Prosecutors: Lynn misled parishioners about abuse accusations

The Rev. James Brennan leaves the Criminal Justice Center for lunch Tuesday. He is charged with attempted rape and conspiracy of a teen in 1996. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
The Rev. James Brennan leaves the Criminal Justice Center for lunch Tuesday. He is charged with attempted rape and conspiracy of a teen in 1996. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer (The Rev. James Brennan)
Posted: March 28, 2012

Twice in 1993, Msgr. William J. Lynn received letters from parishioners at St. Therese of the Child Jesus Church who were concerned because their pastor, the Rev. Edward V. Avery, had taken an unexplained leave.

As secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Lynn knew the reason: A 29-year-old man had told Lynn that Avery molested him in the 1970s. Lynn had recommended that the Mount Airy pastor get confidential evaluation and treatment.

But Lynn didn't disclose that in his replies to the two parishioners, a detective testified Tuesday. One letter warned a woman to disregard the rumors about Avery. A second said Lynn's office never received "anything but compliments" about the priest.

"Another letter [and] no mention of the sexual abuse of a minor?" Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked Detective Joseph Walsh, who was an investigator for the District Attorney's Office in two grand jury probes of clergy sexual abuse.

"That is correct," Walsh said.

The exchange, on the second day of Lynn's landmark conspiracy trial, came as prosecutors introduced dozens of confidential church records in a bid to show that he lied or misled others about Avery's misconduct and ultimately failed to protect children.

Avery, who was later defrocked, pleaded guilty last week to sexually assaulting a Northeast Philadelphia altar boy in 1999, nearly seven years after the archdiocese received the first allegations against him. At least five other accusers have come forward since his arrest last year, although prosecutors have not released details of those claims.

Lynn, 61, is the first church official nationwide to be tried for allegedly covering up clergy sex abuse. He has pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and conspiracy.

A codefendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, is charged with attempted rape and conspiracy in the allegedly molestation of a teen in 1996. Brennan has denied the accusation.

Though Avery is no longer a defendant, the second day of trial showed how Lynn's supervision of him could become a pillar of the case.

Prosecutors contend that as secretary for clergy, Lynn suspected or knew Avery had abused the teen in the 1970s. He had included the priest in a 1994 list of clerics he identified as "Guilty of Sexual Misconduct With Minors."

But they say Lynn took few steps to curtail Avery's activities, such as his working as a part-time disc jockey for parties and dances, and none to determine if he had molested anyone else.

One of the memos shown to jurors was an August 1993 letter from a psychologist at St. John Vianney, the church-owned hospital in Downingtown where the archdiocese sent Avery and other priests to be evaluated and treated for behavioral disorders. About Avery, the counselor wrote: "There remains a concern about the existence of other victims."

During their cross-examination of the detective, Lynn's lawyers mined the same documents to support their claim that the monsignor did more right than wrong and was often following directives from his bosses, including Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

The records, they pointed out, showed that Lynn pressed Avery into treatment even though Avery repeatedly denied abusing the teen. Lynn also received regular updates from Avery's doctors and treatment specialists, wrote and filed memos about Avery's progress, and routinely sent copies to his superiors.

Defense lawyer Jeffrey Lindy highlighted one 1993 memo to Lynn from Bishop Edward P. Cullen, then the archdiocese's second-ranking official. In it, Cullen outlined the cardinal's proposed plan for handling inquiries about Avery's removal as pastor at St. Therese.

Bevilacqua wanted one subordinate to write a letter to the parish explaining that "the fundamental reason for [Avery's] resignation is related to his health." He also directed Avery to write his own letter thanking parishioners for their support.

After the memo was read aloud for jurors, Lynn's lawyer asked the detective: "So Cardinal Bevilacqua is a puppet master, I guess, right?"

"I wouldn't call him that, sir," Walsh said. "I wouldn't call him that."

Lindy replied: "I just did."

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Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or, or follow on Twitter @JPMartinInky.

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