In lawsuits involving pedophile priests within the Catholic Church, typically it is the priest accused of abuse who stands trial. But in a case that will start this week in Philadelphia, a priest alleged to have covered up the crime will also be tried.
Monsignor William Lynn is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for allegedly failing to remove predator priests from the ministry. He will be the first Roman Catholic church official in the U.S. to go on trial on allegations of transferring accused priests to new assignments.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian specializes in sexual abuse cases, although he is not connected with this one. Garabedian told the Associated Press that Lynn's case is very rare and may set legal precedent if there is a conviction. "Given the fact that a monsignor, Monsignor William Lynn, of the Catholic church is being prosecuted means that the government has taken the next step and going after, criminally, supervisors of pedophile priests within the Catholic Church and not only the pedophile priests themselves. I believe that a conviction will have a chilling effect on the Church, and that it will make the Church more moral. And supervisors of the Church may realize that they are also susceptible to criminal charges and that they will not transfer pedophile priests."
Lynn's attorney argues that he had given a list naming dozens of priests having child sex assault complaints against them to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who was then head of the Philadelphia archdiocese. Lynn says that Bevilacqua ordered it to be shredded. The original memo was found in a locked safe in the diocese in 2006. Bevilacqua died in January this year. Neither he nor other church officials were charged in this case.
Speaking for the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Johanna Berrigan told the Associated Press, "I hope that the best will come of it, that this pushes all of us, as a church body and as in asking the church leaders to come forward and let the truth be known, do the right thing, take real moral leadership, and have justice be done and not continue with lies, coverups and deceit."
Father James Brennan will go on trial with Lynn. He is accused of raping a boy in the 1990s. Brennan and Lynn have both pleaded not guilty.
Edward Avery, a defrocked priest, was expected to go on trial with Lynn and Brennan. On Thursday, however, he pleaded guilty to a sex charge and was immediately sentenced to up to five years in prison. Because he pleaded guilty, defense attorneys have asked for a new jury, saying that Avery's plea has tainted the jury. The current jury was selected when Avery was being tried along with Brennan and Lynn.
The case involving Lynn and Brennan is expected to last three to four months.
The Catholic League wants a new judge, alleging that Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said, “Anybody that doesn’t think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet," and cannot be impartial in the trial.