Lawyers: Prosecutors hanging blame for Philly church abuse on 1 monsignor; March trial looms

Prosecutors are trying to hold a single Roman Catholic church official responsible for the priest abuse scandal in Philadelphia, defense lawyers argued Tuesday at a key hearing in a novel clergy-abuse case.

City prosecutors want to include accusations against dozens of priests when Monsignor William Lynn stand trial on child endangerment and conspiracy charges in March. Most of the cases stem from a 2005 grand jury report that blasted church officials for keeping 63 problem priests on the job — but yielded no criminal charges.

Now, prosecutors are pushing to include about 30 of those cases in Lynn’s trial. Lynn served as secretary of clergy for the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004.

Prosecutors say the 61-year-old Lynn kept priests in ministry and around children despite explosive allegations in secret church files. Those files are now in prosecutors’ hands — and some of them are being aired in court.

Defense lawyers argued Tuesday that Lynn took orders from Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and several bishops above him in the church hierarchy. They said prosecutors should have indicted the archdiocese and others if they wanted to attempt a broad conspiracy case.

Lynn, they said, was doing his job as ordered in the era before 2002, when Catholic bishops nationwide, battling scandal, adopted formal rules on how dioceses should handle accused priests.

Church files “show when his marching orders changed,” defense lawyer Jeffrey Lindy argued Tuesday. “They can complain about his job. They can complain about the (archdiocesan) rules. … But the archdiocese is not charged.”

Prosecutors call the archdiocese “an unindicted co-conspirator” in the case. Bevilacqua is now 88 and in failing health. His successor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired last year after a second grand jury returned charges against Lynn and four others. The co-defendants — three priests and a teacher — are charged with raping boys.

Lynn is the first church official in the U.S. ever charged over his alleged administrative failures.

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is hearing arguments this week on what evidence should be included at his trial. Lynn will be tried with two of the co-defendants; the others will be tried separately.

Prosecutors are detailing accusations against various priests who remained in parish work despite complaints they had abused and sometimes raped boys on overnight trips, in schools and rectories, and even in the church sacristy. Prosecutors also allege that Lynn did little to ensure that priests sent for sex-therapy treatment were supervised upon their release.

Sarmina didn’t indicate when she would rule. But she tipped her hat on her view of the church’s oversight of its priests when Lindy suggested that Lynn was just one part in a strict chain of command.

“It doesn’t sound like it. Even though priests take vows of obedience, (and break them), … nothing happens,” Sarmina said, referring not just to accused molesters but also to priests who moonlighted as disc jockeys or who were accused of living with former students. “But that’s not what this trial is about.”

Sarmina could rule Wednesday on how many, if any, of the 2005 grand jury cases will find their way into Lynn’s trial.

The first case outlined was that of now-defrocked priest Stanley M. Gana, a one-time chaplain for the Boy Scouts of America. The 2005 grand jury said he abused “countless” boys at various parishes.

Lynn, when he served as dean of men at an archdiocesan seminary, knew Gana was frequently visiting a seminary student. The seminarian told Lynn in 1992 that Gana had been abusing him since he was 13, Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen said.

Gana denied the rape accusation, but admitted he had given another accuser $12,000, she said. Gana was left in ministry, and continued to assault boys, until 2002, prosecutors said.

In a case described Tuesday, prosecutors said a priest went for inpatient psycho-sexual treatment after an abuse allegation surfaced, and was given female hormones that serve as chemical castration, but remained in parish work for years.

Other times, Lynn and others in the archdiocese investigated accusers, not the alleged molesters, and withheld information from families and parishes.

“They’re not concerned about the victims, they are just concerned about the almighty dollar, and the mother church,” Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington argued Tuesday.

The archdiocese cannot comment on the pretrial hearing because of a gag order, spokeswoman Donna Farrell said this week.

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