Church official, others accused in priest sexual abuse case fight charges in Philadelphia

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Monday, March 14, 2011; 7:47 PM

PHILADELPHIA - Monsignor William Lynn entered a Philadelphia courtroom Monday as the only Roman Catholic church official ever charged with endangering children for allegedly transferring priest-predators to unsuspecting U.S. parishes.

His two veteran criminal lawyers stood ready to knock down the charge. They argue that Lynn was never legally responsible for any individual child.

But their hope of having the case dropped early on will have to wait, as procedural matters took up the hour-long court hearing. Lynn and his four co-defendants - including a priest, an ex-priest and a former Catholic school teacher charged with raping the same boy in the 1990s - must instead return to court March 25.

Prosecutors who compiled a 124-page grand jury report challenge Lynn's demand for a preliminary hearing to show probable cause. They believe the report contains all the evidence required. But Lynn's lawyers are pushing for the hearing.

"We'd get to see evidence, of course. But, more importantly, what we'd get is an opportunity to find out what the commonwealth's theory is on our client endangering the welfare of a child. It's a stretch," lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said.

Bergstrom, a dean of Philadelphia's criminal defense bar, confirmed that the archdiocese is paying for him and co-counsel Jeffrey M. Lindy to defend Lynn.

Lynn, 60, served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 under former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. He has recently served as pastor of St. Joseph, a large parish in the sprawling suburb of Downingtown.

"We love you! We love you!" a parishioner cried out to Lynn in the courtroom. She declined to give her name.

The grand jury investigated child sexual abuse that allegedly occurred from 1996 to 2000 and was reported within a newly expanded time limit for such victims in Pennsylvania to come forward. A 2005 grand jury had been unable to press criminal charges because of the previous deadlines.

Two priests - 64-year-old Charles Engelhardt and 47-year-old James Brennan - along with 68-year-old former priest Edward Avery and 48-year-old teacher Bernard Shero are charged with rape and related crimes.

Brennan's lawyer, A. Charles Peruto Jr., told the judge Monday that he hopes the archdiocese will also pay Brennan's legal bills if his client is acquitted. Brennan, who was removed from any public duties as a priest in about 2006, continues to get a small monthly stipend from the archdiocese, Peruto said.

Judge Renee Cardwell-Hughes berated Brennan for pleading poverty earlier and ordered him to repay the cost of a court-appointed lawyer who represented him at two grand jury appearances. However, Peruto said Brennan's brother had stepped in after the charges were filed to help foot the legal bill.

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