The defense in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case Tuesday presented Monsignor William J. Lynn as a caring priest who occupied the "bottom rung" of the church hierarchy.
Lynn was one of six secretaries in the archdiocese who reported to Bishop Edward P. Cullen, the former vicar for administration, according to Msgr. Michael T. McCulken, who served as Lynn's assistant in the office for the clergy from 1994 until 1997.
"That would be the bottom rung?" Jeff Lindy, a defense lawyer for Msgr. Lynn suggested.
The bottom rung, agreed Msgr. McCulken.
The secretary for clergy functioned as a human resources department for the archdiocese, handling more than 800 priests, the seminarians at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, as well as retired priests.
McCulken estimated that he spent 10 percent of his time on sex abuse matters, and Lynn, about 15 percent. McCulken said that during his three years in the office for clergy, he worked on ten cases of alleged sex abuse. McCulken said that he and Lynn worked about 50 hours a week, including nights and weekends, and that Lynn usually went home with a thick valise of paperwork.
McCulken, prodded by Lindy, described the archdiocese chain of command to the jury. McCulken reported to Lynn, who reported to Msgr. James E. Molloy, the assistant vicar of administration, who reported to Bishop Cullen, the vicar of administration, who reported to Cardinal Bevilacqua.
The point was the cardinal was on top of the pecking order, and Lynn was at the bottom. Another defense witness who testified Tuesday, Msgr. Joseph Garvin, said that even regional vicars outranked Lynn.
McCulken testified that Lynn made the best of a difficult job. It was Lynn's responsibility every time a complaint of sex abuse came in to confront the accused priest. Then, if the priest denied it, and most usually did, it was Lynn's job to talk the priest into voluntarily checking himself into St. John Vianney, the archdiocese-owned sex clinic, for a psychiatric evaluation.
Lynn was successful in talking the "vast majority" of accused priests into voluntarily checking into St. John Vianney, McCulken testified.
McCulken described the secret archive files to the jury as two locked file cabinets in the records room on the 12th floor office of the vicar for administration. The room also contained a six-foot high safe that held the wills of Philadelphia's archbishops, as well as the beatification files for Mother Katharine Drexel, who was made a saint in 1988.
In addition, on the 10th floor of archdiocese headquarters, in the office of the secretary for clergy, the archdiocese kept what were known as "file 3" dossiers on current problem priests, McCulken testified.
And after Lynn left his job as secretary for clergy, the work of investigating sex abuse in the archdiocese was taken over by four new offices, including a victims assistance coordinator, an office of the delegate of investigations, an archdiocese review board, and an office for child youth protection, McCulken testified.
On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti targeted McCulken's estimates of how little time McCulken and Lynn spent investigating sex abuse in the office for clergy.
"What would be more important that stopping children from being sexually abused or raped?" Cipolletti asked.
"Nothing," McCulken testified. That's why he and Lynn "dropped everything when a call came in."
But all paper work regarding the alleged sex abuse had to go through the chain of command, first to the vicar for administration's office, on its way up to the cardinal, McCulken testified.
The prosecutor stuck to what McCulken and Lynn didn't do in the office for clergy.
"You never called the police not once," Cipolletti said.
"That's correct," McCulkin responded.
"You called your own lawyers?" Cipolletti asked.
"Correct," McCulkin said. He said that the archdiocese's lawyers had advised him that he did not have to contact the police as most sex allegations reported to the archdiocese were by adults in their 20s and 30s. The alleged abuse normally fell outside the statute of limitations for reporting a sex crime, McCulken said.
On redirect, the defense stuck to their script that Lynn was just a cog in the wheel down at archdiocese HQ.
"Lynn didn't make up the policies, did he?" asked defense lawyer Lindy.
"No," McCulkin testified.
Next on the witness stand was Msgr. James D. Beisel, who worked for a year as Lynn's assistant, from 1993 to 1994 in the office of secretary for clergy.
Beisel was the note-keeper when Lynn interviewed alleged victims of sex abuse. Beisel testified that Lynn acted like a priest while dealing with "someone who's in pain." Msgr. Lynn always acted "in a very compassionate way,"Beisel testified.
Beisel was asked about Lynn's confrontations with priests accused of sex abuse.
"No priest ever admitted the conduct," Beisel said.
Asked why he took the job on cross examination, Msgr. Beisel responded, "You don't say not to Cardinal Bevilacqua."
And why did he leave, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington wanted to know.
"I didn't like the job," Beisel said.
That prompted Blessington to point out that Lynn always had that option. He could have said, "I don't like the job," Blessington said. But instead, Lynn stayed for 12 years.
Blessington asked about Beisel's qualifications.
"Were you woefully unprepared?" the prosecutor wanted to know.
To investigate sex abuse, yes, Beisel testified.
The questioning on cross-examination turned to who typed up the list of 35 abuser priests that was subsequently ordered shredded by Bevilacaqua. Beisel remembered helping Lynn to compile the list, but said he couldn't remember who typed it up, even though a post-it with Beisel's handwriting on it was found on one typed version of the list, with the note saying it was Lynn's copy.
"Oh, we having memory problems again, Monsignor?" Blessington asked.
Beisel responded that he was trying to get at the truth, but that he had "no idea" who had typed the memo. Blessington noted there were only two suspects, Msgr. Lynn and Msgr. Beisel. Didn't the witness remember typing up the list?
"Not to my recollection," Beisel said.
Blessington griped about Beisel being "a man of the cloth, a man of God" who couldn't remember who typed the names of 35 priests suspected of sexually abusing children. You'd think you'd remember something like that.
"You don't remnember typing this list?"the prosecutor asked.
"That's what I'm saying," Beisel said.
"You're not trying to help your friend?" Blessington suggested.
Beisel said he was trying to remember what really happened.
So the defense in the case, which opened Tuesday with testimony from a trio of monsignors, is scheduled to continue Wednesday with the reading of documents into the record, and some kind words from character witnesses.
By noon, however, it may be the moment of truth. The defense could rest its case. The other option is the "wild card" suggested by defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom last week to Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.
The defense could put Monsignor Lynn on the witness stand to testify in his own defense.
It's a risky move. For the past eight weeks of trial, the accepted logic has been that you don't put an affable priest like Msgr. Lynn, a guy not used to scrapping, up against a pro like Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington. Lynn could get eaten alive.
It doesn't help that Blessington of late has been warming up for his closing argument by breathing fire from the prosecution table, while calling Lynn a liar every five minutes.
But before he delivers that closing, Blessington would love a shot at Lynn.
Again, the prevailing wisdom has been that the defense would not risk putting Lynn on the stand. But what if the defense concludes that the case may already be lost? It's fourth and long, and they have nothing to lose by going with a Hail Mary.
They may send in Lynn to see what he can do.
In his grand jury testimony that's been read into the record, Lynn comes off as a bumbling gumshoe when he's on the trail of a pedophile priest. But he's also candid and seems like a regular guy. That could help with the jury.
And if Blessington continues to rain hell fire, he might actually help the defense by making the jury feel sympathetic toward the monsignor.
So Wednesday could be just another dull day in court.