Philadelphia prosecutors seek to prove pattern of pedophile priests, transfers at March trial

Prosecutors seeking to convict four Roman Catholic priests and a teacher in a pedophilia case want to use evidence of other sexual assault complaints and priest transfers in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

They filed a motion Friday to include relevant conduct at the high-profile trial, which is scheduled for March.

Monsignor William Lynn, 60, is the first U.S. church official charged with child endangerment and accused of transferring predator priests who then abused more victims. Two priests, an ex-priest and a teacher are charged in the same case with raping two boys.

Prosecutors hope to show that Lynn had a pattern of transferring known predators and that priests “had the opportunity and cover” to abuse minors.

They also want to show the jury broad evidence of the archdiocese’s handling of sex-abuse complaints, to try to prove the complaints were ignored, enabling predators and exposing them to new victims.

“The Commonwealth needs the ‘other acts’ evidence to make out core elements of the crimes charged: Lynn’s knowledge, and the intent he shared with his supervisors and with accused priests, are established by the patterns evident in his extensive history of handling priests who sexually assaulted children,” city prosecutors wrote in a pretrial motion filed Friday.

Defense lawyers have a month to file their response and cannot comment on the filing because of a gag order.

They have sought, unsuccessfully, to separate the rape charges from the case against Lynn, who is charged solely for his administrative actions as secretary for clergy.

Lynn’s lawyers say their client was acting on orders from Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, whom he served from 1992 to 2004.

In another key pretrial issue, prosecutors are seeking to preserve Bevilacqua’s testimony before trial. However, the archdiocese argues that the retired cardinal, at 92, suffers from cancer and dementia and should not be dragged into court.

Lynn’s lawyers will clearly try to limit the scope of the trial testimony to job transfers involving the three priests on trial with him. They are the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, the Rev. James Brennan, 48, and former priest Edward Avery, 69, along with former teacher Bernard Shero, 48. All of them have denied the charges.

A 2005 grand jury report details sexual assault complaints filed against 63 priests over several decades, many of whom were transferred repeatedly. Lynn features prominently in the report. His lawyers have argued, in part, that Lynn never supervised children and cannot therefore be charged with endangering them.

Lynn’s motion to limit the trial evidence will be argued in December or January.

Three of the defendants are accused of raping the same child, starting when the victim was a 10-year-old altar boy in northeast Philadelphia, according to a February grand jury report underlying the charges. The fourth co-defendant is charged with raping a second boy from a suburban parish.

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