By Amaris Elliott-Engel
Of the Legal Staff
In the view of prosecutors, the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia treated the therapy of priests who allegedly committed sexual abuse as a means of managing public relations, not as a means of protecting children.
In the view of defense counsel, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office wants to “hang the sins of society” onto the shoulders of one high-ranking church official.
Recounting almost 30 instances, prosecutors have been telling Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina about the allegations of outright sexual abuse and other sexual improprieties made to the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia about priests ministering in the archdiocese. That information is all part of a decision that Sarmina must make about how many details of those alleged instances should be shared with a jury in the second Philadelphia investigation into sex abuse by Catholic clergy.
Today concluded the third day of a hearing on whether any evidence of prior “bad acts,” or evidence of any other alleged wrongs than those with which a former personnel director for priests is charged with, can be admitted at a trial later this winter of the former archdiocesan secretary of clergy. Monsignor William Lynn, charged with endangering the welfare of youth allegedly abused by priests, is slated to be tried along with co-defendant priests charged with actually committing the abuse. Under Pennsylvania law, the probative value of the evidence must outweigh its potential for prejudicing the defendants.
The same evidence was used to support sharply contrasting arguments.
Prosecutor Mariana Sorensen said that it was archdiocesan policy to just reassign priests when allegations of abuse or other improprieties were made – unless a complaint had also been made to law enforcement.
As secretary of clergy supervising 800 priests, including when dealing with complaints of sexual abuse, Lynn, Sorensen argued, had to have been well aware of the likelihood that people diagnosed with disorders of attraction to children and older youth under the age of consent would repeat their behavior.
“It’s not what Lynn did,” Sorensen said. “It’s what he knew was the danger by continuing to follow that policy.”
One of Lynn’s lawyers, Jeffrey M. Lindy of Lindy & Tauber, said that prosecutors want to hang the sins of society on his client. The widespread reality of sexual abuse of children is being exposed more and more, as evidenced by the sexual abuse scandals at Penn State University and Syracuse University, Lindy said. Later, Lindy complained that, with the way that prosecutors were compiling the allegations against Lynn for inaction or inappropriate action, there was no way for Lynn to win. The implication is that he was acting through “malice,” Lindy said.
Sorensen countered that, just as in Penn State and as reports were passed up the church hierarchy, Lynn should have taken action to share those reports with law enforcement.