Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia is the first Catholic Church official… (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images )
The first Catholic Church official to go on trial for allegedly covering up sexual abuse of children by predator priests was described by prosecutors Monday as more concerned with protecting the church than children.
Prosecutors in Philadelphia told jurors in opening statements that Monsignor William J. Lynn, who was in charge of reviewing complaints about abusive priests, tried to save the church from scandal by covering up child sexual abuse.
"You can’t protect the church without keeping the allegations in the dark,’’ said Assistant Dist. Atty. Jacqueline Coelho, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. "He kept the parishioners in the dark and he kept the faithful in the dark.’’
Calling Lynn "the keeper of secrets," Coelho said: "The protection of children is the furthest thing from defendant Lynn’s mind.’’
In a landmark case, Lynn is the first U.S. church official charged with endangering children by protecting abusive priests and covering up the child rape and sexual abuse scandal that rocked the church. Lynn, 61, supervised priest assignments as secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004.
Lynn’s co-defendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, is charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Lynn is charged with failing to remove Brennan from the ministry despite complaints that he had abused children.
Lynn’s lawyer told jurors that the monsignor tried to isolate abusive priests while bringing the problem to the attention of his superiors, the Inquirer reported.
"There isn’t anybody in this courthouse who would deny that sexual abuse of children is awful,’’ said defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom. "The evidence will show that he -- and perhaps he alone -- is the one who tried to correct’’ the problem.
Lynn has said that he sent top diocese officials, including the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, a list of 37 accused priests in 1994, but that Bevilacqua ordered it shredded.
The defense case was undermined last week when a third defendant, defrocked priest Edward V. Avery, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy inside a church sacristy in 1999.
Under a plea deal, Avery will serve two and a half to five years in prison for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger a child’s welfare. Avery acknowledged that the archdiocese kept him on as priest despite knowing about the sexual abusive allegations against him, according to the Associated Press.
Two other men charged in the case -- a priest and a former Catholic schoolteacher -- will be tried separately.
In a blistering 2005 grand jury report, Philadelphia prosecutors said Bevilacqua and other church officials covered up evidence of rampant child sexual abuse by clergy for decades. Bevilacqua died Jan. 31 at age 88, but his videotaped deposition could be played at the trial.
In a second grand jury report filed last year, Avery’s accuser, now an adult, said he was in fifth grade when he was passed around among abusive priests, including Avery and a Catholic schoolteacher.
"When Mass was ended, Fr. Avery took the fifth-grader into the sacristy, turned on the music and ordered him to perform a `striptease’ for him,’’ the report said. "When they were both naked, the priest had the boy sit on his lap and kissed his neck and back, while saying to him that God loved him.’’
The report said the kissing was followed by oral sex and penetration.
Defense lawyers plan to argue that the two accusers in the case are motivated by money and have criminal records and histories of drug addiction, the AP reported.