Testimony in the landmark trial of two Philadelphia priests focuses on a list
The list contained the names of 35 priests suspected of sexually abusing children
The list was found in a locked safe in 2006
A church lawyer says in 2004, "Everyone ... said they didn't know where it was"
A lawyer for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia testified Monday that church officials lied to him about the whereabouts of a hidden list of 35 priests suspected of sexually abusing children.
“Everyone I spoke to said they didn’t know where it was,” Timothy Coyne, former director of legal services for the archdiocese, told jurors at the landmark child sexual abuse and conspiracy trial of two Philadelphia priests. “Somebody lied to me.”
Jurors also heard from two priests and a paralegal from the law firm representing the archdiocese regarding items found in two separate locked safes.
One safe drilled open by a locksmith contained an accordion-style file folder that housed a memo ordering the shredding of the list of 35 Catholic priests accused or found guilty of sexual misconduct, the list of priests and other personnel documents.
The archdiocese’s director of operations testified Thursday she discovered a locked safe on top of a file cabinet in 2006. Coyne was searching for the list of priests in 2004.
Once professionals drilled it open in early 2006, Louise Sullivan took a lone accordion-style file folder from inside and placed it on a conference table. “At the time, this was a very insignificant task,” Sullivan told jurors. “No one ever discussed what was in the safe.”
Both the memo and list were in the safe. That memo remains a contested piece of evidence in the child sexual abuse and conspiracy trial of two Philadelphia priests. It was discovered in February, shortly after Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died in January.
The fate of one of them, Monsignor William Lynn, may depend on whether jurors believe the list he compiled proves he transferred suspected priests or, as the defense claims, he informed his superiors that clergy members were assaulting children.
Monday played out like the board game Clue, as archdiocese employees pointed a finger at each other about who knew about the memo, the list and where it was located.
On trial are the Rev. James Brennan, who is accused of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old, and Lynn, who is accused of covering it up.
Lynn is the first high-ranking church figure charged with child endangerment.
Both men have pleaded not guilty.
In February, attorneys for Lynn asked the court to throw out charges against their client based on a 1994 memo – found inside the safe – showing Cardinal Bevilacqua ordered a list of 35 suspected abusive Catholic priests to be destroyed.
Prosecutors are using the memo, the list of priests – and testimony from a host of witnesses with allegations against priests who are not on trial – to build their case that Lynn knowingly shuffled predator priests to unwitting parishes.
Lynn’s attorneys said the documents show that Lynn had informed his superiors – including Bevilacqua – that priests in the archdiocese were assaulting children.
“The recent unexpected and shocking discovery of a March 1994 memorandum composed by Monsignor James Molloy, Monsignor Lynn’s then-supervisor, on the topic of this review, clearly reveals that justice demands that all charges against Monsignor Lynn be dropped,” Lynn’s attorneys said in a filing.
As revealed in court papers filed in February, Molloy’s handwritten memo dated March 22, 1994, informed Bevilacqua that the secret list of 35 priests had been shredded per his instructions.
“On 3-22-94 at 10:45 AM I shredded, in the presence of Reverend Joseph R. Cistone, four copies of these lists from the secret archives,” Molloy’s memo stated. “The action was taken on the basis of a directive I received from Cardinal Bevilacqua at the Issues meeting of 3-15-94 ….”
Included on the list was defrocked priest Edward Avery, who was slated to go on trial with Lynn and Brennan.
Avery pleaded guilty to involuntary deviant sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child after admitting that he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy during the 1998-99 school year. Avery, 69, was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years in prison.
The trial represents the first time that U.S. prosecutors have charged not just the priests who allegedly committed the abuses, but also 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.
The grand jury alleged that Lynn knowingly allowed dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to children.
A gag order imposed by a Philadelphia judge in the case remains in effect, barring all parties involved in the criminal case from talking to the media.
CNN’s George Lerner contributed to this report.