‘Never admit there are other cases,’ Msgr. Lynn was told

Posted: May 16, 2012

In 1991, Msgr. William J. Lynn wrote a memo outlining his interview with a man who said he had been molested by the Rev. Michael McCarthy, a longtime teacher at Cardinal O’Hara High School.

But Lynn made a mistake, at least in the eyes of his boss at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Lynn had told the accuser that his was not the first complaint against McCarthy.

“Unnecessary statement,” the Rev. James E. Molloy, then the assistant vicar for administration, scrawled in the margins of the memo. “Never admit to victims that there are other cases.”

Both sides highlighted the note Tuesday for jurors at Lynn’s landmark conspiracy and child-endangerment trial. A prosecutor pointed to it as a hallmark of the church’s attempt to minimize scandal and conceal clergy sex abuse. Lynn’s lawyer suggested it was proof of a strict chain of command that limited Lynn as he investigated abuse claims against priests.

Molloy, who died in 2006, was Lynn’s boss at the archdiocese headquarters in the early 1990s. The files show that Lynn often took notes when Molloy interviewed accused priests or their accusers.

In 1992, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua elevated Lynn to secretary for clergy, and gave him the task Molloy once had of investigating abuse claims. By that time, McCarthy’s secret personnel file included two such allegations.

At Lynn’s recommendation, the cardinal removed McCarthy that fall from St. Kevin’s Church in Springfield, Delaware County, where one of his accusers lived. He transferred the priest to Epiphany of Our Lord Church in Norristown, Montgomery County, and made him pastor.

McCarthy lasted less than a year in that post. But Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington suggested that Lynn pressed for McCarthy’s removal only after receiving a different kind of complaint: this one from a travel agent whose husband had donated $25,000 to the archdiocese and who said McCarthy was running a competing travel business from his rectory.

Lynn gave Bevilacqua an extensive memo outlining the woman’s complaint, and disclosing he also found a cache of gay pornography in McCarthy’s rectory closet. He recommended the cardinal remove McCarthy as pastor, send him for a hospital evaluation and treatment, and encourage him to seek laicization, according to memos shown to jurors.

Bevilacqua approved Lynn’s first two recommendations, but not the third — a point Lynn’s lawyer seized on.

“And he had the power not to follow it because he was the man at the top, right?” lawyer Jeffrey Lindy asked Detective Joseph Walsh, the investigator who read the files to jurors.

“He was the man at the top, sir, yes,” Walsh said.

Lynn’s defense team has argued that more than any church official, he tried to identify and remove abusive priests, but that he often lacked the authority to do so.

Lindy pointed to other memos that said Bevilacqua alone had reviewed a psychological assessment of McCarthy, and that, in a meeting with the priest, the cardinal described what he called “my policy” on removing priests who had been found guilty of molesting children or teens.

The prosecutor contended that Lynn was the one who proposed that the cardinal wait before suggesting laicization, so they could first see how McCarthy responded to treatment. (McCarthy, who was diagnosed as an ephebophile, sexually attracted to teen boys, never returned to full ministry. He was defrocked in 2006.)

More broadly, Blessington suggested Lynn’s place in the chain of command was less important than the fact that he had a role in the decision-making process.

“Did he participate?” Blessington asked the detective.

“Yes, sir,” Walsh said. “He was one of the major players.”

Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at jmartin@phillynews.com. Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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