Landmark US Catholic Child Abuse Trial Wraps up

By Daniel Kelley
May 31, 2012

Catholic Monsignor William Lynn

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania Jurors in a landmark Catholic Church sex abuse case heard closing arguments Thursday in the trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the highest-ranked US church official to be charged with covering up child molestation.

Those arguments capped more than 10 weeks of dramatic testimony in the case against Lynn, whose job it was to investigate reports of abuse in the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004. Jury deliberations were expected to start Friday.

Starkly conflicting portraits of the senior priest emerged at trial.

Lynn's lawyer described him as a low level functionary who struggled within a rigid church hierarchy to act against abuse by documenting it and compiling the voluminous records that prosecutors used to build their case.

"This man, who never touched a child, but who documented the evil those other men did..., he did more than put a candle to their shame, he brought a spotlight," said Thomas Bergstrom, Lynn's attorney.

Prosecutors portrayed Lynn as a keeper of the secrets who was obliged to compile the records and thought they would never see the light of day. Prosecutors allege that in failing to remove abusive priests from positions where they had contact with minors, Lynn put children in danger.

Victims advocates and prosecutors packed the courtroom, along with relatives of Lynn and a co-defendant.

"He is recording his own commission of crime," said Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, speaking for the prosecution.

Lynn himself testified for three days in the case, describing himself as a low level functionary who had little power act against abusive priests. He compiled a list of abusive priests in the archdiocese in the 1990s.

Prosecutors discovered records referencing the list, but church officials said it had been destroyed and they could not find a copy. Lawyers for the archdiocese located it just as the trial was set to begin, in a safe in Lynn's office.

Lynn claimed he did not know how it got there, a claim prosecutors claimed was "outrageous."

Lynn, 61, is not charged with molesting children, but with covering up crimes of priests who did. He faces between 10 and 21 years in prison if found guilty of child endangerment and conspiracy to endanger children, according to the prosecutor's office.

Lynn's co-defendant, Father James Brennan, is accused of attempting to rape a teenage boy in the 1990s. A second co-defendant, defrocked priest Edward Avery, pleaded guilty just before the trial was set to begin.

Brennan's attorney, William Brennan, attacked the credibility of the victim.

The lawyer, who is not related to his client, noted that the victim had a lengthy criminal record for forgery and identity theft. Brennan on the other hand, taught at a Catholic High School, and led a youth organization.

"Talk about the fox in the hen house," the attorney told the jury. "But did you hear about any other incidents? I didn't."

Blessington countered: "He was a perfectly normal kid until he spent the night with the defendant."

The trial comes amid other developments in archdiocese.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput this month barred seven priests from ministry. Those seven come from a list of 27 suspended last year after being identified in a grand jury report and because they had credible allegations of sexual abuse against them.

Three priests were reinstated following church investigations. The remaining priests are still under investigation.

Church observers believe the trial could embolden prosecutors in other jurisdictions to prosecute cover-ups and peel back the veil of church secrecy.

Blessington said the damage to the victims would be long lasting.

"He (Lynn) and everyone else who were protecting pedophile priests were murdering the souls of these children," Blessington said.


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