PHILADELPHIA — A landmark sex-abuse trial opening Monday in Philadelphia may unveil the operations of a Roman Catholic archdiocese and detail how children’s complaints were buried for decades in secret archives next to a soaring cathedral as the priests they named went unpunished.
Monsignor William Lynn is the first U.S. church official ever charged with endangering children by failure to oust accused predators from ministry. But he may not be the last.
Philadelphia prosecutors say he helped carry out “an archdiocesan-wide policy … [that] was criminal in nature.” And they have hinted that they could charge others when the trial ends.
Civil lawyers believe the trial will help them refile priest-abuse lawsuits that were thrown out in Pennsylvania because of legal time limits, or persuade the state legislature to open a window for filing child sex-abuse claims.
“The evidence that has come out about the conspiracy and the cover-up and the level of officialdom involved in it is going to help us,” said lawyer Jay Abramowitch, whose priest-abuse lawsuit involving 18 accusers was thrown out by the state Supreme Court in 2005.
Also on trial is the Rev. James J. Brennan who, like Father Lynn, has pleaded not guilty. Last week, a third man facing trial, defrocked priest Edward Avery, 69, pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 to five years in prison and ordered to surrender within 10 days.
Father Lynn, 61, remains the focal point of the trial because he was the secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004.
Father Lynn argues that he prepared a list of 37 accused priests in 1994, and sent it to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua - only for Bevilacqua to have it shredded. The cardinal died this year, but his videotaped deposition could be played at trial.
The trial will be followed by concerned Catholics across the country, including some who say their lives were destroyed.
“It gives me hope that it’s going to raise public awareness, and it’s going to expose the church - what they knew, when they knew it,” said Art Baselice Jr. of Mantua, N.J., a retired Philadelphia homicide detective.
His son, Arthur III, overdosed in 2006, after his civil suit accusing a Philadelphia priest of abuse was thrown out.
Father Lynn faces two counts each of conspiracy and child endangerment and up to 28 years in prison if convicted.
Four others - two priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher - were charged with rape. The report involves just two accusers. One man says he was passed around by two priests, including then-Father Avery, and his Catholic school teacher in 1998 and 1999.
“When Mass was ended, Fr. Avery took the fifth-grader into the sacristy, turned on the music, and ordered him to perform a ‘striptease’ for him, … When they were both naked, the priest had the boy sit on his lap and kissed his neck and back, while saying to him that God loved him,” the report alleges, followed by oral sex and penetration.
Defense attorneys plan to attack accusers’ motives, arguing that they are out for money or hope to explain away their troubled lives. Both accusers have criminal records and a history of drug addiction.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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