PHILADELPHIA — After eight weeks of wrenching testimony, Philadelphia prosecutors rested their case Thursday in the trial of a Roman Catholic church official accused of helping bury complaints that priests were raping and molesting children.
Monsignor William Lynn is the first U.S. church official charged for his handling of the abuse complaints. Prosecutors say the former secretary for clergy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia helped known predators stay in ministry, and they charged him with child endangerment and conspiracy.
In arguing to send the case to the jury, a prosecutor said the church needed the priests to run the “business,” protecting church assets – and secrets – over the lives of children.
“They turned a religious institution into a financial institution,” Assistant District Patrick Blessington argued. “It’s disgraceful. It’s criminal.”
Defense lawyers counter that Lynn tried to address the problem as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, but he took orders from above. For most of his tenure, he reported to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Nearly 2,000 internal church documents unearthed from secret, locked archives show that Bevilacqua approved and occasionally overturned priest assignments recommended by Lynn. The archdiocese routinely kept accused predators in parish work, sometimes after a stint at a church-run treatment center.
Jurors have heard painful testimony from more than a dozen men and women who say they were abused. Former altar boys and others said they were molested or raped while working in the rectory, on overnight trips to the shore, and even in the church sacristy.
Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina agreed with a defense motion Thursday to drop one of two conspiracy counts lodged against Lynn. But he still faces another conspiracy count and two counts of child endangerment.
“The wild card, obviously, is whether or not we decide to put Monsignor Lynn on the stand,” lawyer Thomas Bergstrom told Sarmina as he sketched out defense plans for next week.
The trial caps a 10-year investigation for Philadelphia prosecutors, who began their work after the priest sex-abuse crisis broke open in Boston in 2002. They produced an explosive 2005 grand jury report that named 63 Philadelphia priests as likely predators but bitterly concluded that no one could be charged because of legal time limits.
But they got a second chance when more recent accusations surfaced, and they charged Lynn last year after a second grand jury investigation. That report alleged that Lynn knew the accused priests had prior complaints in their files but allowed them to remain in jobs around children.
In a blow to the defense, Sarmina let prosecutors tell the jury about 20 other priests whose cases had crossed Lynn’s desk, to show a pattern of behavior.
As early as 1994, Lynn had prepared a list of about three dozen problem priests based on his review of the secret files, and he sent it to Bevilacqua. The list, shown to jurors, classified three as diagnosed pedophiles and 12 more as “guilty” of the abuse. Twenty were inconclusive, Lynn had said.
Many remained active priests in the archdiocese for years. And one led a South Philadelphia parish until March.
The list is the closest thing to a smoking gun in the case.
Prosecutors say it shows that Lynn knew all too well the church had dangerous predators in its midst. The defense says it shows the loyal aide trying to get Bevilacqua to address the festering problem.
Lynn told the grand jury about the list in 2002, but he said he couldn’t find it in his office.
Then a memo surfaced in February – just days after the former cardinal’s death – that shows Bevilacqua had ordered it shredded. A surviving copy of the list was found.
Prosecutors ended their case Thursday with a detective testifying about the list and its belated discovery.
Lynn is on trial with the Rev. James Brennan, one of four co-defendants charged last year. Former priest Edward Avery – deemed “guilty” on Lynn’s 1994 list and defrocked in 2006 – pleaded guilty before trial to sexually assaulting an altar boy in a church sacristy in 1999. He is serving a 2-1/2- to five-year prison term. The two others will be tried separately.
Brennan, 48, denies the charges, and his lawyer attacked the accuser’s credibility when he testified.
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Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died just weeks before his longtime aide went on trial in the alleged cover-up of sexual assaults by priests within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Witnesses portray him as a regal, sometimes feared authoritarian figure: “the man at the top,” in the words of city detective Joseph Walsh.
After eight weeks of evidence, prosecutors trying to convict Monsignor William Lynn of child endangerment rested Thursday without showing the videotaped deposition Bevilacqua gave two months before his Jan. 31 death. He was 88, and battling cancer and dementia. And he claimed to remember few details of the scores of abuse complaints that came in under his watch, according to a defense motion.
Yet since his death, prosecutors have learned the cardinal ordered two confidantes to destroy a 1994 list Lynn had prepared of 35 problem priests.
The list warned the cardinal they had three diagnosed pedophiles, a dozen confirmed predators and at least 20 more possible abusers in their midst.
Bevilacqua promptly had the list shredded, according to a memo signed by his loyal aides, current Bishop Joseph R. Cistone of Saginaw, Mich., and now-retired Bishop Edward Cullen of Allentown, Pa.
“It was all about the good of Mother Church,” Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington argued to the trial judge Thursday. “It’s not only criminal, it’s outrageously criminal.”
Lynn was the point person for abuse complaints in his role as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. He had little training for the job.
“I thought I was dealing with them adequately,” Lynn told a grand jury in 2002, when prosecutors started investigating the archdiocese. “I didn’t get any direction.”
