Priest in Pa. case: 'You don't say no' to cardinal

May 22, 2012 - 7:00 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A priest assigned to help handle child sex-abuse complaints at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia told jurors Tuesday that Monsignor William Lynn was the only other person who could have created a typed list of suspected pedophile priests.

Monsignor James Beisel's testimony came as the defense began its case in Lynn's child-endangerment and conspiracy trial. Rev. James Brennan also is on trial, charged with molesting a teenager.

Prosecutors have introduced the list as evidence that Lynn and other church officials were aware the archdiocese had known predators in jobs around children for years or decades. But defense lawyers argue Lynn took orders from Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. And witnesses Tuesday agreed that only the cardinal could transfer a priest or remove him from ministry.

Said Beisel: "... you don't say no to Cardinal Bevilacqua."

Lynn's attorneys argue he was trying to address the priest abuse problem by preparing the list for Bevilacqua. Lynn described the list in his 2002 grand jury testimony, but said he couldn't find it. Bevilacqua had it shredded, according to a memo, but a surviving copy was turned over to prosecutors in February, two weeks after the retired cardinal's death.

Beisel testified about working nights at the archdiocese to review secret, padlocked files full of abuse complaints, and making a list of suspected pedophiles who were still active priests in Philadelphia.

He and Lynn worked on "the project" for nearly two weeks in early 1994. Beisel made a hand-written, 15-page list of names and allegations, noting whether they were diagnosed pedophiles or presumed "guilty" based on their own admissions. The list also noted whether the alleged abuse was less than five years old, and still a potential legal problem.

Beisel said he did not recall preparing a typed version of the list that's been shown in court, and said Lynn was the only other person who could have typed it. He said he never knew the list had gone missing for many years, through two grand jury investigations. He said he was "woefully unprepared" for the assignment and left after a year. Lynn never asked him about the list, Beisel said.

Defense lawyers called three church colleagues to the stand, two of whom worked under Lynn at the Office for Clergy in the 1990s. They faced harsh questioning from prosecutors — something Lynn may be trying to avoid by having the uncharged friends defend their work to jurors.

Monsignor Michael McCulken, who succeeded Beisel as Lynn's assistant in 1994, acknowledged that the Rev. Stanley Gana remained a pastor three years after a seminarian reported being raped by Gana throughout high school.

"He was certainly out there in the public," McCulken said on cross-examination.

A phone listing for Gana, who is now defrocked and has never been criminally charged, could not be located Tuesday. Gana has denied accusations against him in the past.

Echoing earlier testimony, McCulken said the archdiocese never contacted other potential victims of an accused priest to protect the victims' privacy. He said church officials didn't call the police because the church's outside lawyers said it wasn't required.

The list had apparently been hidden in a locked safe until 2006, then buried in a file in a lawyer's office at the archdiocese, according to trial testimony.

More than a dozen accusers have testified since the trial began on March 26, many giving searing testimony about the toll the alleged abuse had on them. Some said they were sexually abused by priests for years, and were led to believe that God approved of the activity.

In questioning by defense lawyer Jeffrey M. Lindy, McCulken said that Lynn's office had no doctors, counselors or social workers on staff to guide them in the sensitive work. The archdiocese now has several offices and expert panels to deal with child sexual abuse, he said.

The 61-year-old Lynn, who is on leave from the church, has sat quietly at the defense table throughout the trial, showing little emotion. His siblings, along with other relatives and a priest friend, often sit in the galley behind him.

He is the first U.S. church official ever charged for his handling of abuse complaints, and faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted on all counts.