Wednesday, May 30, 2012

As Defense Rests, Big Mo Shifting

As the defense rested its case Tuesday in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial, the momentum in the courtroom appeared to be shifting. The question is whether it had moved enough to matter.

A month ago, the prosecution appeared so far out in the lead, they were paring down witness lists, and playing it safe, as they strove to protect a big fourth-quarter lead. Sure there were problems with the Father James J. Brennan side of the case, but the evidence against Msgr. William J. Lynn seemed stacked so high the only question was when the monsignor went down, would that giant sucking sound take Father Brennan along with him.

But then Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who had been pro-prosecution all the way, suddenly whacked two conspiracy charges off the prosecution's case. Next the defense stole the prosecution's alleged smoking gun -- that list of 35 abuser priests drawn up by Lynn and ordered shredded by Cardinal Bevilacqua -- and turned it around, using that same evidence to show that Lynn may have been just a patsy.

Yesterday, the last shoe to drop was Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington's anti-climactic finish to his three-day cross-examination of Msgr. Lynn, a performance that was toned-down from the previous fireworks. By the time Blessington limped to the finish, it sure seemed like the prosecutor had run out of steam. That's the risk you take when you stretch a cross over three days, but maybe the prosecution is still so far ahead, it won't matter.

The jury may decide that what happened to children in the archdiocese was so horrific that somebody has to pay. It may not matter that the district attorney's office sent the jury the equivalent of a corporal and a private to pay for the sins of a marauding army that evidence in the case showed had been raping and sexually abusing innocent children since 1948.

After all, the prosecutors didn't have the nerve to indict the retired general who oversaw the most recent crime wave, and they didn't charge anybody else in the general's high command who's still around, and should have to answer for what happened. Maybe the jury will be too angry to notice that bait and switch. But that doesn't mean the rest of us have much to cheer about.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Did the Prosecution's "Smoking Gun" Hit the Wrong Target?

It was billed as the prosecution's smoking gun -- a worn gray folder of documents passed out to the jury, just before the prosecution rested its case.

Inside the folder were several typed and handwritten documents, including a 1994 list of 35 then-active priests compiled by Msgr. William J. Lynn who had been either convicted or accused of sexual abuse of minors. The list was ordered shredded by Cardinal Bevilacqua in 1994, but 18 years later, the list and the gray folder mysteriously reappeared in a locked safe at archdiocese headquarters.

The smoking gun was supposed to be proof of a conspiracy to protect the Catholic Church and keep its shameful sexual abuse of children hidden at all costs. But last week, as the defense presented its case, the smoking gun took on another meaning.

The way the defense spun it, the smoking gun was proof that Msgr. Lynn had done his best to expose sexually abusive priests in the ministry, and put his bosses on notice about them. The story of how Lynn's superiors handled that folder, as well as their author, was proof that the monsignor was out of the real power loop in the archdiocese.

When the defense got through telling its version of the story, the smoking gun was left pointing at Cardinal Bevilacqua and his three top assistants. The defense's ability to hijack the prosecution's key piece of evidence for their own purposes prompted one former federal prosecutor to say it was another indication that the case against Lynn should have been dismissed on legal grounds before the trial even started.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fire-Breathing Prosecutor Assails Lynn As Liar; Monsignor's Supporters Break Out Rosary Beads

At the Catholic sex abuse trial, it was good day to feel like throwing up.

On the witness stand Thursday, an amiable and smiling Monsignor William J. Lynn tried to defend the indefensible, by explaining away the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's criminal conduct of the past fifty years. It's hard to justify how the church could repeatedly offer up its own innocent children as a regular sacrifice to the unbridled lusts of rampaging predator priests, but Lynn gave it a try, with predictable results.

But that wasn't the only sickening sight in Courtroom 304. Over at the prosecution table, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington was a study in fire-breathing indignation, as he pummeled the hapless monsignor for more than four hours, without showing any mercy, or common sense.

Who would want to see Mike Tyson in his prime whaling away on the Pillsbury doughboy? No wonder jurors often looked away as the bloodsport went on unabated, without anyone in Lynn's corner tossing in the towel, or the judge calling the bout.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The Defense Calls Monsignor Lynn"

At 11:10 a.m. Wednesday in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center, defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom stood up and made a surprise announcement.

