Philly priests lay out defense before rape trial

March 19, 2012 - 6:15 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Two priests charged with raping boys in the mid-1990s will attack the accusers' motives when the landmark trial starts next week, their lawyers said Monday.

The Rev. James Brennan's lawyer will tell jurors that Brennan's accuser sought the priest out as an adult when he needed to do court-ordered community service.

"He could have (gone) to a soup kitchen. Of all places, he seeks out his alleged abuser, Father Brennan," lawyer William Brennan, who is no relation, argued at a pretrial hearing.

Defrocked priest Edward Avery's lawyer will also question his accuser's motivation at trial. Avery's accuser had been expelled from an archdiocesan high school at age 14 and began a long battle with drug addiction.

He disclosed the allegations of abuse — which he said occurred when he was a 10-year-old altar boy — in therapy at age 21. Defense lawyer Michael Wallace plans to argue that the accuser hoped to get revenge for his school expulsion, get money from a related lawsuit and resolve drug-related criminal problems by helping prosecutors.

Wallace will note that the accuser also lost his grandmother, his closest relative, about the same time he was expelled.

"He's hit with a lot of traumas that year. There are alternate reasons for developing a drug habit," Wallace said. He called the accuser's motivation and bias "the entire defense."

The judge said she would allow both lines of cross-examination.

However, prosecutors want to be sure the two victims aren't dragged through the mud. Brennan promised not to do so "for sport."

Bringing allegations of child sex assault doesn't give the defense "a vehicle to bring in every single bad thing the kid ever did," Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said.

The third defendant, Monsignor William Lynn, is the first U.S. church official charged with child endangerment for keeping accused priests in ministry.

Lawyer Thomas Bergstrom argued Monday for the right to remind jurors that Lynn alone is charged with child endangerment in the case even though his memos "are going right up the chain of command" at the archdiocese.

Those memos include a recently discovered list that Lynn prepared of 35 priests with child sex assault complaints in their files. Lynn prepared the list after becoming secretary for clergy and gave it to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua in 1994. Bevilacqua ordered it shredded, according to Lynn. The original was found in 2006 in a locked safe at the archdiocese.

The jury will learn through witnesses presented by both sides that neither Bevilacqua, who died in January, nor other church officials were charged with child endangerment, the felony that Lynn faces. He is also charged with conspiracy and faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted of all counts.

Blessington argued that the defense shouldn't be allowed to argue "selective prosecution" and said Monday that other officials could still be charged.

"This was an archdiocesan-wide policy, which in and of itself was criminal in nature," Blessington said. "But that does not give them the right to argue that the defendant was hung out to dry, was the patsy, was the fall guy."

Also Monday, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said that Lynn cannot fight the charges on grounds that he was following the advice of church lawyers. Pennsylvania law does not allow an "advice of counsel" defense, she said.

Six male and six female jurors have been seated for the trial, which starts March 26 and is expected to last three to four months.