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Philadelphia priest: Not archdiocese's policy to tell police about abuse reports

By Sarah Hoye, CNN
updated 8:11 PM EDT, Tue May 22, 2012
Catholic Monsignor William Lynn is accused of covering up sexual abuse of children by priests.
Catholic Monsignor William Lynn is accused of covering up sexual abuse of children by priests.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Our legal counsel said there was not a requirement to report," priest tells jurors
  • Two Philadelphia priests are on trial
  • The Rev. James Brennan is accused of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old
  • Monsignor William Lynn is accused of allowing dangerous priests to continue in ministry

Philadelphia (CNN) -- A priest who assisted Monsignor William Lynn investigate clergy sex abuse claims testified Tuesday that it was not the archdiocese's policy to contact law enforcement or other victims of abuse.

"Our legal counsel said there was not a requirement to report," Monsignor Michael McCulken told jurors.

The defense called its first three witnesses Tuesday in the child sexual abuse and conspiracy trial of two Philadelphia priests, after the prosecution rested last week.

On trial are the Rev. James Brennan, who is accused of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old, and Monsignor William Lynn, who is accused of knowingly allowing dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to children.

Lynn is the first high-ranking church figure charged with child endangerment for allegedly shuffling predator priests from parish to parish.

Defrocked priest Edward Avery was due to also go on trial with Brennan and Lynn, but pleaded guilty in March to involuntary sexual deviate sexual intercourse after admitting to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy during the 1998-1999 school year at St. Jerome Parish.

Lynn, who was the secretary for clergy under former Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, is accused of knowingly allowing Avery and Brennan access to children despite allegations of sexual abuse of minors. From 1992 until 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children.

Both Brennan and Lynn have pleaded not guilty.

Also taking the witness stand was Monsignor William Beisel, who was Lynn's assistant from 1993-1994. Beisel and Lynn drafted an infamous list of 35 priests suspected of sexually abusing children

Beisel told jurors that he and Lynn reviewed the files of priests accused of sexual misconduct to draft the list.

"We did this after 5 o'clock. It seemed like forever, but took about two weeks," he said. "I was happy the project was over."

The list was later found inside a locked safe that was drilled open in 2006. Still, the list of 35 Catholic priests accused or found guilty of sexual misconduct, plus a memo ordering the shredding of the list of priests plus other personnel documents, did not come to light until February.

Although Beisel remembered penning the list, he confirmed for jurors that he told the grand jury in 2004, "I don't recall seeing a priest that was guilty of sexual misconduct."

Included on the list was defrocked priest Avery, categorized as "guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor."

Avery, 69, was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years in prison after his guilty plea.

"Are you trying to help your friend?" Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington asked Beisel.

"Am I trying to help my friend? No. I'm trying to help get to the truth," Beisel said, adding that he left his position as Lynn's assistant because he "did not like the job."

Two separate grand jury reports accused the archdiocese of failing to investigate claims of sexual abuse of children by priests.

A 2011 report led the Philadelphia district attorney's office to criminally charge four Philadelphia priests and a parochial school teacher with raping and assaulting boys in their care, while Lynn was accused of allowing the abusive priests to have access to children.

On May 4, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput announced resolutions to eight of the 26 cases of priests on administrative leave as a result of the February 2011 grand jury report.

Yet, the archdiocese announced Sunday it ousted two priests -- not connected to those cases -- due to allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

The trial represents the first time that U.S. prosecutors have charged not just the priests who allegedly committed the abuses, but an official who stands accused of failing to stop the assaults. Lynn had been responsible from 1992 until 2004 for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children.

A gag order barring all parties involved in the criminal case from talking to the media imposed by a Philadelphia judge remains in effect.

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