Another tough day on the stand for Msgr. Lynn

Msgr. William J. Lynn acknowledged mistakes in not removing suspect priests.
Msgr. William J. Lynn acknowledged mistakes in not removing suspect priests.
Posted: May 26, 2012

Midway through his cross-examination Thursday, Msgr. William J. Lynn sat deflated on the witness stand.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington had spent a second day battering Lynn over his handling of complaints of clergy sex abuse.

Lynn tried to press back. Blessington, he said, was "wordsmithing," twisting his statements, ignoring his replies, and being unfair.

But the prosecutor was relentless. As the church official responsible for investigating accused priests, Blessington said, Lynn had lied, lied, and lied some more - to victims, police, and parishioners across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. When Blessington said Lynn intentionally misled a grand jury, the monsignor shook his head, exasperated.

"No," Lynn sighed quietly, dropping his gaze and letting the word linger, as the prosecutor loaded another round.

The questions weren't a surprise.

For eight weeks, prosecutors had shown the jury at the landmark Common Pleas Court trial hundreds of confidential memos about abuse complaints that Lynn wrote or received as clergy secretary under Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua from 1992 to 2004. They read hours of his decade-old grand jury testimony on what he knew and did about priests accused or suspected of molesting children and teens.

When defense lawyers decided Wednesday to let Lynn testify in his own behalf, they handed prosecutors an invitation to interrogate him on every one of those cases.

Blessington, the chief of the special investigations unit for the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, did just that, for hours firing names of defrocked priests at the defendant and demanding explanations as to why he failed to remove them.

Gana. Gausch. Cudemo. Bolesta. Wisniewksi. Shea. Dunne. Kostelnick. DePaoli. Sicoli. Cannon.

'I'm not perfect'

Lynn acknowledged mistakes. He said none was intentional. And he blamed some misstatements on a faulty or incomplete memory.

"I'm not perfect," he testified. "I'm not saying I handled all these things perfectly."

Blessington wouldn't back down. "You didn't care," he said. "Because you were about protecting priests, and you didn't care."

Their exchange was less taut than the first round Wednesday.

Lynn, 61, didn't glower as much, and his face never burned as brightly red as it did the day before.

Instead, he tried to slow down and paint a fuller portrait of his job, the men he worked for, and the cases he was asked to investigate.

Often, Lynn said, he faced a single complaint of a priest engaged in misconduct with adolescents.

"In many of these cases, they were priests who had entered the seminary when they were 14 or 15 years old, so they did not develop their sexual identities," he testified. "Because they acted out with a minor did not necessarily mean they were pedophiles."

At another point, he told jurors: "These are individuals who had done terrible things and yet, depending on what was going on in their life at the time, they may never do that again."

His thinking, he said, was shaped by medical experts he said were independent contractors, not archdiocesan employees. Lynn said he knew the church buried such allegations in the past, and said he thought his recommendations to move accused priests into treatment and give them limited ministries with monitoring teams "moved it further than it had been moved before."

Bevilacqua's stance

But Bevilacqua, he said, had dictated that only confirmed pedophiles or ephebophiles - that is, priests who had been clinically diagnosed or admitted sexual attraction to children and teens - would be permanently removed from their posts. He said he had no choice but to defer to the cardinal.

"He was the one who had a canon and civil law degree, not me," Lynn said. "I presumed he knew what was best."

Blessington tagged those responses the "following-orders defense," one that's not acceptable under state law. Again and again, he accused Lynn of hewing to the letter of the law and church policies instead of genuinely trying to root out abusers and help victims of a crime that is among the worst: the rape and abuse of children.

Lynn acknowledged that he never once called police in 12 years reviewing claims against priests, but said that all but one of the complaints came from adults.

Blessington noted that in 2000, the Rev. Sylwester Wiejata admitted having affairs with several married women and fondling the 13-year-old daughter of one. Lynn said he would have pursued the crime, but didn't know the name of the girl.

"How about asking Wiejata? You didn't even ask Wiejata, did you?" Blessington said.

He did not, Lynn testified. He said he assumed Wiejata would lie to him.

"You had a girl who was molested, and you did nothing?" Blessington pressed on.

Lynn paused, then said: "I did my best for the people that were injured by priests."

"So by your standard," the prosecutor retorted, "your best is nothing?"

Lynn is charged with endangering children by recommending two priests live or work in parishes despite signs they might abuse children. One, his codefendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, has denied the charges that he tried to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996. The second, Edward Avery, pleaded guilty before the trial to charges that he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999.

Lynn knew about a previous allegation against Avery, and had included him on a 1994 list of archdiocesan priests he described as guilty of sexual misconduct. Still, he recommended that Avery be allowed to live at the rectory of St. Jerome Church, where he molested the altar boy.

Lynn had described the list to the grand jury a decade ago, but said he couldn't find it at the time. It later was found in a locked safe near Lynn's old office and turned over to prosecutors this year.

Lynn "absolutely" denied Blessington's suggestion that he had stashed the copy in a safe. He said he could not recall what happened to the list.

"The best document that showed that you knew that priests were dangerous and pedophiles and criminals out there - and you don't remember where it was?" the prosecutor said.

"That's correct," Lynn said.

The cross-examination is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.


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

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