"Your Honor, the defense calls Msgr. Lynn."

The monsignor left the defense table, where he had been held hostage the past eight weeks, and walked over to the witness stand to testify in his own defense.

The courtroom was packed with relatives and men in collars, who turned out to display their support for the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy. Lynn is on trial for conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children by allowing abuser priests to continue in ministry. He is the first Catholic administrator in the country to be charged for allegedly covering up sex abuse of minors by priests.

In three hours on the witness stand, the monsignor appeared relaxed, smiled often, and never raised his voice, even when the prosecutor was tossing fastballs at his head.

He said he stayed on the job as secretary for clergy for 12 years because, "I thought I was helping people." Lynn asserted that he provided pastoral care to fellow priests, as well as aid and counseling to victims of sex abuse.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Defense Claims Monsignor Lynn At Bottom Rung of Hierarchy

The defense in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case Tuesday presented Monsignor William J. Lynn as a caring priest who occupied the "bottom rung" of the church hierarchy.

Lynn was one of six secretaries in the archdiocese who reported to Bishop Edward P. Cullen, the former vicar for administration, according to Msgr. Michael T. McCulken, who served as Lynn's assistant in the office for the clergy from 1994 until 1997.

"That would be the bottom rung?"  Jeff Lindy, a defense lawyer for Msgr. Lynn suggested.

The bottom rung, agreed Msgr. McCulken.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

All The Cardinal's Men: Who Are These Guys?

For the past eight weeks, as the prosecution presented its case against Monsignor William J. Lynn, district attorneys and defense lawyers kept mentioning three names: Cullen, Molloy and Cistone.

The same three names appeared over and over again on documents marked "confidential" that were repeatedly displayed on courtroom computer screens, as evidence of a conspiracy from the secret archive files.

Cullen, Molloy and Cistone were the three top guys in the archdiocese chain of command just below Cardinal Anthony J. Bevliacqua. All three outranked Msgr. Lynn, the lone man at the defense table left holding the bag for the sins of an entire corrupt organization.

When the defense presents its case next week in the archdiocese sex abuse trial, expect to hear a lot more about Cullen, Molloy and Cistone. Defense lawyers are apt to invoke the trio as often as possible in their efforts to convince a jury that Lynn was just a lackey down at Archdiocese HQ, and not a guy who wielded any power.

So who are these guys, and why aren't they sitting at the defense table with Msgr. Lynn?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What Did The Prosecution Prove About Monsignor Lynn?

This post by Max Kennerly is cross-posted on his Litigation and Trial blog.

On Thursday, after the prosecution closed their case, Judge Sarmina swiftly dismissed the conspiracy charges against Monsignor Lynn and Father Brennan.  Although the move caught some observers by surprise, it was likely not a surprise to the prosecutors.  To prove a criminal conspiracy, the Commonwealth has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants had a “shared criminal intent,” defined by Pennsylvania law as “the common understanding that a particular criminal objective is to be accomplished.” Commonwealth v. Lambert, 795 A.2d 1010 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2002). Whatever Monsignor Lynn’s crime was, the evidence did not show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he intended for children to be molested.  Thus, the conspiracy charge was plainly difficult to prove from the onset, and the dismissal is not surprising given the actual evidence presented.

Which brings us to the core question of this case:  What was Monsignor Lynn’s intent?
For centuries, the English common law, and subsequently the American common law, has required that criminal convictions include proof of two separate elements:  the mens rea (the guilty mind) and the actus reus (the guilty act).  In Lynn’s case, he is charged with endangering the welfare of children, and I don’t think anyone can genuinely dispute that Monsignor Lynn’s actions in fact endangered the welfare of children within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s parishes and schools.  There is no denying that, as of at least February 18, 1994, when Lynn drew up the list of 35 sexually abusive priests, Lynn’s acts — such as his involvement in transferring priests around once allegations were made — and his inactions — such as his failure to ever report any of them to the police — allowed abusive clergy to keep preying on children in the community.  But it is a fundamental premise of our criminal law that the magnitude of the damage caused is not by itself enough to prove that a crime occurred, the prosecution must also prove he had the mens rea for the crime.

