Philadelphia’s top prosecutor said that a jury’s verdict Friday on one of four charges brought against the first Catholic Church official to be criminally prosecuted for placing children in proximity with sexually abusive priests when he did not directly abuse the children would change how religious and secular institutions deal with sexual abuse.
The prosecution and conviction of defendant Monsignor William J. Lynn “will change the ways business is done in institutions … where people will not protect predators at any cost,” Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said.
But one of Lynn’s defense attorneys, Jeffrey M. Lindy of Lindy & Tauber, said in the wake of Lynn’s conviction on endangering the welfare of a child that Lynn was the fall guy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Lynn was the secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004 under the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua with responsibility for recommending assignments of priests and investigating reports of sexual abuse by priests.
When Lynn’s counsel were asked Friday if he was the fall guy, Lindy said that “of course he is” and that the archdiocese needed a body to offer up to Philadelphia prosecutors and that body was his client’s.
“He’s crushed. He’s in custody and he didn’t want anything other than to help kids,” Lindy said.
When Williams was asked why other church leaders, such as Bevilacqua and others in the chain of command above Lynn were not prosecuted, Williams said that his job was to charge “those I believed we could prove guilty beyond reasonable doubt, not just to go on witch hunts, supposition, or a wing and a prayer.”
Two years on the job, Lynn had developed a list out of the church’s secret archives of priests accused of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct. Lynn sent the list up his chain of command and Bevilacqua ultimately ordered copies of the list shredded, The Legal previously reported. The archdiocese’s former general counsel, Tim Coyne, testified that Bevilacqua and other top aides lied to him about Bevilacqua’s order to shred the list of 35 priests during a time that Coyne was trying to find the list, the Associated Press reported.
Copies of the list ended up in a safe and in a filing cabinet in Lynn’s old office, and copies of the list were not produced for the prosecution until just weeks before trial and after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia hired new outside counsel, Welsh & Recker.
After 13 days of deliberation, more than two months of testimony and more than 1,900 documents admitted into evidence, the 12 Philadelphia jurors said they were firm in finding Lynn had endangered the welfare of a 10-year-old altar boy when he was sexually assaulted by a priest who the official recommended for his clerical assignment.
Lynn was acquitted of conspiring with that boy’s abuser, defrocked priest Edward V. Avery, to endanger the welfare of D.G. and/or other minors. Avery pled guilty between the time the jury was selected and the trial started to the first-degree felony of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse for sexually abusing D.G. The priest also pled guilty to the third-degree felony of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children by conspiring with church officials to conceal his history of sexual abuse from Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia parishioners and keep him in ministry.
The Legal is not naming the known and alleged victims.
D.G. testified that, at the age of 10, when he was an altar server, he was not warned that Avery was a danger to him despite the archdiocese being told in 1992 that Avery had touched a man’s genitals when he was 15 years old and again when he was 18. D.G. testified that Avery retained him two times after D.G. served Mass with him and he sexually abused him.
Lynn admitted to a “lie” regarding Avery when he testified.
When Avery was removed from a parish, Lynn memorialized that he had told parishioners there were nothing but complimentary reports about Avery. But Lynn had received a report in 1992 about Avery touching a man’s genitals.
Lynn said he was trying to put “out a fire” in which different factions of the church were accusing each other of getting Avery removed. Lynn also said that he was not permitted to tell parishioners that the reason Avery was removed was because of the sexual-abuse allegation.
Lynn also was acquitted of endangering the welfare of M.B., who said Lynn’s co-defendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, tried to rape him.
The jury hung on the attempted rape and endangering the welfare of child charges Brennan faced. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina declared a mistrial.
After the prosecution closed its case and before the defense started, Sarmina acquitted Lynn and Brennan of conspiring to endanger the welfare of M.B. and other youths.
Immediately after the jury exited the courtroom, prosecutor Patrick Blessington moved to revoke Lynn’s bail until his Aug. 13 sentencing, which ignited a heated argument between the parties about whether or not Lynn was either a flight risk or a danger to the community. His family members and other supporters looked on, teary-eyed.
