Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington got worked up in court Tuesday, repeatedly calling the defendant, Monsignor William J. Lynn, a liar.
"The lies, the outrageous lies that he [Lynn] continues to tell," Blessington shouted. That prompted an objection from Thomas Bergstrom, a defense lawyer who rarely raises his voice.
Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, often mistaken for a member of the prosecution team, continued the surprises by siding with the defense. "Stick to the facts, Mr. Blessington," the judge admonished.
Blessington was trying to convince the judge to take a road trip to a cloistered convent in North Philadelphia, as part of his recent campaign to prove that the monsignor is a liar.
Lynn is on trial for allegedly conspiring to endanger the welfare of children by keeping predator priests in ministry. But Blessington's most frequent charge of late has been that the monsignor is also a liar.
Last week in court, Blessington had a similar outburst, when he charged that Bergstrom was trying to “deflect blame” from the man “that’s sitting right there,” the prosecutor yelled, while pointing at Lynn. Blessington told the judge last week that Bergstrom was trying to cover up “what lies he [Lynn] may have told the grand jury.”
Frankly, it might seem like overkill to anybody who's had to sit through Msgr. Lynn's nine days of grand jury testimony. The transcripts of that testimony has been read into the court record on multiple occasions by Blessington, who plays the part of the grand jury prosecutor, and Assistant District Attorney Anthony Pomeranz, who plays Lynn.
The transcripts show that [a] the monsignor was served up to the grand jury like a Christmas goose by his lawyer, C. Clark Hodgson; and [b], if the monsignor was guilty of anything, it was being too candid:
-- Monsignor Lynn, on why he didn't send Father Stanley Gana, a notorious rapist of teenage boys, in for a psychiatric evaluation years earlier, as required by the archdiocese's own policies: "The case fell through the cracks."
-- Monsignor Lynn on why he didn't comfort one of Gana's victims, who called him on the phone, by telling him that Gana had just confessed to abusing the victim and another boy: "I just thought he wanted money."
-- Monsignor Lynn, on why he didn't fly down to Florida to check out whether Father Gana had a bunch of young men staying at his house in Orlando: "It wasn't that big of a deal at the time."
But Blessington told Judge Sarmina Tuesday that the court should take a road trip to the Carmelite Monastery of Philadelphia, 1400 West 66th Avenue, to depose the mother superior, and find out if Lynn was lying back in 1998, when questioned by one of Gana's victims.
The victim, a priest himself, had called Msgr. Lynn to say that his sister, a nun, saw Father Stanley Gana saying Easter Mass at the Carmelite monastery in 1998, surrounded by altar boys. At the time, the victim priest was seeking reassurances that the archdiocese had done the right thing by taking Gana out of active service and making sure he couldn't hurt anymore children.
Lynn, according to his notes in the secret archive files, told the priest victim that Gana was never alone with the altar boys, and that the mother superior at the convent "is in charge and she is aware of the situation regarding Stanley Gana."
The district attorney's office, however, recently sent investigators out to talk to the mother superior, and another nun at the convent, and discovered that they were unaware of Gana's history. So that's why the prosecution originally scheduled the two nuns last week as trial witnesses. But since the nuns are cloistered, the prosecution subsequently decided to request the court go on a road trip, and bring along the judge and the defense lawyers, to question the nuns on videotape.
Blessington didn't back off his charge. He summarized what Lynn had told the priest victim, and then told the judge and the defense team, "words, facts, lies."
Lynn's own words say that "Mother Superior knew the whole situation," Blessington said, adding, that when they investigated, the district attorney discovered that "Mother Superior was told zero, nothing, zilch, nada."
Jeff Lindy, another member of Lynn's defense team, told the judge that she should not grant the prosecution's request because the commonwealth was trying to impeach a non-testifying witness with extrinsic evidence.
Blessington stood up to continue the argument.
"This is an ongoing crime," Blessington told the judge. He was speaking of the prosecution theory in the case that Lynn was actively involved at all times in a conspiracy to keep predator priests in ministry by any means necessary, including lying. And then Blessington went one step further in his attack on Lynn.
"Mother Superior in her graciousness and goodness is watching over this pedophile," Blessington sneered.
It was a pretty good line. The judge said she would have to think it over before ruling on the road trip. The defense was still voicing its objections. But there isn't much suspense over the outcome of this battle. Judge Sarmina, after all, is the judge who last year took the lawyers in the case on another road trip, at the prosecution's request, to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, to videotape Cardinal Bevilacqua.
Memo to the defense team: lace up your sneakers.
Meanwhile, Blessington continued his attack on Lynn-the-liar Tuesday by charging that Lynn had also lied to an officer from the Philadelphia police department. Officer Denise Holmes was investigating a 2001 report from a woman who said that Father Nicholas V. Cudemo had molested her in the confessional at St. Irenaeus nearly 20 years earlier, when she was in fifth, sixth and seventh grade by repeatedly fondling her breasts.
The prosecution put Officer Holmes on the witness stand to recount how she went to see Msgr. Lynn, and asked if it was true that Father Cudemo had been sued by one of his victims. Lynn said it was, and the police officer asked why the victim had also sued the archdiocese.
According to Officer Holmes, Lynn responded that the victims believed the archdiocese was partly to blame, and added, "Everybody wants to sue the archdiocese."
Officer Holmes said she asked Lynn about the church investigation of Father Cudemo. The monsignor, she said, told her that the priest had been accused of abuse by three family members, but that the alleged abuse did not include sexual intercourse.
Father Cudemo had a long string of conquests by then, including one teenage girl that he got pregnant, and then had her get an abortion. So Blessington may have scored some points on this one.
Msgr. Lynn, Officer Holmes testified, told her that Father Cudemo was under the care of a therapist, who maintained that the priest was "not a danger" to any further victims. Holmes said she was also told that Cudemo had been "struck by a bus," and had "severe brain damage."
Did Msgr. Lynn tell you about eight other victims who were not relatives, Blessington asked.
No, Officer Holmes said.
Blessington showed Holmes a copy of Lynn's private notes about their meeting, which said that the officer had expressed some doubts about the victim's story. Holmes said she never said that. "I didn't have a reason to doubt her," she said.
Holmes said she inquired where Cudemo was, and Lynn said he might be in Florida. The monsignor said the only address they had was for Cudemo's sister, who lived in Abington, where the priest sometimes stayed.
On cross-examination, Bergstrom asked Officer Holmes if she interviewed Cudemo. "We never contacted him," she said.
On redirect, Blessington took one more shot at Lynn when he asked Holmes about her unsuccessful efforts to locate Cudemo.
"He [Lynn] didn't say here's the address where we send his check, did he?"
"No," Officer Holmes said.