Proving mens rea is inherently difficult; “for who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him?” 1 Corinthians 2:11. It is only on television that defendants suddenly concede at trial their own guilt and malicious intent.  In real courtrooms, defendants never confess on the stand, and they also typically have not left behind “smoking gun” emails or letters outlining their wicked plans. Mens rea is thus typically proven through circumstantial evidence, and that’s why the prosecution put on the case they did, which at many times looked more like an indictment of the Catholic Church itself than of Lynn personally. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Prosecution Train Goes Off Tracks In Archdiocese Sex Abuse Case

Imagine a train uncoupling as it rumbles down the tracks.

That's what happened Thursday when Judge M. Teresa Sarmina tossed two charges of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children that linked the two defendants, Father James J. Brennan and Msgr. William J. Lynn.

The judge made her surprise decision on the day the prosecution rested, after presenting eight weeks of testimony from some 48 witnesses and thousands of pages of exhibits. There's a gag order in the case that prevents lawyers on both sides from talking to the media. However, it wasn't hard to read the contrasting reactions.

Defense lawyers, the two defendants and their relatives were beaming, laughing and shaking hands as they filed out of the courtroom. Meanwhile, prosecutors said little and moved swiftly toward the elevators.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Monsignor Confesses He Wasn't Qualified To Be A Gumshoe

Monsignor William J. Lynn confessed to a grand jury back in 2004 that he wasn't qualified to investigate sexually abusive priests.

The monsignor's admission came in response to a grand jury prosecutor, who asked Lynn if he realized that he needed more training to investigate sex crimes committed by priests against minors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"Today I do," the monsignor told the grand jury back in 2004. When the grand jury prosecutor asked Lynn point-blank if he was qualified to investigate sex abuse, he responded simply, "No."

The monsignor told the grand jury that he studied theology and philosophy at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and also had a master's degree in education administration. But when you're trying to outwit a pedophile, "a degree in psychology, that would help," the monsignor told the grand jury. So would some law enforcement seminars.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Planning a Gay Cruise to Thailand? Call Father Mike

Father Michael J. McCarthy like to sleep naked with teenage boys who stayed over his beach house at the Jersey Shore. He also ran a travel business on the side, planning gay cruises to places like Thailand.

Prosecutors on Tuesday used documents from the secret archive files introduced by Detective Joe Walsh to tell Father McCarthy's story to the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case.  

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington suggested that the church had turned a blind eye to Father McCarthy's transgressions with teenage boys, as long as scandal could be avoided by transferring the priest to another parish. In September 1992, the cardinal promoted Father McCarthy to pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Church in Norristown, despite two complaints of sex abuse in his file.

It was the priest's business venture that got him into trouble, the prosecutor said, especially after the cardinal found out that Father McCarthy was taking business away from another local travel agent who had just donated $25,000 to the archdiocese for Catholic Life 2000.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Shredded Memo, A Dead Cardinal, and A Bunch of Liars

A secret list of sexually abusive priests that Cardinal Bevilacqua ordered shredded in 1994 is now at the center of a tangled web of deception, lies and suspicious memory lapses.

Prosecutors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case Monday tried to unravel the mystery  in court, with messy results. On the witness stand was Timothy R. Coyne, a lawyer who was the former director of the archdiocese office for legal services. Coyne told the jury that when he originally went looking for the list in 2002, the first person he visited was Msgr. Lynn.

"He said he didn't know where it was," Coyne testified. Two years later, with grand jury subpoenas flying around, Coyne went on another search for the memo. He sent faxes to Cardinal Bevilacqua and three top aides, but once again, nobody knew where the list was.

But in 2006, when the list was suddenly rediscovered in a locked archdiocese safe, Coyne realized he'd been had.

"Somebody lied to me, or everybody lied to me," Coyne told the jury about his former bosses at the archdiocese.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nun Calls Out Monsignor Lynn

A nun who was sexually abused as a minor by a predator priest called out Monsignor William J. Lynn Thursday from her perch on the witness stand.

