A defense lawyer quoted Shakespeare and Twelve Angry Men as he talked to the jury about reasonable doubt. A prosecutor read a pornographic love note that a priest had written to a seventh-grader, and then he showed jurors a smiling, baby-faced photo of a 10-year-old altar boy before he was sexually abused.
It was time for closing arguments Thursday in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case, with lawyers from both sides looking to score last-minute points as they closed out 10 weeks of testimony. Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is expected to charge the jury Friday morning, and then it will be time for deliberations.
Thomas Bergstrom, a defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, was the leadoff speaker. He's a former judge advocate officer for the U.S. Marines who looks like a graying version of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, as played by Gregory Peck.
The concept of reasonable doubt "is an enormous safeguard in our system of justice," Bergstrom told the jury. He defined reasonable doubt as "that kind of doubt that causes you to hesitate. If you hesitate, then you have a reasonable doubt." Bergstrom was hoping for lots of hesitation from the non-Catholic, largely minority jury of seven men and five women who will decide the fate of Msgr. Lynn, and his co-defendant, Father James J. Brennan.
Bergstrom, occasionally speaking in hushed tones, characterized Msgr. Lynn as a man trapped at the bottom of a church hierarchy who had been unjustly accused by prosecutors.
"This is not a case about following orders," Bergstrom said, it was a case where the defendant was being charged with abusing "power and authority he didn't have."
"He didn't have the power and the authority to remove them from the priesthood," Bergstrom said of the archdiocese's sexually abusive priests. The only power Lynn had was the ability to make recommendations about personnel assignments to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacaqua, Bergstrom said.
Msgr. Lynn served as the archdiocese's secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. His duties included investigating allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Philadelphia priests. Lynn is the highest ranking Catholic official in the country to be charged in the clergy sex abuse scandal.
The monsignor's trial is being monitored throughout the world, including at the Vatican. While reform-minded Catholics are hoping for a historic conviction, the church's defenders are worried that if Lynn goes down, Catholic administrators around the U.S. will become a target for more criminal charges and civil lawsuits.
"This trial is being watched much more closely in church circles around the country and in the world than in the Philadelphia market," said Rocco Palmo, author of Whispers in the Loggia, an internationally-acclaimed website on church news and politics based in Philadelphia.
Palmo said the Philadelphia trial is both historic and unique.
"This is the first time in the English speaking world that a church official has been prosecuted not for sexual abuse, but for handling of cases," Palmo said. "This trial has arguably been the most in-depth look outside of Ireland into institutional patterns of sex abuse and the response to allegations. This is the first time to my knowledge that secret archive files have been used in an American court."
Palmo has been named by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput as a member of a first-ever archdiocese Pastoral Council, an advisory group of lay people. Palmo said that the second grand jury investigation in Philadelphia that resulted in the charges against Lynn "marked the end of the Catholic Church as it had existed here for the last 180 years."
The most telling symbol of that change is that the new archbishop has put the cardinal's Main Line mansion up for sale, the 30-room palace where Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal Krol used to receive presidents, the pope, and ambassadors, while they were being waited on by servants
"The archbishop of Philadelphia was the last absolute monarch in American Catholicism but that world is over now," Palmo said. "A very different church is going to emerge from this."
Meanwhile, back in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center Thursday, Bergstrom portrayed Msgr. Lynn as "the man who documented the abuse" of children in the archdiocese. Jurors were repeatedly shown thousands of pages of Lynn's notes and confidential reports from the secret archive files mandated by canon law that were subpoenaed by the district attorney.
Bergstrom said Lynn's reports "didn't pull any punches," but they also lead to Lynn's undoing.
"The Commonwealth wants you to convict the man who documented the abuse," Bergstrom told the jury. Msgr. Lynn "never touched a child," Bergstrom said. He didn't just hold a candle up to the abuse, "he put a spotlight on their shame," Bergstrom said. And now, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania wants Lynn "to pay for their sins."
"Don't fall for that," Bergstrom told jurors. "It's strange he's being prosecuted for something he couldn't do."
Besides being scapegoated, Bergstrom asserted that Lynn was being slandered by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, who has repeatedly called Lynn a liar.
The monsignor appeared before a grand jury investigating sex abuse 10 times in 2002, Bergstrom told the jury. He was questioned at the grand jury by seven assistant district attorneys, and surely if they thought Lynn was lying, they would have charged him with that, Bergstrom said.
