Cases Close for Philadelphia Diocese Official
By Erik Eckholm
New York Times
May 31, 2012
PHILADELPHIA — In an emotional summary after more than two months of testimony, the prosecution in a landmark sexual-abuse trial said here on Thursday that overwhelming evidence showed that a Roman Catholic Church official had shielded predatory priests, lied to parishioners and victims, and exposed innocent children to abuse.
But a defense lawyer for the official, Msgr. William J. Lynn, told the jury that Monsignor Lynn had done all he could to protect children within his limited powers and that he deserved praise rather than condemnation.
Monsignor Lynn, 61, as secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, was responsible for priests' assignments and for investigating abuse allegations. He is on trial for endangering minors and conspiracy to keep an accused priest in active ministry, charges that could carry a sentence of 10 ½ to 21 years.
He is the first Catholic Church official in the country to face criminal charges not for committing abuses himself, but for enabling abuses by playing down credible accusations and reassigning suspect priests to new parishes.
The two sides both made their closing arguments on Thursday before Judge M. Teresa Sarmina of Common Pleas Court. The judge is expected to explain the charges to the jury on Friday morning, and then deliberations will begin.
Urging the jury not to rush to judgment, Thomas Bergstrom, a defense lawyer, recalled the play and movie "Twelve Angry Men," in which a lone holdout juror's doubts lead eventually to an acquittal.
A central issue, Mr. Bergstrom stressed, was Monsignor Lynn's limited authority in what he called a middle-management job.
"He didn't have the power and authority to remove these people from the priesthood," Mr. Bergstrom said. "He didn't because he couldn't," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper that the jury leaned forward to hear.
In testimony last week, Monsignor Lynn said that the cardinal at the time, Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who died in January, had to approve decisions to transfer priests or remove them from ministry. He said he had tried his best to curb sexual abuse in the archdiocese.
Mr. Bergstrom argued Thursday that Monsignor Lynn deserved praise for being the first official to seriously investigate the extent of sexual abuse in the archdiocese — a man "who never touched a child, but documented the evil that other men did."
"He put a spotlight on their shame," Mr. Bergstrom said.
But the prosecutor, Patrick Blessington, an assistant district attorney, ridiculed the defense arguments, noting that Monsignor Lynn's efforts to identify and investigate abusers were largely kept secret from the public.
Mr. Blessington said that to be found guilty, Monsignor Lynn had to have only participated in the cover-up of abuses, and not necessarily have directed it.
He also cited reams of documents and the handling of some 20 known abuse cases that he said showed that Monsignor Lynn played an active role in deflecting investigations, keeping abuse allegations secret and reassigning accused priests to other parishes.
"He was willing to carry out the program," he said, referring to what prosecutors called an effort by the archdiocese lasting decades to avoid scandal at any cost.
"He was willing to keep the secrets," Mr. Blessington added, jabbing his finger at Monsignor Lynn, who stared sullenly at him through his two-hour summation. Never once, he said, did Monsignor Lynn discuss contacting the police after hearing lurid and credible allegations of child molesting.
On trial alongside Monsignor Lynn is one of the priests he is accused of aiding, the Rev. James J. Brennan. Father Brennan, who has been removed from pastoral duties, is accused of the attempted rape of a boy in 1996, after years of what prosecutors called "red flags" about his behavior that Monsignor Lynn, they said, should have acted on.
Just as the defense lawyer evoked "Twelve Angry Men," the prosecutor finished up with a searing allusion of his own. Paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Blessington said that the ultimate tragedy is "the silence of good people."
"Please don't be silent," he implored the panel of Philadelphia citizens.