PHILADELPHIA – A jury of six men and six women, many with Catholic ties, was seated Wednesday to hear a landmark criminal case on how the Archdiocese of Philadelphia handled priests accused of molesting children.
Monsignor William Lynn is charged with endangering children by transferring two accused priests to new parishes during the 1990s, allowing them to abuse others. He is also charged with being part of a broad conspiracy to protect abusers within the Roman Catholic archdiocese.
Many people in the jury pool who were questioned this week described ties to the Catholic parishes and schools that long defined neighborhood life in Philadelphia.
The jurors chosen include a 1973 graduate of Cardinal Dougherty High School who works for the state Liquor Control Board and a 53-year-old plant maintenance worker who sent two children to Catholic schools and did paid maintenance work at his parish.
The latter juror attended now-closed Northeast Catholic High School for Boys in the 1970s, when the school was brimming with 750 students per grade. He didn't recognize a lead trial prosecutor, Patrick Blessington, from his graduating class.
Jurors weren't specifically asked whether they are Catholic. But they were asked if they could judge the case fairly if they were. The Philadelphia Archdiocese has 1.5 million Catholics.
Lynn, 61, has pleaded not guilty and blames the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua for hiding the clergy abuse problem. Bevilacqua died in January, but jurors are likely to hear from him — in countless documents and in a videotaped deposition taken in November.
The Rev. James Brennan and defrocked priest Edward Avery are also in trial, charged with rape.
Brennan, 48, and Avery, 69, seemed to enjoy the jury selection process, laughing along with lawyers amid the courtroom banter. Avery was known as "the Smiling Padre" during his long church career, when he moonlighted as a DJ at parties and nightclubs, even after he was banished from parish work following a 1993 stint in sex-offender therapy.
Neither Brennan nor Avery has had any supporters in the courtroom. Each has pleaded not guilty.
Lynn has been mostly somber, and pensive, in court. He is on leave from the church, and lives with his sister, who comes to court each day with him. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the archdiocese, faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted on all four counts.
Lynn and four others were charged last year after Philadelphia prosecutors finished a second grand jury investigation into clergy abuse within the archdiocese.
The Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, former teacher Bernard Shero, 48, and Avery were charged with raping the same altar boy from St. Jerome's Parish in northeast Philadelphia, where Avery was sent to live after six months of inpatient sex therapy. Engelhardt and Shero are being tried separately because neither was an archdiocesan priest.
Lynn, Brennan and Avery are set to go on trial March 26.
Other jurors chosen for their case include a 51-year-old unemployed software engineer, a 35-year-old assistant restaurant manager and a 29-year-old federal court employee.
Ten alternates are also being seated, as the trial is expected to last four months.
The process weeded out some who said they had been sexually abused or knew someone victimized by or accused of it. One woman said her boyfriend was acquitted last month on charges he abused his ex-girlfriend's daughter.
The woman vowed to be fair. She was dismissed.