That prompted Blessington to jump to his feet, and yell objection, which was sustained, and then the prosecutor demanded an immediate jury instruction from the judge. A ten-minute conference followed in chambers. Afterwards, Judge Sarmina told the jury that whatever decisions were made by former prosecutors was not part of this case.
Bergstrom went on another offensive, pointing out that out of 40 days of testimony in the trial, by his count no more than four days were spent presenting evidence against Lynn's two co-defendants, and the charges that Lynn is on trial for.
Msgr. Lynn is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child. Father James J. Brennan is charged with the attempted rape of a 14-year-old, and endangering the welfare of a child. A third defendant, Father Edward V. Avery, has already pleaded guilty to involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old, endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child.
In addition to the evidence against Msgr. Lynn and Father Brennan and Father Avery, the prosecution has been allowed to present the case files of 21 additional abuser priests, for the purposes of showing a pattern of behavior in the archdiocese in the handling of sex abuse claims against the clergy. Bergstrom said that by his count, 36 days out of the 40-day trial have been spent hearing evidence on the 21 additional priests.
So Lynn is not only on trial for his own decisions in the handling of the two priests who were his co-defendants, but the monsignor is also being held accountable for the collective sins of a corrupt organization that has been raping and sexually abusing children -- and successfully covering it up -- since 1948.
Bergstrom said a mountain of secret archive files did not present any evidence that showed Lynn conspired with Father Avery to harm children. "Where is the evidence of any agreement?" Bergstrom said. The prosecution didn't tell the jury about one "nod of the head or wink of the eye, anything," Bergstrom said. "The evidence is just not there."
Judge Sarmina has already dismissed a conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children charge that had been filed against Msgr. Lynn and Father Brennan, because of a lack of prosecution evidence.
To find Lynn guilty on the endangerment charge, Bergstrom said, the jury would have to find that Lynn knowingly endangered children, or that he took no action to protect children, or that he took action "so lame and meager" that it resulted in children being endangered.
Bergstrom then rattled off a case by case summary of eight priests that Lynn had recommended be taken out of ministry, had their priestly faculties limited, and encouraged to begin the process of voluntary laicization, where a priest is busted down to layman.
Bergstrom also took pains to tell the jury that the monsignor made no attempt to cover up his compiling of a list of 35 priests in active ministry back in 1994 that had either been convicted or accused of sex abuse of minors, a list subsequently ordered shredded by Cardinal Bevilacqua.
The monsignor talked about the list when he was summoned to the grand jury, Bergstrom said. He also gave the grand jury a copy of a memo about his investigation of Father James M. Dux, who retired in 1994, at the request of the cardinal, after Dux was accused of abusing 11 minors. The Dux investigation, Lynn told the grand jury, was the impetus for Lynn and an assistant to plow through 323 secret archive files, to determine how many other priests in active ministry had credible claims against them of sexual abuse of minors.
The Dux memo, as it has been referred to, was turned over to the grand jury by Lynn. In the memo, Lynn refers to the list he drafted of 35 abuser priests that the cardinal ordered shredded in 1994. The memo was subsequently discovered in 2006 in a locked archdiocese safe in Lynn's old office on the tenth floor of archdiocese headquarters.
"He's never been in that safe in his life," Bergstrom said. Bergstrom also argued that Lynn was not responsible when Father Brennan was charged with attempting to rape a 14-year-old, because Father Brennan was on leave at the time from the archdiocese, and living as a lay person in West Chester.
Bergstrom said that Lynn had Father Avery sent in for psychiatric evaluation, and the priest was diagnosed with a personality disorder and an alcohol abuse problem, but not a sexual disorder. Lynn sent the priest to AA and weekly psychotherapy.
"The evil that men do lives after them, the good is often interred with their bones," Bersgtrom said, quoting Shakespeare in Julius Caesar. The defense lawyer said that Lynn responded to the suffering of abuse victims.
"He heard it first hand," Bergstrom said. "He documented it ... the sins of all those fathers he laid bare are now being laid at his feet." Bergstrom asked the jury to find his client not guilty.
* * *
Next up was William J. Brennan, a defense lawyer representing Father James J. Brennan. Bill Brennan, who has put more smiles on jurors' faces than the rest of the lawyers combined, is a feisty and colorful suspenders-wearing, bare-knuckles brawler from another era. The defense lawyer who this week was hit with a $250 contempt-of-court fine for one of his outbursts, told the jury that the accusations against his client amounted to a "single-bullet case."
