Secret Archives deployed to undercut Monsignor’s innocence

Posted: May 17, 2012

“On the job training,” was what Msgr. William J. Lynn told the grand jury in 2004, describing the preparation he had to be the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s chief investigator of allegations about priests sexually molesting minors.

There was little direction from then Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and only “rare” questions from the archbishop when he filed a report on a wayward priest, Lynn’s testimony reads.

That portrait of Lynn drawn from his grand jury testimony — an innocent, inexperienced priest thrust into a job that required the training of a lawyer, detective and psychologist — has been a mainstay of his defense in the landmark Common Pleas Court trial in which he accused of enabling pedophile priests to continue to prey on children.

City prosecutors today continued trying to undercut that portrait using documents from the church’s Secret Archives on abusive priests that were turned over to prosecutors in February on the eve of the trial.

A 2002 memo from Bishop Joseph Cistone to Lynn, introduced by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, refers to the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the church’s lobbying arm in Harrisburg, and its effort to prevent the legislature from extending the deadline for purported victims of sexual abuse by priests to file lawsuits against the church.

A 1994 memo calls to Lynn’s attention the special committee created by Bevilacqua and other Pennsylvania prelates trying to come up with ways to safeguard Secret Archives documents from being subpoenaed for use in civil lawsuits filed by victims of clergy sexual abuse.

The documents introduced by Blessington were part of a cache of papers — including a list of pedophile priests compiled by Lynn in 1994 — that Archdiocesan lawyers say were shredded on Bevilacqua’s orders. Lynn himself described the list and documents to the grand jury eight years ago but testified that he was unable to find them.

Earlier trial testimony revealed that the documents were found in 2006 locked in a safe at archdiocesan offices in Center City but, inexplicably, not turned over to the District Attorney’s office until February.

Blessington has argued at trial that the documents showed that Lynn and others lied to the grand jury in an attempt to minimize allegations that pedophile priests were regularly transferred from parish to parish enabling them to victimize other children.

Lawyers for Lynn, 61, who as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 had the job of investigating allegations against priests, have denied the allegations and Lynn has pleaded not guilty to the charges of conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children.

Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or follow him on Twitter @JoeSlobo

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