Philly monsignor seeks new jury after priest plea

March 23, 2012 - 2:45 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Roman Catholic church official facing a landmark child sex abuse trial wants a new jury seated because of publicity over a co-defendant's last-minute guilty plea, his lawyers said Friday.

Monsignor William Lynn's attorneys said Thursday's plea from defrocked priest Edward Avery could influence jurors in the trial that's scheduled to begin Monday.

Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, is the first U.S. church official ever charged with endangering children by failing to oust accused predators from the priesthood or report them to police.

The jury was seated early this month and advised not to read about the case. Jury selection took weeks given the sensitive sexual and religious issues involved.

Lynn's lawyers said they're loath to repeat the process, but they deem it necessary, given the extensive news coverage. The judge could question jurors Monday about what they've seen or read.

Avery, 69, entered a surprise plea Thursday, admitting he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy in a church sacristy in 1999. He was immediately sentenced to a negotiated 2 1/2 to five years in prison. Avery hasn't agreed to cooperate in the case against Lynn and Avery, prosecutors said Friday.

The trial is expected to last several months as prosecutors detail abuse complaints against the Rev. James Brennan, Avery and 22 other priests. Lynn knew or should have known the men were dangerous and shouldn't remain in parish work around children, prosecutors allege.

Lynn had reviewed secret archives at the archdiocese that held the sex abuse complaints and prepared a list of 37 accused priests still on the job in 1994. He argues that he gave the list to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, but Bevilacqua had it shredded. Bevilacqua died in January, but his videotaped deposition could still be used at trial.

Lynn faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted of all counts.

Brennan, 48, is charged with raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996 during a sleepover at the priest's apartment. Brennan was on leave from the church at the time. The boy told his parents the next day.

"Unfortunately, (his) parents, who viewed Fr. Brennan as both a close friend and a pillar of the community, accepted his version of events," according to the grand jury report filed last year.

Brennan and Lynn have pleaded not guilty.

Avery's victim told authorities he was raped at St. Jerome's Parish in northeast Philadelphia by three men: Avery, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and his sixth-grade teacher, Bernard Shero. The abuse started in 1999 and ended four years later. Defense lawyers have challenged the accuser's credibility, noting his longtime drug addiction and criminal record.

The man's civil lawyer wants an apology, given Avery's plea.

"I'd like to see an apology now for the things that have been said about my client," lawyer Slade McLaughlin told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Brennan had also been at St. Jerome's, from 1997-98, although the abuse charged did not occur there.

Engelhardt and Shero are being tried later in the year, because they were not archdiocesan priests and didn't report to Lynn.