24 May 2012
By John P. Martin
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
A prosecutor resumed his relentless attack on Msgr. William J. Lynn on Thursday morning, pounding the church official with questions and accusing him of lying to protect pedophile priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
For more than an hour, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington parried with Lynn, charging that the former clergy secretary repeatedly misled abuse victims, a police officer and even the grand jury formed a decade ago to investigate sex abuse by local priests.
“You didn’t care,” Blessington said. “Because you were about protecting priests and you didn’t care.”
Again and again, the defendant shook his head and denied any wrongdoing. He acknowledged some misstatements and mistakes, but said none were intentional.
“I’m not perfect,” Lynn testified. “I’m not saying I handled all these things perfectly.”
For a second straight day, his appearance on the witness stand drew a packed crowd — including his supporters and victims’ advocates — to the third-floor Common Pleas courtroom in Philadelphia’s criminal justice center.
At the outset of their second round, Lynn appeared less agitated than he had during hours of cross-examination on Wednesday. He repeated his contention, often looking to the jury, that he did “my best” to respond to complaints during his 12 years as clergy secretary. His recommendations — that accused priests be removed, isolated and sent for treatment — went beyond the church’s past practice, he said.
“I felt it I moved it further than it had been moved before,” Lynn said.
“But you did a whole lot less than the guy that replaced you,” Blessington said, a reference to the church’s current no-tolerance policy that requires accused priests to be identified and removed from active ministry.
Lynn replied: “The guy that replaced me had new rules.”
Methodically, the prosecutor walked Lynn through the cases of accused priests and victims testimony that jurors have heard during the landmark conspiracy and child-endangerment trial. He said Lynn lied when he told one victim of the Rev. Stanley Gana — a priest Lynn conceded “did horrible things” — that there were no other complaints about Gana. He said Lynn lied when he failed to tell a Philadelphia police officer he knew of multiple abuse complaints against the Rev. Nicholas Cudemo.
When Blessington asked Lynn if he had lied to the grand jury about how he handled anonymous complaints, the defendant smiled and said: “I’m sure you’re going to point out that I did, but I don’t recall that I did.”
“Do you think this is funny?” Blessington said.
“No,” Lynn said. “I don’t know how you want me to answer questions, the way you ask them.”
“How about the truth?” Blessington said.
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 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, the parish 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. He “absolutely” denied Blessington’s suggestion that he had stashed a copy in a safe in the archdiocese’s Center City offices.
“The best document that showed that you knew that priests were dangerous and pedophiles and criminals and out there — and you don’t remember where it was?” the prosecutor charged.
“That’s correct,” Lynn said.
His testimony is expected to continue Thursday afternoon.
Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.