. That power rested with the cardinal, he said.
"He's being prosecuted for something that he couldn't do," Bergstrom said.
Instead, Lynn said his job was to interview the accuser and the accused, and send priests for mental-health evaluations or treatment. Jurors have seen hundreds of confidential church documents, many of them written by Lynn for secret church archives.
"This is some conspiracy to conceal abuse in the archdiocese, when you are writing memos that are as detailed as this," Bergstrom said.
The Rev. James Brennan, a co-defendant, is charged in a 1996 sexual assault. His lawyer called the alleged victim a "con man" motivated by legal and financial problems.