Ten years later, jurors have seen nearly 2,000 documents subpoenaed from secret church archives, an astonishing cache that was long protected by locks, keys and door alarms.
They have also heard from former altar boys, and men and women who worked in rectories growing up, who said they were raped or fondled for years.
Prosecutors call Lynn a key player in developing the archdiocese’s response to the complaints. Typically, that meant taking statements from the accused and accuser, typing up memos, and sometimes sending a priest for counseling before he was transferred to a new parish.
Lynn’s defense lawyers have at times called their client a mere “scrivener” who carried out Bevilacqua’s orders. And even prosecution witnesses agreed the cardinal ultimately decided priest assignments.
Jurors also heard what happened if a pastor refused to take one of the bad apples. Monsignor Michael Picard of Newtown testified that he was called down to meet with Bevilacqua about his “disobedience” in 1996. He spent 14 years “in the penalty box,” denied the title of monsignor.
The evidence paints Lynn, by comparison, as a company man, dutiful and compliant. He alone now faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted.
“I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know whether he broke the law. But he certainly did not do the honorable thing,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. “He should have looked Bevilacqua in the eye and said, `You can’t do this. This is wrong, and I’m not going to be part of it.'”
The cardinal, trained in both canon and civil law, made 10 combative appearances before the grand jury in 2003 and 2004, accompanied by high-priced counsel. Prosecutors blasted Bevilacqua in their 2005 grand jury report, but said they couldn’t charge him because the statute of limitations had run out on the accusations.
A second grand jury last year complained there were still dozens of accused Philadelphia priests in ministry. Armed with new complaints and revised laws, prosecutors charged three priests and a teacher with sexually assaulting two boys in the 1990s. They charged Lynn with two counts each of child endangerment and conspiracy.
“You don’t care about the boys. You care about the business of the church,” Blessington said Thursday about the lead defendant.
Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina dropped one of the conspiracy charges when prosecutors rested, finding insufficient evidence Lynn had conspired with the Rev. James Brennan to keep him in ministry. Brennan is also on trial, charged with molesting a teenager in 1996. Defrocked priest Edward Avery pleaded guilty to a 1999 sexual assault, and is serving a 2 1/2- to five-year term.
The defense starts its case Tuesday, with Lynn’s former assistants and several character witnesses expected to testify. It’s not clear whether Lynn will take the stand.
The jury is expected to get the case in about two weeks – presumably, without ever hearing the sealed testimony of “the man at the top.”
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A Roman Catholic cardinal and his top aides lied to their lawyer about shredding a key piece of evidence in the Philadelphia clergy-abuse scandal, the lawyer testified Monday.
Coyne said he doesn’t remember any response from Bevilacqua. And the aides — two of whom went on to lead other dioceses — denied they knew where it was, Coyne said.
No one told him that Bevilacqua had ordered the list shredded in 1994, shortly after Monsignor William Lynn, his secretary for clergy, compiled it.
“Everyone who I spoke to said they didn’t know where it was and they didn’t have a copy of it,” Coyne testified Monday.
“Everybody lied to you?” Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked.
“That’s fair,” Coyne said.
The list is something of a smoking gun in Lynn’s child-endangerment trial, although each side is trying to spin it to their advantage.
Prosecutors in 2004 were deep into a three-year probe of the archdiocese. Their blistering 2005 grand jury report blasted Bevilacqua, Lynn and others for their handling of abuse complaints lodged against 63 priests, but said no criminal charges could be filed.
It’s not clear if the list — or suggestions that evidence was being shredded — would have helped them make a case against anyone. But one accused priest on the 1994 list continued to lead a South Philadelphia parish until he was suspended this past March.
Lynn, 61, was charged last year over his handling of more recent abuse complaints.
Defense lawyers argue that he alone tried to do something about the festering abuse problem when he served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. They point to the list as proof.
Lynn told the grand jury that he had decided, after taking office, to go through secret church files to create a list of problem priests who were still on duty. His list described three priests as diagnosed pedophiles, and deemed others “guilty” because they had admitted the abuse. The list was discussed at a February 1994 meeting between Bevilacqua and his closest aides.
According to a memo, Bevilacqua ordered Monsignor James E. Molloy to shred the original list and three copies, including one made for Bishop Edward Cullen, a top aide who later led the Allentown diocese.
Hand-written notes state that Molloy did so in the presence of another aide, Bishop Joseph R. Cistone, who is now the bishop of Saginaw, Mich.
Yet a surviving copy surfaced at the archdiocese early this year — 10 days after Bevilacqua died.
The list was found in a gray file in Coyne’s office. But it had first been found in 2006 in a locked safe at the Secretary for Clergy’s office.
A staff person cleaning out the file room — in disarray after the grand jury investigation — came across the safe and had a locksmith open it, according to her testimony last week.
She said she found a gray file inside and left it with an assistant to Monsignor Timothy Senior, who had succeeded Lynn. Coyne testified that Senior later gave the file to him for safe keeping. He said he only glanced at it before putting it in his files, and didn’t realize it held the list he had sought years earlier.
