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Philadelphia Priest Trial: Woman Testifies She Felt 'Helpless' When Priest Fondled Her

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Monsignor William Lynn is on trial for child endangerment and is the first Roman Catholic church official in the U.S. charged after being accused of leaving predators in jobs around children.
Monsignor William Lynn is on trial for child endangerment and is the first Roman Catholic church official in the U.S. charged after being accused of leaving predators in jobs around children.

PHILADELPHIA -- A witness in a landmark priest abuse trial told a jury on Thursday she felt "helpless and trapped" as a 13-year-old because a priest was fondling her when she worked weekends at the rectory.

The woman said she didn't tell anyone for years and later learned the priest had fondled two younger sisters.

Her testimony came on the fourth day of the child endangerment trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy in Philadelphia. Lynn is the first Roman Catholic church official in the U.S. charged with child endangerment after being accused of leaving predators in jobs around children.

Defense lawyers say Lynn took orders from two archbishops. No other church administrators are charged.

The priest accused of having fondled the woman when she was a girl at a suburban Montgomery County parish around 1970 was removed from ministry after the church sex abuse scandal broke in 2004. By then, he had admitted to an archdiocesan review board his "longstanding habit" of fondling girls' breasts, according to a 2005 grand jury report. The Associated Press is not naming him because he was never charged.

Prosecutors are showing jurors his personnel files and those of 20 other accused priests to try to show that they were left in ministry despite complaints and some admissions of child sexual abuse.

A fellow priest had contacted the archdiocese about the accused priest in 1988, when he had moved to Bucks County. Police there had received a complaint about him the previous year but declined to press charges. He was accused of fondling an 8-year-old girl in traction at a hospital.

The woman said her mother had signed her up to cook for priests on weekends for $5. She said the molestation left her deeply wounded.

Some 30 years later, the woman wrote a letter to Lynn, whom she knew from their childhoods in Roslyn, Montgomery County.

On cross-examination, she acknowledged that Lynn's office responded when she first reported her story in 2002, offered to pay for therapy and later informed her that the priest had been removed from ministry.

The trial is expected to last several months as prosecutors outline how the archdiocese handled sex abuse complaints over several decades. Lynn's sole co-defendant is the Rev. James Brennan, charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Brennan and Lynn have pleaded not guilty.

Earlier Thursday, jurors heard about a notorious Philadelphia priest who admitted he sexually assaulted three eighth-grade boys in one year. He resigned in 1980 after admitting a string of abuse complaints but asked to be reinstated in the late 1990s.

Confidential church files read Thursday show that Lynn advised against it because of the risk to the archdiocese. There's no mention of the potential harm to children, prosecutors noted.

The ex-priest testified before a grand jury investigating priest sexual abuse in 2005. He was never charged because of legal time limits.

By then, he had become a Latin teacher at a public middle school on Philadelphia's Main Line.

Also Thursday, jurors saw Lynn's post-treatment recommendations for a priest who had written a lewd letter to an altar boy. The priest described his sexual fantasies about the boy and asked him to write "Yes" on a school bulletin board if he wanted to act them out. The priest acknowledged he had a compulsive interest in gay pornography and masturbation.

Doctors at St. John Vianney in Downingtown, a church-run facility for priests with alcohol or sexual problems, did not think the priest had "a pathological interest in children or adolescents," according to Lynn's 1996 memo to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. The doctors considered the letter a "single fantasy."

Bevilacqua ordered that the priest's Levittown parish be told he was on a "health leave" during his treatment, the confidential documents show.

Lynn recommended that he be assigned to a new parish afterward, given that another priest had found the letter and pornography in the rectory. Bevilacqua agreed.

Lynn's memo outlined a detailed, four-year follow-up program that included daily Sexaholics Anonymous meetings for 90 days and regular meetings with a support team that included Lynn or a designee. Prosecutors allege the archdiocese rarely followed through on such after-care programs.

No testimony is planned on Fridays, so the trial is set to resume Monday.

Bevilacqua died of heart disease on Jan. 31, a day after he was ruled competent to testify at Lynn's trial.

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