2 sides contest using past responses in priest trial

Msgr. William J. Lynn
Msgr. William J. Lynn
Posted: January 25, 2012

Prosecutors and defense lawyers in the forthcoming child endangerment trial of a Philadelphia cleric sparred for a second day Tuesday over whether jurors should hear how the monsignor and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia responded to dozens of claims of priests sexually abusing children.

Lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, who is accused of making decisions that enabled two priests to molest boys in the 1990s, say letting prosecutors bring up allegations against 27 other priests not charged in the case would be unfair and irrelevant.

They also contend that as the archdiocese's secretary for clergy between 1992 and 2004, Lynn supervised 800 priests but did not have unilateral authority to reassign them, order them into treatment, or remove them from ministry.

Those decisions fell to his superiors, in particular Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, the attorneys said, and were often dictated by broader church policies about how to handle abuse allegations.

"There is a continual misapprehension about what [Lynn] was allowed to do," Jeffrey Lindy, one of the lawyers hired by the archdiocese to defend Lynn, told Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.

Prosecutors challenged that assertion, pointing out that Lynn described himself as the cardinal's delegate on matters including the review of priests accused of abusing children.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington also noted that prosecutors intend to argue that Lynn didn't act alone. "He's always been charged . . . in a conspiracy with other archdiocesan officials," Blessington said.

He and three colleagues spent nearly six hours Tuesday recounting Lynn's actions in investigating or responding to abuse allegations - some decades old - against nearly a dozen priests when he was secretary of clergy.

All of the priests they discussed have been removed from ministry, left the priesthood, or died. The accusations against them were first disclosed in 2005, after a grand jury investigation that examined clergy-sex abuse in Philadelphia ended without criminal charges.

Prosecutors say those cases demonstrate how Lynn and church officials failed to properly investigate abuse allegations, shuffled abusive priests among churches, and concealed their conduct from unsuspecting parents and parishioners.

They say two such priests, the Rev. James J. Brennan and Edward Avery, now a former priest, molested boys in the late 1990s after Lynn recommended placing them in parishes with schools. Both are awaiting trial on child-sex assault charges.

Both sides are expected to make their final arguments to Sarmina on Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to begin March 26 and last as long as four months.


Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, at jmartin@phillynews.com or at JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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