PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Monsignor William Lynn testified on Wednesday at his criminal trial in a Philadelphia pedophilia case that he reassigned a predator priest to live in parish housing attached to an elementary school, where he ultimately abused another child.
Lynn, 61, the most senior U.S. clergyman to go on trial in the widespread U.S. Roman Catholic Church scandal, took the stand to defend himself against charges he covered up child sex abuse allegations against priests, many of whom were simply transferred to unsuspecting parishes.
He faces the possibility of 28 years in prison if convicted.
The trial, in its ninth week in Common Pleas Court, has served as a painful reminder of the sex abuse scandals that shook Catholic communities across the country for more than a decade. More than 10,000 allegations of child sex abuse were brought against priests in the United States between 1950 and 2002, according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Lynn, as secretary of the clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, supervised Philadelphia priests for 12 years. With 1.5 million members, the Philadelphia Archdiocese is the sixth largest in the United States.
Dressed in clerical garb, Lynn testified about how he handled an abuse complaint lodged in the 1990s against then-Reverend Edward Avery, who has since been defrocked.
Avery, who had been slated to go on trial with Lynn, pleaded guilty just days before the trial began and is serving up to five years in prison for sex crimes.
Lynn testified that in the 1990s, a young man came into his archdiocese office to complain that Avery had abused him 20 years earlier on a bed in a rectory in the 1970s.
“Father Avery touched him, groped him,” Lynn testified.
Lynn said he confronted Avery and, when he denied the accusations, Lynn recommended sending him to a Catholic hospital for troubled clerics. After a few years of encouraging progress there, Lynn recommended the priest go back to work, he testified.
Lynn’s initial recommendation to send Avery to work at a parish was overruled by his boss, Bevilacqua, who ordered Avery assigned to a chaplaincy instead. Lynn followed orders and, when allowed to choose where Avery would live, selected St. Jerome’s Church, which also housed an elementary school.
According to a grand jury report describing an epidemic of abuse in Philadelphia, it wasn’t long before Avery molested a 10-year-old altar boy at St. Jerome’s during the 1998-1999 school year.
The former altar boy was one of several victims who have offered some of the most dramatic testimony at Lynn’s trial. He recalled Avery ordered him to do a strip tease and demanded he perform sexual acts. The trauma of the abuse, the victim testified, ended up transforming him from a happy, outgoing person to a drug abuser who attempted suicide.
During questioning on Wednesday by prosecutor Patrick Blessington, Lynn was asked repeatedly whether he lied to parishioners when asked why certain priests had been removed or relocated.
“I did not do that,” he said, though he conceded that he did not disclose the accusations of abuse. “The cardinal would not allow us to announce why someone was leaving.”
“I was given the directions what to do,” he said.
Asked whether he would tell victims they had a right to go to the police with their accusations, Lynn said, “If they brought up civil authorities I told him it was their right.”
Lynn’s testimony came on the second day of the defense’s case, after the prosecution spent eight weeks calling witnesses and introducing evidence. Closing arguments in the case are likely to occur next week.
Lynn is not charged with committing sex abuse, but rather of protecting other priests accused of molesting children in the archdiocese.
Lynn served under Bevilacqua, who died in January at age 88, overseeing 800 priests and responsible for investigating sex abuse claims from 1992 to 2004.
His lawyers have argued that Lynn tried to stop the abuse, going so far as to comb through a “secret archive” to make a list of 35 clergy who were involved in abusive conduct or were classified with a sexual disorder.
Lynn gave that list to Bevilacqua in 1994, only to have his boss order it shredded, his lawyers have said, painting Bevilacqua and his top advisers, who carried out the shredding, as the ones responsible for any cover-up.
Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Philip Barbara