PHILADELPHIA – A Roman Catholic church official charged with handling child sexual-abuse complaints for more than a decade had little to no training on how to conduct the sensitive investigations, a jury heard Monday.
Monsignor William Lynn, 61, faces years in prison for allegedly helping the church keep accused predators in jobs around children. Excerpts of testimony from his 2004 testimony before a grand jury were read in court Monday during his child-endangerment trial.
In his testimony, Lynn said he attended at most a workshop or two on the sexual abuse of minors, but otherwise had no training on how to interview the priests, their accusers or other potential witnesses.
Lynn said a case he investigated in 1994 led him to scrutinize secret archives kept by the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Lynn, on the job two years, had wanted "to make sure we don't have anybody in ministry that shouldn't be."
Then secretary for clergy, he prepared a list of 35 accused priests, including three diagnosed pedophiles and a dozen more he deemed "guilty," mostly because they admitted the abuse.
Lynn gave the list to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, but the cardinal ordered it shredded, defense lawyers have told jurors.
Bevilacqua, a civil and canon lawyer, led the archdiocese of 1.5 million Catholics from 1988 to 2003. A grand jury in 2005 rebuked him for leaving dozens of credibly accused priests in ministry, but no charges were filed. A number of the named priests were then removed from ministry, and some were defrocked.
One such priest was the Rev. Thomas J. Smith, who by 2002 was the church's regional administrator for Delaware County. He rose to the position despite griping for years, across several parishes, about his behavior around boys.
A man testified Monday that Smith had made him undress when he played Jesus as an eighth-grader in a Passion play. The priest would pin a loincloth on the naked boy. He was then whipped, suffering welts and bruises, during more than a dozen performances, to make the play seem more "authentic."
When he complained to the archdiocese in 2002, Lynn told him that Smith was a friend and a high-ranking church official, the man testified. Smith was not removed until 2005. He was defrocked in 2007. A message left at a possible phone number for him in Berks County was not immediately returned Monday.
In earlier testimony, a woman said her Schwenksville parish was told their priest was leaving in 1992 because he had Lyme disease, when she knew his removal followed an altar boy's fondling complaint.
Mary Mignogno said she didn't know what to say to her children when she heard the lie from the pulpit.
A nurse and school volunteer, Mignogno had helped the boy tell his parents about the abuse. The boy said that the Rev. Robert L. Brennan routinely touched altar boys inappropriately in exchange for candy or prizes.
Mignogno read aloud a 2002 letter she had sent to Bevilacqua. Brennan — first accused in 1988 — was by then working in another parish.
"I think it's time the church ceases to protect the bad priests," Mignogno wrote. "The representatives of the church did wrong to cover up and hide this problem."
She never heard back.
On the stand, Mignogno broke down when she read a line about how the abuse crisis had tested her faith.
Brennan, now 74, spent several stints in sex-abuse therapy during his church career but remained in active ministry until 2005. The Vatican's review of his priestly status is pending, according to the Philadelphia archdiocese's website. A working phone number for him could not be located.
Lynn is on trial with the Rev. James Brennan, who is of no apparent relation to the Schwenksville priest.
Earlier Monday, former FBI agent Jack Rossiter testified about being hired by the archdiocese in 2003 to investigate abuse complaints, including one lodged against James Brennan.
James Brennan, 48, is charged with molesting a teenage boy in 1996. He admitted sharing a bed with the teen but denied any sexual contact, Rossiter said.
Rossiter said he found the accuser credible, despite the man's criminal record.
On cross-examination, Rossiter acknowledged the accuser's family was having financial problems when he came forward in about 2006. The accuser has since sued the archdiocese, Lynn and even Rossiter.