Father Brennan has been accused of an attempted rape in 1996 by Mark Bukowski, a troubled ex-Marine and ex-addict who was a 14-year-old kid at the time of the alleged crime. Defense attorney Brennan, no relation, ripped Bukowski as a liar who had been on a "decade-long crime spree" and was in jail when he made the accusation against his client.
Bill Brennan described his client, now 49, as a "red-headed, bearded, motorcycle-riding, tai-chi practicing guy" who became a priest at 25, and was always off searching for greener spiritual pastures. He was bright, intellectual and moody, quirky, but a gifted preacher and singer. When he was in the seminary, James J. Brennan had a reputation for being the "cream of the crop," his lawyer said.
But his career came to an end when Mark Bukowski accused Father Brennan of abuse. It was after the sex abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese, and the Dallas conference where American bishops pledged to reform the church. The response of the Philadelphia archdiocese was, "they throw him under the bus," Bill Brennan griped. The defense lawyer compared the "single bullet" complaint that brought a sudden end to his client's career to the JFK assassination, a rhetorical stretch that riled the prosecutor.
["If he were a TV show, I'd watch him every night," Blessington would subsequently say of Brennan. But that JFK thing was kind of a reach.]
Brennan told the jury that even though he gives the church money every Sunday, he's no friend of the archdiocese. He's not on their Christmas card list, and he's not one of those high-priced lawyers who's taking their money. Brennan was out to draw some distinctions at the defense table, wanting the jury to know it was case of rich man, poor man.
The archdiocese is paying for a team of four full-time defense lawyers for Msgr. Lynn, who last year, at an-invitation only benefit for the new archbishop, was singled out by Chaput, and got a standing ovation from hundreds of priests.
The combined weekly salaries of the monsignor's defense lawyers have been conservatively estimated to be at least $75,000. Meanwhile, Father Brennan has been cut loose from the archdiocese without a single good luck call from the new archbishop, and he's been left to pay for his own defense out of his monthly $1,900 priestly stipend.
Defense lawyer Brennan had a few pages of Mark Bukowski's trial testimony blown up for the jury, so he could detail all the criminal charges that Bukowski admitted to while on the witness stand: theft, false reporting to authorities, receiving stolen property, forgery, identity theft, and credit card fraud.
Brennan also reminded the jury of the testimony of Msgr. Michael C. Picard, pastor of the biggest church in the archdiocese who got called on the carpet by Cardinal Bevilacqua after he balked at letting Lynn transfer a priest into his parish who was leading an out-of-the-closet gay lifestyle.
Picard was called by the prosecution to tell the jury how his stance against the gay priest was perceived as disobedience to the archbishop, and how Picard was subject to a church inquiry that resulted in him being shipped off on a two-week retreat to contemplate his crime.
Brennan recalled Picard as a defense witness. It was Picard who had been Father Brennan's first boss when Brennan was a young priest in Picard's Bucks County parish. Picard drafted Father Brennan because he was young, promising and energetic, the defense lawyer said, the cream of the crop from the seminary. The implication was that if Father Brennan had a pedophilia problem, that whistle-blowing Msgr. Picard who had the guts to take on the cardinal would have nothing to do with Father Brennan.
Instead, Picard came back to testify to the jury on Father Brennan's behalf, and to also report that the Bukowski family had come to him in 2005, shortly before they went public with their allegations against Father Brennan, to say they needed money.
As far as the alleged sexual assault, "I submit it never happened," Bill Brennan told the jury. "They [the Bukowski family] are dead broke and they're desperate," the defense lawyer said. And even when Bukowski's mother testified, she told the jury she had reasonable doubt. Those remarks from a court transcript were the the subject of another blown-up courtroom exhibit.
"I will never really know what happened," was what the witness told defense attorney Brennan. "His own mother" had reasonable doubt, Brennan told the jury.
The priest was guilty of bad judgment because he watched porn with a 14-year-old, and then got in bed with him. But he didn't sexually abuse anybody. The defense lawyer finished his closing statement by asking the jury to find Father Brennan not guilty.
* * *
After lunch, it was the prosecutor's turn to close. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington stood to address the jury. He's a rugged, passionate advocate with a craggy face, silver hair and a silver mustache. Pin a silver star on his chest and he would look like the sheriff in any old Western. If they ever make a movie out of this trial, the role of Blessington could be played by Sam Elliott.
