Prosecutors, lawyers spar in priest sex-abuse case

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philly.com

23 January 2012

By John P. Martin

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Edward V. Avery, seen here leaving the Criminal Justice Center on Oct. 7, is accused of molesting a Northeast Philadelphia altar boy in the late 1990s.

Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

Edward V. Avery, seen here leaving the Criminal Justice Center on Oct. 7, is accused of molesting a Northeast Philadelphia altar boy in the late 1990s.

A prosecutor on Monday described in graphic detail how a former Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest allegedly molested seven altar boys and was shuffled from parish to parish for two decades before being removed from ministry.

When the former Rev. Edward Avery was rebuffed by one of the boys he allegedly assaulted in the late 1990s, he didn’t pursue the boy “because the archdiocese was supplying him with an endless amount of victims,” assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti said. Avery was finally defrocked in 2006.

The account marked the opening salvo in a critical pretrial hearing for Avery, two current priests accused of child-sex abuse and Msgr. William Lynn, the former ranking church official charged with covering up or enabling their attacks. The four men face a trial in March. All have pleaded not guilty.

Monday’s daylong hearing focuses on an issue both sides say could shape the case like no other: Prosecutors want Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to let them introduce evidence of dozens of attacks over the decades by other archdiocesan priests or former priests who haven’t been charged in the case. They planned to spend hours recounting for the judge details of abusive priests across the region and how Lynn and other church officials handled the allegations against them.

Only by outlining all the cases, assistant district attorney Patrick Blessington said, can jurors “get the complete picture” of how Lynn, as Secretary for Clergy, failed to uncover, ignored or hid child sex-abuse by priests.

“It was a willful blindness,” Cipolletti told the judge. “He turned a blind eye to this, and pretended he didn’t know.”

One of Lynn’s lawyers called the prosecutors’ arguments “nutty.” Attorney Thomas Bergstrom noted that of the seven allegations outlined against Avery, all but one came to light after Lynn had ended his tenure as the church official responsible for supervising archdiocesan priests and investigating allegations against them.

“They want to put all this evidence in, even knowing – even conceding – that he didn’t know about this,” Bergstrom said, arguing that the prosecutors should not be allowed to introduce evidence except for the assaults against two boys detailed in the criminal complaint. “Father Lynn was not a police officer.”

Earlier, Sarmina rejected a last-ditch attempt by defense lawyers to bar the media or the public from the proceeding. They argued that information might not be introduced at trial, and to air it now could possibly taint jury selection, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 22.

 

Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, at jmartin@phillynews.com or at JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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