Lynn guilty in clergy sex-abuse trial

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22 June 2012

By John P. Martin and Joseph A. Slobodzian


Monsignor William Lynn arrives at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia for the reading of the jury

Monsignor William Lynn arrives at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia for the reading of the jury’s decision on Friday afternoon, June 22, 2012. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )

Updated 2:08 p.m.

Jurors have reached a decision in the landmark sex-abuse and child endangerment trial of two Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests.

Msgr. William J. Lynn was found guilty on one count of child endangerment, and acquitted on two counts, including conspiracy.

The jury was deadlocked on attempted rape and endangerment charges against the Rev. James J. Brennan.

The jury was excused by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, so the is trial over, with a mistrial on the Brennan charges.

Prosecutors could decide to try him again.

The announcements came down shortly after 2 p.m. in Courtroom 304 at the Criminal Justice Center.

The panel of seven men and five women met for more than two hours on their 13th day of deliberations in the landmark case before breaking for lunch around noon.

Lynn, 61, was the first church official nationwide to be tried for enabling or covering up clergy-sex abuse. He was accused of recommending that Brennan and another priest, Edward Avery, be allowed to live or work in parishes in the 1990s despite signs that they might abuse minors.

Defendant Brennan, 48, was accused of child endangerment and attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Avery pleaded guilty before the trial to sexually assaulting the 10-year-old altar boy in 1999 and is serving 2-1/2 to 5 years in state prison.

The jurors got the case June 1 after an 11-week trial that shined a spotlight on thousands of confidential church records and years of abuse complaints against priests in the five-county archdiocese. Many of the records had been locked away for years in the so-called Secret Archives, church files that cataloged misconduct by priests.

The deliberations spanned 13 days over three weeks, with jurors sending out more than two dozen questions.

Nearly 20 victims testified at the trial, some describing in graphic detail how parish priests had groped, molested or raped them when they were young and how the abuse shaped their lives. Two witnesses described being abused by Avery. Another testified that Brennan tried to rape him when he was 14.

Lynn, who spent 12 years as Bevilacqua‘s adviser and chief investigator on clergy misconduct, was never accused of touching a child.

Prosecutors asserted that as clergy secretary he failed to take adequate steps to remove pedophile priests and that his conduct showed he cared more about protecting the church than children.

Lynn, they said, lied to some victims, never sought out others, and, in a few cases, suggested to admitted sex abusers that they may have been seduced by their young accusers.

In a key ruling, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina allowed the district attorneys to introduce claims of abuse against 21 other priests who were not defendants in the case. The allegations against them were too old to be prosecuted in court but had been detailed in confidential church records.

Prosecutors argued Lynn’s decisions in those cases reflected part of a longstanding pattern or practice by church officials to hide the attacks from the public. They said jurors needed to hear about those complaints to get a “complete picture” of how the church dealt with sexually abusive priests.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys seized on what they called “a smoking gun” in the case: a list Lynn compiled in 1994 naming 37 archdiocesan priests, including some still working in parishes, who had been diagnosed as pedophiles, had admitted or were suspected of abusing children or teens. Some remained in active ministry for years after the list was drawn up.

One of the priests on the list was Avery, who had been classified as “guilty of sexual misconduct” in 1994 but was allowed to live and celebrate Mass at a Northeast Philadelphia parish where he later assaulted an altar boy.

Lynn had long acknowledged creating the list, but he and church lawyers said they didn’t know where it was.

Prosecutors intimated that church leaders wanted the research because they were girding up for a wave of lawsuits by abuse victims.

Weeks before trial, a new team of church attorneys turned over a copy of the missing document, which they said had been locked in safe in church offices. They also gave prosecutors a handwritten memo from a now deceased church official that suggested Bevilacqua ordered the list shredded.

Lynn contended the list was proof that he, more than any other church officials, was trying to get a grasp on the larger problem of clergy sex abuse.

During three days of testimony, he said he had decided to review the files and create the list after discovering that one priest had been the subject of multiple complaints.

Lynn accused prosecutors of twisting his words and misconstruing his memos. He said medical experts had advised him not to try to contact other potential victims, because they might not want to discuss or confront the abuse.

He also said he tried anything he could to coax an abusive priest out of ministry and into treatment – even suggesting that the priest may have been seduced.

He and his lawyers repeatedly argued that only Bevilacqua had the ultimate authority to remove predator priests.

“I did my best with what I could do,” Lynn testified.

Jurors never heard from the cardinal himself. The judge compelled Bevilacqua to answer questions in a closed hearing in November, but neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers showed his seven-hour testimony to jurors. Bevilacqua died in January.

Lynn left the clergy office in 2004 to be pastor of St. Joseph Church in Downingtown. He was placed on administrative leave from that post after his arrest last year. The archdiocese paid for his defense.

Avery was defrocked in 2006. Now 69, he pleaded guilty before the trial to sexually assaulting the 10-year-old altar boy in 1999 and is serving 2-1/2 to 5 years in state prison.

Brennan has denied the allegations that he tried to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996, when he was on leave from the archdiocese and living in a West Chester apartment. He did not testify, although jurors heard parts of the testimony he gave in a confidential 2008 canonical hearing on the allegations. He has been on restricted ministry since 2006.

His lawyer asserted that Brennan’s accuser made up the allegation to get a settlement from the church.

The prosecutors, defendants and defense lawyers have been barred from publicly commenting during the trial. Sarmina is expected to lift that gag order once the verdict is announced.

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