On cross-examination from defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom, Coyne acknowledged that Lynn had apparently looked for the list in 2004 after telling the grand jury about it.
“My impression is he looked everywhere for it,” Coyne said.
Bergstrom suggested the locked safe belonged to Molloy, Lynn’s supervisor.
The list only surfaced on Feb. 10, on the eve of Lynn’s trial. Bevilacqua had died Jan. 31 at age 88.
As church officials took the stand Monday, the gray file became a hot potato. Senior, now an auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia, denied ever touching it. Fr. James Oliver, Senior’s assistant and a canon lawyer, likewise said he didn’t recall handling it.
Prosecutors have called the archdiocese an “unindicted co-conspirator” in Lynn’s case. Bevilacqua, in 10 combative appearances before the grand jury in 2003 and 2004, denied any attempt to obstruct the investigation.
The jury is expected to get the case by Memorial Day, after three months of testimony. Lynn faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted.
A spokeswoman for Cistone referred a call for comment Monday to his lawyer, William Winning of Philadelphia, who did not immediately return a message. A message left through the Allentown diocese for Cullen, who retired in 2009, was not immediately returned. Molloy died in 2006.
The Philadelphia archdiocese is not commenting on trial developments because of a gag order.
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A nun who was sexually abused as a minor by a predator priest called out Monsignor William J. Lynn Thursday from her perch on the witness stand.
It was a dramatic confrontation as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial wrapped up its seventh week of testimony. Lynn is on trial for allegedly conspiring to endanger the welfare of children by allowing abusive priests to continue in ministry
All along, the defense mantra has been that the monsignor was just a cog in the wheel down at archdiocese headquarters on 222 N. 17th St., and that the ultimate villain in the case was the guy who wielded the ultimate power in the archdiocese, the conveniently dead Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.
But the nun on the witness stand refused to play along.
It started when Thomas Bergstrom, a defense lawyer for Msgr. Lynn, tried to get the nun on cross-examination to agree that Msgr. Lynn did not have the power to remove a pastor who had sexually abused her and at least 10 other young women.
“He [Lynn] had the power to suggest it,” she said, referring to the removal of the pastor. And then on redirect, when the prosecutor asked her about the power Lynn had as the archdiocese’s secretary for clergy, the nun said that Lynn had the simple power of just saying no.
Instead of going along with the power structure, the nun said, “You can also say, I cannot do this.”
It was a simple, but powerful declaration coming from a nun who herself was an administrator down at archdiocese HQ, and also as a young woman, a victim of sex abuse from a pervert priest.
The nun, who did not want to be identified, wasn’t finished.
“I would think that his [Lynn’s] recommendation would be heard,”she told Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington. And if it wasn’t, Lynn could have told the cardinal, “I cannot go on; if it isn’t done that way, I can quit.”
The nun’s firm but understated conviction about the need to simply do the right thing sent a ripple of excitement through courtroom spectators, which included victims of sex abuse, and activists hoping for the impossible, reform in the Roman Catholic Church. It also raised an age-old question, namely why do the women in the Catholic church usually have more balls than the men?
Before she called out the monsignor, the nun told her story about how she had been abused by the notorious Father Nicholas V. Cudemo, a serial rapist who used mind control and guilt to dominate his victims.
The nun, dubbed “Sister Irene” in the 2005 grand jury report, was Father Cudemo’s second cousin. The priest also abused the nun’s sister, and a younger cousin, in addition to at least eight other young women.
The witness was 15 years old when Father Cudemo took her to baseball and basketball games at Archbishop Kennedy High School, where the priest was a teacher. While driving her home one night, Cudemo pulled over, and started kissing her passionately. “He got on top of me,” the nun testified. “His hands were literally all over me.”
The witness told the jury that she had dated boys before, but had never experienced such “intense passion or strength.”
Then, when she was 16, it happened again. Father Cudemo drove her home, this time with a carload of other kids. While driving, he took her hand and “placed it on his penis strongly,” she said, and then he just held her hand there.
“I just went numb,” she said. Father Cudemo would call up the victim and tell her she was “his favorite cousin,” and he would explain his behavior by saying, “cousins have these kinds of relationships.”
In 1991, Sister Irene found out that Father Cudemo had sexually abused her younger cousin, identified in the grand jury report as Ruth. The abuse of Ruth began at 10, and included an abortion at 11. Sister Irene was shattered by the news.
“I really felt for the first time in my life I was confronting evil,” she told the jury. So the nun, her sister, and her cousin Ruth went to the archdiocese on Sept. 25, 1991, to report the abuse. They told Msgr. James E. Molloy, vicar for administration, and his assistant, Msgr. Lynn, that they wanted Father Cudemo removed from his post as pastor of St. Callistus Church.
Molloy told the victims, “It’s not that easy to remove a pastor at this time,” the nun told the jury. When the victims suggested the archdiocese notify parishioners at St. Callistus about what the priest had done to his victims, they were told it would be “defamation of character” and “calumny.”
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