Tensions Rise As Jury Deliberates Priest-abuse Case

By Peter Loftus
Wall Street Journal
June 15, 2012

Monsignor William Lynn

Frayed nerves and confusion abounded in a Philadelphia courtroom, as jury deliberations continued in the case of a Roman Catholic monsignor charged with failing to protect children from alleged molestation by priests.

The tension erupted late Thursday afternoon in the trial of Monsignor William Lynn, who served as a personnel director of priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004 and was responsible for investigating abuse allegations.

Outside the jury’s presence, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington was addressing Judge Teresa Sarmina when he was interrupted by Msgr. Lynn’s defense attorney, Thomas Bergstrom.

“No! No! No! No! Enough! Sit down!” Mr. Blessington shouted, pointing at Mr. Bergstrom a few feet away. Mr. Blessington volunteered that he has seen “better manners in a barnyard” than those of Mr. Bergstrom and other defense attorneys for Msgr. Lynn.

“Make him shut up,” Mr. Blessington beseeched the judge.

Judge Sarmina sat in silence until tempers cooled a bit.

The jury, which started deliberations June 1, resumed talks Friday morning, but only after one juror showed up at least an hour later than scheduled. The jury of seven men and five women has repeatedly asked the judge to see documents presented as evidence in the trial — which started in March — and to read or hear testimony.

The jury also has asked the judge to clarify the law on several occasions; but based on the jurors’ questions, they seem confused.

Msgr. Lynn faces two counts of endangering the welfare of children, and one count of conspiracy. The conspiracy charge alleges that Msgr. Lynn conspired with a former priest, Edward Avery, to endanger the welfare of children. Mr. Avery pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse in connection with allegations he abused a 10-year-old boy in 1999. Mr. Avery is serving a prison sentence of 2 ? to five years.

On Thursday, the jury asked: “If endangering the welfare of children is the result of a criminal conspiracy, did endangering the welfare of children have to be the intent of the conspiracy?”

In her answer Thursday, Judge Sarmina left open the possibility that Msgr. Lynn didn’t have to intend to commit a crime in order to be convicted of conspiracy, but on Friday she told jurors they would have to find he shared an intention with Mr. Avery to commit a crime to convict Msgr. Lynn of conspiracy.

Msgr. Lynn, who pleaded not guilty, testified at his trial that he did his best to investigate sexual-abuse allegations against priests but that his authority to take action against them was limited. He admitted he never called police during his 12 years as personnel director.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have clashed repeatedly over their interpretation of the applicable laws, and over how the judge should respond to jurors’ questions. Defense lawyers for Msgr. Lynn and another priest also on trial have complained that reading back certain testimony amounted to improperly “re-trying” the case.

The other priest on trial, James Brennan, is charged with child endangerment and attempted rape, over allegations he abused a 14-year-old boy in 1996. He didn’t testify at his criminal trial, but he did testify at a Catholic Church canonical trial in 2008. Father Brennan has pleaded not guilty.

The slow pace of the deliberations raises the surprising possibility that a verdict for the priests won’t come before one is reached in a higher-profile sex-abuse trial nearly 200 miles west of Philadelphia — that of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky — even though the start of testimony in Mr. Sandusky’s trial Monday was more than two months after that for the Philadelphia priests.

The prosecution is expected to rest next week in Mr. Sandusky’s trial. It’s not clear how long the defense will take, or how long jurors will deliberate. Mr. Sandusky has pleaded not guilty.








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