It was a dramatic confrontation as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial wrapped up its seventh week of testimony. Lynn is on trial for allegedly conspiring to endanger the welfare of children by allowing abusive priests to continue in ministry

All along, the defense mantra has been that the monsignor was just a cog in the wheel down at archdiocese headquarters on 222 N. 17th St., and that the ultimate villain in the case was the guy who wielded the ultimate power in the archdiocese, the conveniently dead Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

But the nun on the witness stand refused to play along.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Detective, Defense Lawyer Battle Over the Soul of Father Brennan

A defense lawyer and a detective went snorkeling through the archdiocese's confidential files Wednesday in search of the real Father James J. Brennan.

In an often tedious cross-examination, the defense lawyer tried to paint Father Brennan as a talented priest who was also a spiritual searcher, while the detective saw the 48-year-old Father Brennan as a tormented soul trying to hide a secret.

Meanwhile, the jury's attention span was challenged, as they often stared off into space while the defense lawyer and detective did battle during a long afternoon of questioning.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Priest Seeks Spiritual Highs; Winds Up Singing White Christmas to Chickens

Father James J. Brennan dreamed of becoming a Trappist monk. He thought the monastic life would bring him closer to God as he meditated and prayed in solitude for hours on end.

But after he joined the Trappists in 2000, Father Brennan found the reality of the monastic life was far different then he had imagined. He was getting up at 3 a.m. to feed the chickens on the monks' organic  farm. The priest, a gifted singer who used to conduct church choirs, was reduced to serenading hens to the tune of White Christmas.

"I think too much of me is being wasted on chickens," he wrote Msgr. William J. Lynn in 2001, asking to come back to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Prosecutor Seeks Road Trip to Prove Monsignor Is A Liar

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington got worked up in court Tuesday, repeatedly calling the defendant, Monsignor William J. Lynn, a liar.

"The lies, the outrageous lies that he [Lynn] continues to tell," Blessington shouted. That prompted an objection from Thomas Bergstrom, a defense lawyer who rarely raises his voice.

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, often mistaken for a member of the prosecution team, continued the surprises by siding with the defense. "Stick to the facts, Mr. Blessington," the judge admonished.

Blessington was trying to convince the judge to take a road trip to a cloistered convent in North Philadelphia, as part of his recent campaign to prove that the monsignor is a liar.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ex-FBI Agent Tells About His Interview With Father Brennan

Former FBI Agent Jack Rossiter told jurors Monday about his interview with Father James J. Brennan, on trial for the attempted rape of a 14-year-old-boy.

The jury has now heard three versions of the story. First, the former alleged victim, Mark Bukowski, testified about he was allegedly sexually assaulted by the priest during a 1996 sleepover at Father Brennan's apartment in West Chester. Bukowski also told the jury that three years later, the priest allegedly exposed himself and masturbated in front of Bukowski while standing in a shed outside Father Brennan's church. At the time, Bukowski told the jury, he was doing community service, and that as part of a jail sentence after being arrested, Father Brennan was allowing him to mow church lawns.

Msgr. Kevin Quirk, who presided over a 2008 church inquiry into the alleged attempted rape, then told the jury Father Brennan's version of the story, namely that he he never sexually assaulted the boy or exposed himself. Quirk also told the jury that Bukowski had backtracked on the alleged 1999 masturbation incident, saying, "the accused had withdrawn that part of the allegation."

In court Monday, Rossiter gave jurors a third version of the story, as he recounted his efforts to investigate the priest on behalf of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Rossiter told the jury that Bukowski's parents had asked Father Brennan to take the boy for a weekend, because he was angry and exhibiting "anti-social behavior." The parents told Father Brennan that he had a good relationship with Mark, and that maybe after spending a weekend with the boy, he could figure out what was wrong with him.

Former Teen "Jesus" Talks About Being Abused in Perverted Archdiocese Passion Play

He was a 13-year-old eighth-grader chosen by his classmates for the lead role in the annual parish passion play.

"I was elected to play Jesus," Shawn Magee told the jury Monday in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case. Magee, now 39, recalled how he originally thought it was an honor back in 1986 to be singled out by his classmates at Annunciation BVM Church in Havertown.

