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Cardinal ordered silence on priests accused of abuse

Monsignor tells of dealing with ‘sick individuals’

PHILADELPHIA - A Roman Catholic church official conceded that a 1994 list he compiled of 35 priests suspected of sexually abusing children in the Philadelphia archdiocese included some “pretty sick individuals.’’

Monsignor William Lynn took the stand in his own defense Wednesday in a groundbreaking child-endangerment and conspiracy case. Prosecutors blame Lynn for helping keep those priests and many more in ministry, where they had access to countless children.

Lynn, 61, is the first Roman Catholic church official in the United States charged with a crime for his handling of complaints that priests were molesting children. Prosecutors spent 10 years investigating the Philadelphia Archdiocese before bringing charges against Lynn, the point person for priest assignments as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. No other church official in Philadelphia was charged.

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Lynn testified that the head of the archdiocese forbade staff from telling accusers their alleged abuser had other victims. And he said the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua would not let parishes announce the real reason an accused priest was being removed. Parishioners were often told their priest had health problems when he left for sex-offender treatment, according to testimony over the past nine weeks.

“The cardinal wouldn’t allow us to announce in those days why someone was leaving,’’ Lynn said. “But mental health was health.’’

That prompted Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington to ask, somewhat rhetorically, if Lynn remembered the Catholic teaching on sins of omission.

Bevilacqua died Jan. 31, two months before his longtime secretary for clergy went on trial.

Lynn’s stoic demeanor softened when he took the stand for direct questioning, but he endured a blistering cross-examination that is expected to continue Thursday.

Blessington asked if the church should not have sought out other victims of suspected abusers, to corroborate claims or offer help.

“In hindsight, that’s the better way to go,’’ Lynn said.

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He testified that he learned only this year that Bevilacqua had ordered his list of problem priests shredded, through a memo and surviving copy of the list that surfaced at the archdiocese days after Bevilacqua died. Lynn said he had looked for the list, without success, to give the grand jury in 2004.

“You’d agree there’s some pretty sick individuals on that list?’’ Blessington asked.

Lynn agreed, without any hesitation.

Defense lawyers paint Lynn as a cog in the wheel of a vast bureaucracy and a scapegoat for the priest sexual-abuse crisis.

But prosecutors call him a key figure in policy decisions and the man who knew better than perhaps anyone the harrowing accounts of child sexual abuse buried in the church vaults.

Lynn’s decision to take the stand Wednesday is risky, giving prosecutors a chance to interrogate him on cross-examination about his handling of 20 files on accused priests. Friends and relatives, several of them priests, filled several rows of seats behind the defense table.

Lynn faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted. He is on leave from the archdiocese, which is paying for his defense.

Lynn repeatedly told jurors he was simply following orders in a job he never sought.