Story of ‘ladies man’ priest turned molester unfolds in court

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Posted: Tue, May. 1, 2012, 12:07 PM

By Joseph A. Slobodzian

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Young and darkly handsome, Sylvester Wiejata had an eye for the ladies, especially married ones.

Problem was, Wiejata was a priest.

This morning a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury listened to the grand jury testimony of Msgr. William J. Lynn as he tried to explain his alleged failure to act as Wiejata’s sexual overtures went from married women to single women in their 20s and, ultimately in August 2000, allegations that he had fondled the 13-year-old daughter of a woman with whom he had an affair.

As secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, Lynn, 61, was the Archdiocesan official responsible for investigating allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Charged with endangering the welfare of children. He is the first Catholic church official to be criminally prosecuted in a landmark trial focusing on the sexual abuse of children by some priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese.

Lynn had denied the charge that his alleged inaction enabled deviate priests to continue preying on children and his lawyers have argued that he was the first church official here to move against priests against whom there were years of record allegations of sexual misconduct.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington today read to the jury Lynn’s testimony before the county investigating grand jury about the Wiejata case in an apparent effort to show that Lynn, like his predecessors, was more interested in protecting the church’s reputation than the welfare of Wiejata’s alleged victims.

Wiejata, now 42, was defrocked by the church in March 2002, just six years after his ordination. According to trial testimony, Wiejata began an affair with a married woman at his first parish assignment, Our Lady of Calvary in Philadelphia. Moved to the Assumption B.V.M. parish in West Grove in Chester County, the young priest promptly began a new affair with another married parishioner.

Lynn, in his testimony before the grand jury, described how Wiejata was removed from the Assumption church in 1999 and became a patient at St. John Vianney Hospital in Downingtown, the church-run facility for priests with sexual or substance-abuse problems.

But after eight months of treatment, Lynn’s testimony revealed, the church official was getting new complaints that Wiejata’s “sexual acting-out” had taken a disturbing new turn.

In May 2000, Lynn told the grand jury that he got a phone call from a theological professor who accused Wiejata of acting inappropriately with the professor’s 20- and 21-year-old daughters during a dinner at his house. The professor said that Wiejata asked the young women to sit in his lap and then told one that he dreamed of her and kissing her.

In August 2000, Lynn told the grand jury, he received an anonymous call from a woman, who said she knew of Wiejata history because she had an affair with him. She said that she came home and discovered Wiejata there fondling and kissing her 13-year-old daughter.

In his testimony before the grand jury, Lynn struggled to explain to the prosecutor why he did not try to discover the child’s identity and why he did not consider calling the police. Although his phone memo notes had the name of a person named “Pat” on the pad, Lynn insisted that he did not know if this was the name of the anonymous caller.

Lynn said he did not contact the West Grove parish to see if the name matched with anyone who attended the Assumption church. Nor did he call police, telling the grand jury prosecutor that “I wasn’t thinking in terms of a crime.” Lynn also told the grand jury that he had doubts about the caller’s credibility because she admitted to an affair with Wiejata. “I thought she might be vindictive,” he said.

Still, Lynn ordered Wiejata — then still on administrative leave from the ministry — to come to his offices on Aug. 4, 2000 and, with an aide taking notes, confronted Wiejata who ultimately admitted to fondling the 13-year-old girl.

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

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