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Defense: Pa. church trial veering far from charges

Defense lawyers complained Tuesday that the lengthy priest-abuse trial of a Roman Catholic church official has veered far afield from the original charges.

Monsignor William Lynn is charged with conspiring to hide child sex-abuse complaints against two co-defendant priests, and endangering children by keeping them in ministry. But a judge has let jurors hear weeks of testimony about how Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, handled abuse complaints lodged against 20 other priests.

"This case has come down to (the Rev. Stanley) Gana and (the Rev. Nicholas) Cudemo, despite the fact they're not charged," defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom argued outside of the jury's presence.

Gana and Cudemo were accused of heinous, repeated sexual assaults in a 2005 grand jury report. Both were defrocked in the years that followed, but neither was charged criminally because of legal time limits. Prosecutors have spent days detailing their alleged crimes to the jury, through testimony from accusers and church documents.

But Lynn is not charged with conspiring with either one of them, Bergstrom noted, as he tried to block the depositions of two cloistered nuns. Gana served as their chaplain in 1997 after a stint in sex therapy, a job the archdiocese considered safe for the accused child rapist.

An ex-priest who has testified that Gana sodomized him throughout high school met with Lynn to complain about Gana's "restricted ministry" with the nuns. He believed Gana was still helping out at a nearby parish and working with altar boys.

Lynn told him the nuns knew about Gana's past and were keeping an eye on him, prosecutors said Tuesday.

"Those two mother superiors were told nothing, zilch, nada," Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington argued. "That defendant lied."

Prosecutors want to visit the monastery to take the nuns' testimony. Defense lawyers object, calling the subject matter far beyond the scope of the charges. Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina did not immediately rule.

Gana is now 69. It's not clear where he lives, and The Associated Press could not locate a current phone number for him.

Cudemo was accused of sexually abusing nearly a dozen girls. One woman told the grand jury he started raping her in 1971, when she was 11. He impregnated her before high school and took her for an abortion, according to the 2005 grand jury report. Cudemo retired in 1996 and was laicized in 2005. A message left Tuesday at a possible phone number for him in Florida was not immediately returned.

Lynn, 61, has been on trial since March with the Rev. James Brennan, who is charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 1996. Defrocked priest Edward Avery pleaded guilty days before trial to a 1999 sexual assault and is serving 2 1/2 to five years in prison.

Brennan's circuitous church career — which included a leave of absence to deal with his own alleged childhood sexual abuse and a later stint in a Trappist abbey in South Carolina — was outlined in court Tuesday.

Brennan had pleaded with Lynn and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua for the chance to go to the abbey in 2000. To make his case, he shared some diary entries about his spiritual state.

"Deep within me is the primordial struggle being lived out in a tormented state of unbridled passion," Brennan wrote.

Bevilacqua let him leave the archdiocese. But Brennan asked to return seven months later. He didn't mind getting up for 3 a.m. prayers, but said he was spending so much time raising chickens at the monastery that he couldn't pursue any theological studies.

Only three seminarians were due to graduate that year, down from 10 the year before, Lynn noted in one memo.

Bevilacqua welcomed Brennan back, assigning him to a Feasterville parish from 2001 to 2006, the year his accuser came forward.

Brennan, 48, has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. The outcome of his internal church trial is pending at the Vatican.

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