Blessington strode around the courtroom and used dramatic pistol-pointing hand gestures to drive home his message, which was usually aimed directly at the portly monsignor. It was a stark contrast to the prosecutor's three-day cross-examination of Lynn, where Blessington never left the table.
Blessington obviously had had it with the defense's portrayal of a powerless, cowering monsignor, who could only make recommendations to His Eminence. Blessington said Lynn's testimony amounted to "whine and moan and complain, and yes lie." The prosecutor used a sports metaphor to portray the monsignor as "the coach, the quarterback and the general manager all rolled into one."
"He is the eyes and ears of the cardinal," Blessington said of Lynn. He had plenty of power and influence, and his duty should have been to protect the children of the archdiocese. It's a really simple job, Blessington said. In the archdiocese, you have "predators you don't want to get near the prey."
Blessington talked about therapists in the secret archives who had warned Lynn and other archdiocese officials that certain priests were "a time bomb" or "a powder keg." But Lynn failed in his duties to monitor these monsters. Two of those ticking time bombs went off, Blessington told the jury, Father Avery and Father Brennan.
Blessington referred to one of the most notorious archdiocese pedophiles, Father Stanely Gana, as "an evil monster who preyed upon children." When it came time to take Father Gana out of active ministry and ship him off for psychiatric evaluation, by the monsignor's own admission, "It fell through the cracks," Blessington reminded the jury.
The prosecutor sneered at Bergstrom's allegations that there was no evidence of a conspiracy between the defendants. We don't need knowing winks or smiles, Blessington said, "We've got documents, we've got documents all over the place."
"He [Lynn] was the center ring," Blessington said. "He liked being close to the throne, he liked the trappings of power." Blessington reminded the jury that Lynn stayed on the job as secretary for clergy for a dozen years. Why? "He was good at it," the prosecutor said, and, "he carried out the plan."
Blessington took pains to smooth the feathers of any jurors that might have gotten ruffled over his bruising, three-day cross-examination of the monsignor.
It's a "tremendous honor and privilege to stand up for the victims," Blessington told the jury. If he committed any excesses while advocating on behalf of those broken people, Blessington said, please don't hold it against the victims.
Blessington attacked the defense strategy as "a misdirection play." He talked about how the defense was always pointing the blame at people who weren't in the courtroom, like the late Cardinal Bevilacqua and other members of his high command.
"They don't want you to look at the train wreck of his guilt," Blessington said, pointing toward Lynn.
He took a shot at Bergstrom. "If he sticks to the facts, he's done," the prosecutor said. Lynn's record of protecting children was "disgraceful," and the defense strategy was to "blame everybody else, it was everybody's fault" except his.
While Lynn was writing in the secret archive files, "he thought they would always be secret," the prosecutor said. In fact, if the Boston priest abuse scandal hadn't erupted, "it would still be secret," Blessington said.
The mountain of evidence in the secret archives, and Lynn's own grand jury testimony, which was repeatedly read to the jury, has made "your job easy," Blessington told jurors. The monsignor has already convicted himself.
Blessington asked the jury to imagine if the archdiocese had chosen a mother as secretary for clergy. "Can you imagine any of this happening if a mother was in charge?"
It was an interesting proposal. Maybe somebody should call Archbishop Chaput. And after the archdiocese did that, maybe they could also start ordaining women as priests, and allow priests to marry. Hey, we can all dream, can't we?
Blessington reprised for the benefit of the jury some of the most emotional moments from former victims who testified during the trial. He reminded the jury of all the grown men they had seen crying on the witness stand. The prosecutor recalled one victim who told the jury, "I have an emptiness where my soul used to be."
The prosecutor talked about the 10-year-old altar boy who had been sexually abused by Father Avery, a crime that the priest has already pleaded guilty to. But Blessington told the jury he didn't want them to think of the victim as the handsome young man in his 20s who had testified in the courtroom, he wanted them to remember what the victim looked like at the time of the crime. And then he flashed the picture of a smiling 10-year-old altar boy.
The prosecutor read a letter Father Michael Murtha had sent to a seventh-grade boy, a letter that was sure to induce nausea in any parent, uncle, aunt or grandparent on the jury.
"You are so cute ... would you like it if I sucked your dick? I bet you would," Father Murtha wrote. The priest told the seventh grader he wanted to kiss his nipples, and that he got hot thinking about the boy's father spanking the boy's "cute ass." If the seventh-grader wanted to take the priest up on his offer of fellatio, the priest wrote, he should leave a letter behind the bulletin board where the parish school advertised the student of the week.
