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Jury Starts Deliberation in Philadephia Trial Over Concealing Pedophile Priests

June 1, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
A Philadelphia jury began deliberating Friday in a landmark criminal case against Monsignor William Lynn, the first Catholic Church figure to be targeted not for molesting children, but for concealing the abuse. Margaret Warner talks with John Martin of the Philadelphia Inquirer about the emotional trial.
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MARGARET WARNER: A Philadelphia jury began deliberating today in a landmark criminal case against a Catholic Church official. Monsignor William Lynn is the first church figure to be targeted not for molesting children, but for concealing the abuse. 

Lynn, secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese for 12 years, is charged with conspiracy and endangering children. Prosecutors say he protected suspect priests, and reassigned them to jobs where they could abuse children. Closing arguments concluded yesterday after months of emotional testimony from victims of abuse, and Lynn himself taking the stand. 

John Martin has been in court throughout the 11-week trial, covering the story for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and he joins me now. 

Thank you for joining us.

Let’s start with, tell us a little bit more about Monsignor Lynn. What exactly did it mean to be clergy of the secretary — I mean, clergy of the — yes, secretary of the clergy. 

JOHN MARTIN, The Philadelphia Inquirer: Secretary of the clergy, right. 

MARGARET WARNER: And then what is he accused of actually doing in that job?

JOHN MARTIN: OK.

As secretary for clergy, he was the — more or less the human resources manager for all of the priests in the archdiocese in Philadelphia. He was the official who responded directly to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. And he helped deal with their assignments, any time the priests had problems, transfers and such. 

And he learned when he took the job that part of his job included investigating priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children, investigating and making recommendations to the cardinal about what to do about those priests. 

MARGARET WARNER: And so what is he charged with doing with that responsibility?

JOHN MARTIN: Specifically — yes, in this case, he is accused of, just with two priests, with actually making recommendations to put these priests in parishes after either knowing or suspecting that they had already abused children, so therefore endangering children by putting these priests in a position to do it again. 

MARGARET WARNER: And so how did the prosecutors go about building this case in terms of getting into specific instances? 

JOHN MARTIN: Well, and this is interesting, because in Philadelphia here, like diocese all over the country, this blew up in the wake of Boston after 2002. 

So what happened in Philadelphia was, there were many, many victims who came forward at that point in time. And there was a grand jury investigation back then by the district attorney in Philadelphia. That grand jury investigation ended up — a 500-page document, a report was issued outlining all of these claims, that the church had hidden and concealed abuse over the years.

Yet, at the time, because of the law, the prosecutors decided the statute of limitations prevented them from bringing charges. This case against Lynn, in this case, they have two instances where the statute of limitations has since been amended, so they were able to bring those charges. And then they ultimately reintroduced all these old cases. 

And it was kind of — a real pillar of the case is that prosecutors were able to reintroduce all these old claims against dozens of priests who weren’t charged by claiming that only by hearing them will jurors understand the pattern, the longstanding pattern of practice that church leaders in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia used for decades to hide clergy sex abuse. 

MARGARET WARNER: And the prosecutors called many victims to the stand; is that right? That must have been incredibly emotional. And what — how did Monsignor Lynn respond when he was in the courtroom and heard this? 

JOHN MARTIN: It was emotional. 

And it was — again, many of these stories had been printed in black and white in this previous grand jury report. But to actually see these witnesses come and take the stand and tell the story in their own voices was really compelling. 

I mean, these were grown men and women who were telling things that happened 30 years ago as if they were yesterday. And they were very emotional. Monsignor Lynn said when he took the stand he’s heard these stories and that he was pained by them as well. 

But again and again, he said he did what he could, but that his hands were to a certain extent tied. 

MARGARET WARNER: But what was his basic defense? Was he saying that he didn’t — he wasn’t really in the position that you say he was? He didn’t really get to make those appointments? 

JOHN MARTIN: Right. 

He says a couple things, first of all, that his job was merely to make recommendations to the cardinal and to other aides to the cardinal, and it was the cardinal, it was Archbishop Bevilacqua, who alone had the power or authority to remove priests who were suspected or believed to have abused children. 

Lynn says he did what he could, he did as much as he could, given the rules that he had. His lawyers would put forth all sorts of memos that suggested, within days of getting an allegation, Lynn would recommend a priest be removed from a parish and sent for treatment. 

MARGARET WARNER: And tell us about — there was one particular document, some kind of a secret list of suspected pedophile priests that Monsignor Lynn had prepared?

JOHN MARTIN: Yes. 

This became what both sides called the smoking gun in the case. And the existence of a list was known years ago. Lynn had testified years ago in a previous grand jury that, yes, he did make a list early in the ’90s identifying priests who were suspected of abuse. But nobody could find this list. 

And just this year — it happened two weeks after Bevilacqua died, the cardinal had died — church lawyers said, we found this list. It was hidden in a safe that nobody knew about. On this list that Monsignor Lynn had himself drafted in 1994 were the names of 37 priests. And he had them listed in three categories, either diagnosed as pedophiles, priests who were guilty of sexual misconduct with minors, or priests who were suspected, but against whom the evidence was inconclusive. 

So this list was something — his lawyer said this list was something that he compiled because he wanted to try to get a grasp of the problem going on in Philadelphia. Prosecutors said, this list is the smoking gun because there were names of priests on there in 1994 who stayed in parishes for years to come after that case. 

MARGARET WARNER: And, John, let me just ask you, how widely is this case being watched nationally by the church, others? 

JOHN MARTIN: I think it is being watched nationally for two reasons. 

One, there are — I have been told there are prosecutors in other jurisdiction — and we know about in Kansas City. The bishop there has been indicted or charged in a similar sort of endangerment case. So prosecutors are watching it in terms of a potential blueprint, the idea of, the first time, being able to go after the institution for covering up clergy abuse. 

And then the second aspect of it is, here in Philadelphia, there is a belief among some advocates that, if Monsignor Lynn is found guilty, there is going to be a wave of lawsuits. And those lawsuits, as in other archdiocese, in other diocese, could potentially cripple this. And this would be probably the largest archdiocese in the country to be impacted like that. 

MARGARET WARNER: Well, John Martin of The Philadelphia Inquirer, thank you. 

JOHN MARTIN: Thank you.