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Jurors being seated in Pa. priest child-rape case

- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Roman Catholic monsignor charged with protecting two priests accused of rape lost a last-minute bid Monday to be absolved in court as jury selection proceeded in a landmark case.

Monsignor William Lynn had asked to have the child-endangerment and conspiracy case against him thrown out based on new evidence found in a 10th-floor safe at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

His lawyers argued Monday in Philadelphia that the grand jury might not have indicted Monsignor Lynn if it had known of the evidence. But Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said it was not clear what the grand jury would have done, and she refused to throw out the charges.

Now on leave, Monsignor Lynn is the first U.S. church official ever charged over accusations of administrative failings in the priest-abuse crisis. He stands trial along with Edward Avery, who has since been defrocked, and the Rev. James Brennan, who is no longer in active ministry.

Five jurors were seated before the court adjourned at the end of the day. In all, 12 people will be selected as jurors and another 10 as alternates.

In the predominantly Catholic city, many in the jury pool have ties to Roman Catholic schools or parishes. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia counts 1.5 million Catholics. But most in the pool said they still could be fair in deciding the case. The trial could last four months.

In arguing for dismissal, Monsignor Lynn's lawyers referred to a memo turned over by the archdiocese this month that states the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua ordered his top aides to shred a list of 35 accused priests still in ministry in 1994 — a decade before the child-abuse scandal exploded.

Monsignor Lynn said he prepared the list and gave it to Bevilacqua after he became secretary for clergy in 1992 and started reviewing secret archives of priest-abuse complaints. The complaints were kept in a secure room — rigged with an alarm — at the archdiocese's downtown headquarters.

Bevilacqua discussed the issue at a 1994 meeting with his two top aides and ordered all four known copies destroyed, according to a memo signed by the late Monsignor James E. Molloy, who said he shredded them, and a witness.

But a copy of the list, and Molloy's accompanying memo, were found in the locked safe at the archdiocese in 2006.

Prosecutors called Monsignor Lynn's bid to have the charges dropped a "combination of the dead-guys-did-it and the I-was-only-following-orders defenses." They argued that he prepared the list not to weed out predators, but to prepare for possible civil suits.

Defense lawyers said the new evidence shows Monsignor Lynn was trying to address the priest-abuse problem, only to have Bevilacqua quash his efforts. They also said Bevilacqua and Molloy denied to a 2003 grand jury that they had destroyed evidence from the secret archives.

Bevilacqua died last month at age 88.

Prosecutors called the 1994 list a "smoking gun" for their side. They say it shows Monsignor Lynn's deep involvement in the church child-abuse conspiracy. And they argued that the safe belonged to Monsignor Lynn, who left office in 2004. Monsignor Lynn's lawyers argued that Molloy stashed it in the safe.

"They (the documents) show Lynn to be the most active participant in a well-orchestrated conspiracy among Archdiocese officials to cover up the sexual crimes of priests and to keep known child molesters in ministry," prosecutors wrote in a written motion.

They say the list also shows that Monsignor Lynn knew Mr. Avery, the co-defendant, was a child molester but failed to have him removed. And they say it shows that Monsignor Lynn perjured himself before the grand jury.

Monsignor Lynn, 61, faces up to 28 years if convicted on all counts. The archdiocese is paying for the four criminal defense lawyers advising him in court, despite the increasingly apparent complications that presents.

A gag order prevents parties in the case from commenting on the filings.

The jurors chosen Monday included a man who didn't recognize a prosecutor from their huge, long-ago graduating class at one of the city's Catholic high schools. Those who didn't make the cut included a man wearing a T-shirt mourning the loss of a now-shuttered Catholic high school; a La Salle University graduate who knows an accused priest; and a woman who put four children through Catholic schools and remains miffed over the treatment her daughter got from their parish when she married a Jew. She nonetheless felt she could serve.

"I mean, there's plenty of priests I know that are great," the woman said.

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