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Msgr. William Lynn leaves a Philadelphia courthouse Feb. 23 after the third day of jury selection for his trial on charges of conspiracy and child endangerment. Msgr. Lynn, 61 is accused of having failed to protect children from two priests who were under his direction when he served as secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese from 1992 to 2004. CNS photo/Tim Shaffer, Reuters

Judge rejects dismissal motion before priest's child-endangerment trial

  • February 29, 2012

PHILADELPHIA - Lawyers for a Philadelphia archdiocesan priest failed Feb. 27 in their bid to have charges of child endangerment and conspiracy dismissed before the priest's case went to trial.

As a result, arguments are still set to begin March 26 in the trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn, who had been an aide to recently deceased Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who was Philadelphia's archbishop from 1988 until his retirement in 2003.

Msgr. Lynn, 61, is accused of having failed to protect children from two priests who were under his direction when he served as secretary of the clergy for the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004. In that role, he was responsible for recommending the assignment of priests in the archdiocese.

He will be tried with Father James Brennan, 48, and 69-year-old Edward Avery, a former priest. Father Brennan is charged with raping and sexually assaulting a boy during the 1990s. Avery is facing the same charges with another boy in the 1990s.

In a motion filed Feb. 24, Msgr. Lynn's attorneys said a newly discovered archdiocesan memo from 1994 indicated Cardinal Bevilacqua ordered the shredding of a list compiled by Msgr. Lynn of 35 priests suspected of sexual misconduct with children.

The motion contended that the memo proved Msgr. Lynn had been trying to address the problem of clerical sexual abuse while Cardinal Bevilacqua was trying to cover it up. But prosecutors said the document was instead "the equivalent of a smoking gun for the prosecution," since Msgr. Lynn had made a determination in 1994 that then-Father Avery was "guilty" of abuse yet allegedly enabled the priest to continue in ministry.

Cardinal Bevilacqua died at age 88 Jan. 31, one day after a judge declared him competent to serve as a witness in the trial. The archdiocese said the cardinal had been suffering from dementia, and Msgr. Lynn's attorneys said the cardinal could no longer recognize his onetime aide.

Jury selection began in late February. Five of 12 jurors had been selected through Feb. 27; 10 alternates also will be chosen. An AP story said the trial is expected to last four months.

A gag order was placed on the case last April. Neither side in the trial is permitted to speak to reporters.

The criminal charges against Msgr. Lynn, Father Brennan and Avery and two others were handed down in a report released in February 2011 by a grand jury investigating clergy sex abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

The report accused the Philadelphia Archdiocese of failing to stop priests from sexually abusing children even after a previous report in 2005 had called attention to problems. It said more than three dozen priests with allegations of sexual abuse were still in positions where they could contact children.

In response, the Philadelphia Archdiocese has taken actions that include hiring a former sex crimes prosecutor to review personnel files of the 37 priests named in the grand jury's report. More than two dozen priests have been on administrative leave while allegations against them are reviewed.

Msgr. Lynn is on administrative leave from his assignment as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown.

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