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July 29, 2014, 11:02 pm

Defense: Priest abuse claims ‘fell through cracks’

As the Catholic priest sex abuse trial entered into its fifth week, testimony focused on Edward Avery, who pleaded guilty before the proceedings started, and is now serving a sentence of two-and-a-half to five years.

Repeatedly during the proceedings, one aspect of the case remains the consistent focus of the prosecution — namely that ranking Catholic Church officials knew all about Avery, James Brennan and several other priests who were accused of sexually abusing children. Not only was the abuse well known, but Church officials allegedly worked strenuously to cover it up and moved the pedophile priests from one parish to another while downplaying the victim’s complaints — or simply not following up on them.

“They fell through the cracks,” Monsignor William Lynn allegedly told investigators. Lynn is on trial for conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children in the case. As the secretary for the clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua from 1992 to 2004, he was charged with investigating the allegations, among his other duties.

Avery admitted that he engaged in sexual relations with a 10-year-old boy while the victim was in school in 1998-1999. He pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child.

One of the victims told the court that while he was at St. Jerome’s Parish in 1999, he served a Mass with Avery. Afterwards, Avery took him into the sacristy, turned on some music and forced the victim to perform a striptease and then performed oral sex on him. Lynn interviewed Avery and the victim in 1992, and he denied the allegations.

Prosecutors alleged that Lynn could have acted in the best interests of children but time and time again failed to do so.

“Time after time, Lynn abdicated this responsibility,” the Grand Jury report said. “He did so not through negligence or simple incompetence, but purposefully. He did so with Cardinal Bevilacqua’s knowledge and at the Cardinal’s direction, as part of a knowing practice — continued over decades — of placing sexual predators in positions where they would have easy access to trusting minors, just as long as the Archdiocese was spared public exposure or costly lawsuits.”

According to prosecutors, whenever victims would come forward, Lynn allegedly recommended that the offending priests be transferred to new parishes where the accusations weren’t known. In short, they were allowed to continue their behavior with new victims.

“In this way, Lynn effectively shielded the predator priests from accountability and ensured them a continuing supply of victims,” the Grand Jury report said. “The Secretary for the Clergy could, at any time, have referred serious allegations to law enforcement officials, who could have conducted proper investigations. It was just not his priority. Based on the evidence before us, it is clear that [Lynn] was acutely interested in shielding abusive clergy from criminal detection, in shielding the Cardinal from scandal, and in shielding the Archdiocese from financial liability. He showed no interest at all in defending the Archdiocese’s children. On the contrary, he consistently endangered them.”

Lynn’s defense attorney, Thomas Bergstrom argues that Lynn tried to have the pedophile priests removed from active ministry, but that Bevilacqua overrode his recommendations and allegedly had the lists of the accused shredded.

“Despite receiving reliable reports that Avery had sexually abused a boy and should not be permitted to engage in any ministry involving working with adolescents, Lynn recommended him for assignment to a parish with a school, and then ignored repeated warnings that he was engaged in unsupervised activities in which he could victimize for children,” the investigative report said. “Soon after learning that Brennan was suspected of hosting parties where he allowed students to drink and was even living with one of them, Lynn conducted no investigation. He did not call law enforcement or take action to keep Brennan away from adolescents.”