PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The prosecution rested its case on Thursday against Philadelphia Archdiocese Monsignor William Lynn, the most senior U.S. clergyman to go to trial in the Roman Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandal.
During nearly eight weeks of startling testimony about the lurid lives of predatory priests, Lynn, a former secretary of the clergy, has sat stoically in his clerical garb as the case unfolded in an often-packed courtroom.
Lynn, 61, is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy over accusations 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 that started on March 26 has drawn a spotlight on the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the nation’s sixth largest with 1.5 million members, in a case experts say is likely being watched by the Vatican.
Defense lawyers promised to begin their case on Tuesday to bolster Lynn’s argument that he acted responsibly, reporting allegations to higher officials, but was overruled.
Lynn served in essence as the personnel director of the archdiocese under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the long-time archbishop of Philadelphia.
Bevilacqua, who died at age 88 just two months before the trial began, nonetheless became a key figure as defense lawyers repeatedly portrayed Lynn as merely carrying out the directions of his boss, the archbishop.
A grand jury that indicted Lynn and four others said in its January 2011 report that “Over the past two decades, Msgr. Lynn has put literally thousands of children at risk of sexual abuse by placing them in the care of known child molesters.”
The trial has offered a peek into the inner workings of the church, with the most dramatic testimony coming from several men who said they were victimized as young boys by priests.
One of them testified against the priest on trial with Lynn, the Rev. James Brennan, 48, who is charged with attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996.
The accuser, now 30 and a former Marine, cried several times on the witness stand, describing a night he spent as a teenager at Brennan’s apartment. He said the priest molested him.
“I was scared,” the witness said. “I thought he would kill me or something. I didn’t know. I was a little boy.”
The same grand jury that charged Lynn and Brennan also indicted three others including defrocked priest Edward Avery, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in church in 1999.
Avery is now serving 2-1/2 to 5 years in prison.
A priest and a former archdiocese teacher accused of child sex abuse who face trial at a later date were also charged.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Cynthia Johnston and Todd Eastham