1 trial for Philly ex-church official, 2 priests

February 23, 2012 - 7:25 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A priest charged with raping a teen while on leave from the Philadelphia archdiocese will go on trial next month in a church conspiracy case, despite defense objections.

A judge refused Thursday to give the Rev. James Brennan a separate trial. Brennan, 49, wants a short trial involving a single accuser.

Instead, he will be at the defense table for months while prosecutors seek to build a conspiracy and child-endangerment case against Monsignor William Lynn, the long-time secretary for clergy. Prosecutors plan to air sex-abuse complaints lodged against two dozen priests over several decades to show Lynn kept problem priests around children.

Lynn, for his part, has fought unsuccessfully to sever his case from his two co-defendants, both charged with rape. Brennan, 48, and defrocked priest Edward Avery, 69, are each charged with raping a single victim, accusers who came forward in time to meet newly expanded state time limits for child-sex assault.

Brennan's lawyer insists the broad case against Lynn will sink his client, but a Philadelphia judge refused to sever them.

"If the evidence shows (Lynn) would provide a soft landing for a problem priest, ... there's no evidence Brennan knew this or benefited from it," said defense lawyer William Brennan, who is not related to his client.

Prosecutors call the archdiocese an "unindicted co-conspirator" and have sought to include portions of a scathing 2005 grand jury report on 63 accused priests. None were charged then because of legal time limits.

A second grand jury report filed last year charged Lynn and four others. In addition to Brennan and Avery, a non-diocesan priest and a teacher will be tried separately.

Lynn's lawyers are fighting hard against the child-endangerment charge, arguing that he did not directly supervise any individual child. Lynn, 61, served as secretary for clergy at the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004.

His lawyers say the verdict could hinge on how the judge defines the word "supervision," as it's used in the child-endangerment law, during jury instructions.

"You can't let 12 jurors decide what that word means," defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom argued Thursday.

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina did not immediately rule on the issue.

Jury selection is under way, and could take a month. Testimony is due to start on March 26.