Blessington argued that Lynn has the Catholic Church’s backing and a “great incentive to flee,” while Lindy maintained that Lynn does not have a passport.
Blessington said the defense was seeking special treatment for Lynn because of who he is.
“If he were a street corner guy from Kensington or South Philly, would he be treated any differently?” he asked. “Treat him like the criminal he now is.”
But Lindy countered that he would argue the same way for any defendant convicted on the same charges as Lynn and accused the prosecution of attempting to exploit the high-profile nature of the case.
Blessington replied that he was “sick, sore and disgusted with defense counsel speaking for me,” saying he would have requested bail revocation no matter how little or how much press was surrounding the case.
Sarmina questioned how the defense could be sure that Lynn wouldn’t attempt to flee if allowed to go free on bail, citing the “myriad cases” she’s presided over in which defendants failed to show up for sentencing after assuring her they would be there.
Lindy answered that the “past is prologue,” citing the fact that Lynn’s been under investigation for more than 10 years and has yet to flee.
“He’s been living under the sword of Damocles for 10 years or more and he hasn’t gone anywhere,” Lindy said.
Lindy further argued that Lynn also did not pose a threat to the community, since he was convicted only of being an accomplice to a crime.
“He was not the one who did the touching,” Lindy said.
But Blessington called that argument “insulting to every child who has ever been molested anywhere.”
When Sarmina indicated that she was leaning toward revoking Lynn’s bail, Lindy requested house arrest, saying Lynn could either stay with his sister in Reading or his brother-in-law’s mother in Philadelphia.
At one point, Brennan’s attorney, William Brennan, began to argue in favor of Lynn receiving house arrest, but Sarmina stopped him, asking, “Are you on the archdiocese’s payroll now?”
He began to answer that the archdiocese does not “pay him a dime,” when Lindy interrupted, raising his voice to Sarmina, saying, “I hope you’re not suggesting that we’re on the payroll of the archdiocese.”
“Why don’t you say it a little louder?” Sarmina replied.
Blessington, addressing Lindy directly, said, “Guess what, counsel? You’re being paid by the archdiocese. Stop trying to hide from it.”
Ultimately, Sarmina decided to revoke bail but said she would consider a motion for house arrest, instructing defense counsel to look into ankle monitors and to ensure that Lynn’s brother-in-law’s mother does in fact have a landline in her home.
After Lynn was taken into custody, Lindy told Lynn’s family members that Lynn would be held in a segregated cell with no cellmate for the time being.
Prosecutors could seek to retry James Brennan on the charges of attempted rape and endangering the welfare of a child. Williams said that his office must decide within 120 days if they will.
Attorney William Brennan said that he will ask the prosecution not to retry his client.
M.B. gave graphic testimony regarding the alleged abuse by James Brennan, repeatedly saying that the experience of sleeping in the same bed as the priest and having the priest’s penis pressed between his buttocks had sent him into a multiyear spiral of using drugs, acting out and committing crimes.
Jury foreman Isa Logan, 35, a West Philadelphia resident, father of three and a military veteran, said that it was a blessing that the 12 jurors were people who were able to go by the law and not by their feelings.
The jurors all were intelligent, well-spoken, forthright and professional, and all tried to understand each other’s reactions to the evidence and apply it to the elements of the crimes, Logan said.
The jury judged the defendants on what the individuals did or did not do, not by the overall institution of the church, Logan said.
“I’m glad we were able to do what we were able to do,” Logan said.
Logan also said that he was not aware of the issues of sexual abuse as much as he is after serving on a trial, and that as a deacon of his nondenominational church in West Philadelphia he will undertake the effort to make sure his own institution has measures in place to protect children from abuse.
In terms of why the jury gridlocked on Brennan, Logan said to a scrum of reporters that the jury applied the evidence to each element of the charges.
Logan would not give the breakdown on how the jury voted regarding Brennan.
When asked if he viewed Lynn as the fall guy for the church, Logan said, “I’m a human being before I’m a soldier” and he would have faced a court martial before following an order that he thought was inhumane.
When asked where God was in all of the actions of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Logan said that God allows people free will. “God will not put more on me than I can bear,” Logan said.
Logan said he now includes the church in his prayers.