The letter, described as a fantasy, never sent, was signed, your "secret lover."
"Isn't that letter the most sick, depraved thing you've ever seen?" the prosecutor raged. Blessington was well into his second hour of passionate oratory, speaking so rapidly at times that he appeared to be hyperventilating. And yet, jurors were still attentive, which might be a bad omen for the defense.
Blessington reminded the jury that the mother of the seventh-grade boy never knew about this letter until years after, when a detective from the archdiocese knocked on her door. Blessington reminded the jury that when he asked Lynn if he thought the mother of the seventh grader would want to know about the letter, Lynn had weakly replied, "I don't know."
As secretary for clergy, Blessington raged, Lynn lied to everybody. "Lying, lying, lying," the prosecutor repeated. He lied to victims, he lied to parents, he lied to parishioners when they wanted to know the real reason why Father had suddenly been yanked out of the parish.
The prosecutor returned to the subject of the secret archives. "He [Lynn] never thought in a million years that you would ever see it," he said.
"He's spitting in your face and telling you it's raining," Blessington told the jury. "Don't let him get away with it."
Blessington reminded the jury that when one abuser priest was the guest of a honor at a party to celebrate the priest getting out of the penalty box and back in ministry. "He was there," Blessington yelled, pointing at Lynn. "How sick is that?"
Blessington then attempted a reach, trying to convince the jury that Lynn was the guy who hid the list of 35 abuser priests in a safe. This was the famous list drawn up by Lynn while he was new on the job and the cardinal ordered it shredded. It was Lynn's testimony that he didn't know the fate of the list he drafted in 1994 until 18 years later, in 2012, when an assistant district attorney called his lawyer, to say hey, look what we found.
"Who's most likely to hide this list? Him," the prosecutor yelled. "It's his safe, it's his office, it's his list. He knows how damning it is. He knows it's a smoking gun."
It was like that moment in Animal House where Bluto Blutarsky was talking about "when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor." The prosecutor was on a roll. It didn't matter that Lynn would have been like the monks who set themselves on fire if he had purposely drafted a list of active abuser priests, given it to all his bosses, told a grand jury all about it, and then hid the list in a safe in his old office, while he knew a couple of grand juries and a bunch of lawyers were out looking for it.
Lynn seemed more logically cast as the pigeon who drew up the list and then handed to his boss, Cardinal Bevilacqua, a cunning canon lawyer and civil lawyer, who instantly knew a smoking gun when he saw it. A list that told everybody in the archdiocese chain of command, hey we've got 35 ticking time bombs out there, and if any of them go off in the next 20 years, why here's proof that I put all of you on notice.
Thanks, monsignor, now on your way, and don't let the door hit you on the way out. And once he's out of the room, the cardinal tells his top aides, Ok guys, we've got to make this thing disappear. That seemed like a far more likely scenario than the one Blessington was painting.
But hey, if Bill Brennan can compare an allegation against Father Brennan to the JFK assassination, why can't Blessington suggest Lynn hid his own list? After all, it was closing argument time, and nobody was going to call him on it. The prosecutor has the last word.
It was Lynn, the prosecutor raged, who took the word of abuser priest over the word of victims. "He's gonna defend pedophile priests at all times," Blessington yelled. And when Lynn apologized to the jury about that 10 year-old altar boy being raped by a priest under his supervision, "that's an admission," Blessington shouted. From the guy who at every turn was implementing the archdiocese game plan to "protect priests and endanger kids."
"You don't need Fellini to tell you what's happening in this movie," Blessington said. He turned his attention to Father Brennan. "A grown man who's a priest, who shows porn to a 14-year-old boy, who gets in bed with a 14-year-old boy," Blessington reminded the jury. That guy should be convicted as well.
Blessington tried to rehabilitate Mark Bukowski, the victim who accused Brennan. "An imperfect person makes a perfect victim," he said.
It was finally time to sum up the summation. Blessington told the jury about a courtroom scene in a Pete Dexter novel where a defense lawyer, kind of like those high-paid guys over at the next table, asked a woman what was going to happen when the case went to the jury.
"By now, the jury knows what happened," Blessington quoted the character as saying. "The question is what are they gonna do about it?"
Blessington closed it out by quoting Martin Luther King, when he said that all that is required for evil to triumph is for the good people to keep silent.
"What are you going to do?" Blessington asked the jury. "Please don't be silent." Justice for the victims, he said, demanded that both Msgr. Lynn and Father Brennan be convicted on all charges.