Then he found out the passion play was being directed by a pervert priest, Father Thomas J. Smith.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hopes Dim for Cardinal Bevilacqua's Resurrection

One of the featured coming attractions of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial was the hope of seeing Cardinal Bevilacqua return from the dead to testify in a videotaped deposition.

On Nov. 29, 2011, prosecutors, defense lawyers and Judge M. Teresa Sarmina all made the trek out to the retired cardinal's residence on the grounds of the Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, so they could depose the 88-year-old Bevilacqua. The deposition went on for two days and covered at least four hours of videotape.

Ever since Bevilacqua died on Jan. 31, a day after Judge Sarmina had ruled him competent to testify as a witness, speculation has been that the prosecution would use the videotape at trial.

But in court this week, Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho told the judge that she doesn't expect that the Commonwealth will play the videotape during the trial, which just wrapped up its sixth week of testimony.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"One of the Sickest Individuals" Gets Away With It

Father Louis DeSimone heard a commotion. When he went to investigate, he found Father Nicholas V. Cudemo "trying to calm a hysterical girl."

The girl left the church shouting that she loved Father Cudemo. When Father DeSimone asked what was going on, Father Cudemo explained that the girl had a crush on him.

The year was 1969, and the hysterical girl was one of the first victims mentioned in the secret archive files of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In court Thursday, Detective Joseph Walsh methodically read from the secret files the stories of 10 more victims of Father Cudemo, described memorably to a grand jury by the late Msgr. James E. Molloy, Cardinal Bevilacqua's former vicar for administration, as "one of the sickest individuals I ever knew."

Pervert Priest Checks Out of Sex Clinic; Stops By Restaurant to Hit on Waitresses

Assistant District Attorney Anthony Pomeranz returned to the witness stand Thursday to read another volume of Monsignor William J. Lynn's wacky grand jury testimony into the record.

This has become a popular recurring skit at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial. In the last episode, the pudgy gumshoe from the archdiocese, as played by the prosecutor who looks like Woody Allen, was hot on the trail of Father Sylwester Wiejata.

Father Wiejata was the 27-year-old priest from Poland who had affairs with married women, and then molested one of his mistress' daughters, who was only 13. In Thursday's episode, Msgr. Lynn, as played by Pomeranz, discovered that Father Wiejata was more active than previously thought.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Cardinal Sin: Disobeying the Big Guy

Monsignor William J. Lynn doesn't get excited when he's told that archdiocese priests are sexually abusing altar boys.

He doesn't loose his cool when he discovers that one priest has young boys living with him in the rectory, or that another priest has a farm where he keeps three young boys rotating through his bedroom.

That same monsignor doesn't hit the panic button when he learns that one of his predator priests just busted out of the sex clinic, and is AWOL from the archdiocese, or that another predator priest who just molested a 13-year-old girl has fled the Commonwealth.

Nope, after six weeks of testimony in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial, the monsignor comes across as a guy who doesn't rattle easily, even when he's getting grilled by a grand jury prosecutor who's obviously gunning for him. But Wednesday, the jury in Courtroom 304 learned what really gets a rise out of the monsignor, and by extension, his late boss, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

If you're a priest in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, you can "act out sexually" all you want. You can get away with it for years, even decades at a time, while they transfer you from parish to parish, in between recuperative stays at St. John Vianney's, the friendly archdiocese clinic for sex abusers. Just make sure that you don't disobey an order from the archbishop. Because in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, that's the one unpardonable sin for which there is zero tolerance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Another Episode of the Bumbling Monsignor On the Trail of A Predator Priest

On Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Pomeranz took the witness stand and read another volume of Monsignor William J. Lynn's grand jury testimony into the record.

Pomeranz is growing into the role. He's got that deer-in-the-headlights look down pat, and he reads his lines with the carefree assurance of a man with a grant of immunity, which is what the monsignor must have thought he had when he appeared before the grand jury in 2002, and made one forehead-slapping admission after another.

The most recent volume of grand jury testimony was about the hapless monsignor's pursuit back in 2000 of a 27-year-old Lothario priest named Father Sylwester Wiejata.