Trial: Priest told of attempted seminary gang rape

April 23, 2012 - 4:05 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Catholic priest admitting a sexual relationship with a teen said he had been the victim of an attempted gang rape by fellow seminarians, according to testimony in a clergy-abuse trial.

Testimony on Monday also mentioned Pope Benedict XVI, who weighed in on the priest's 2005 censure when he was a Vatican official known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Documents show the priest had admitted to the Philadelphia archdiocese in 1992 that he had sex with the high school student for several years. An archdiocesan treatment center concluded the priest was not a pedophile, but was affected by his "traumatic sexual development." He remained in ministry for another decade.

It's not clear if the trauma reference was to the alleged seminary assault. The priest told a therapist he had been tied down by several seminarians who tried to rape him and that a friend came to his rescue. But the same friend later twice abused him, the priest told the therapist, according to documents read in court.

The Associated Press is not naming the priest, who graduated from seminary in 1974, because he may be a sexual-assault victim.

The testimony came in the child-endangerment trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy in Philadelphia. Prosecutors say he helped keep dangerous priest-predators in jobs where they could continue to abuse children.

The priest discussed Monday stayed in active ministry until the national priest-abuse scandal broke in 2002. His ministry was supposed to be strictly supervised so he was not alone around adolescent boys, but he lived alone in a parish rectory in Lower Merion one year, and had little if any supervision after leaving the hospital in 1993, prosecutors allege. He remains a priest today, but lives a private life of "prayer and penance."

On cross-examination, defense lawyer Jeffrey Lindy noted that Lynn got the priest to admit to the sexual relationship with the teen the same day the complaint came in to Lynn in 1992, and soon had him being evaluated. However, a detective on the stand noted that police, had they gotten such an admission, would have pursued criminal charges.

Neither the priest's admission — nor the scores of other abuse complaints brought to the archdiocese from 1948 through the 2005 grand jury report — were ever referred to police or prosecutors.

The priest's alleged victim had disclosed the abuse to another priest during marriage preparation. That priest and the fiancee — by then the accuser's ex-girlfriend — went to the archdiocese in July 1992. Lynn's office never tried to interview the accuser.

There was no follow-up testimony Monday on the seminary rape allegation. The Philadelphia archdiocese runs St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, but can't comment because of a gag order.

Meanwhile, Lynn's lawyers are preparing for a potential showdown this week with a key trial witness.

A man who said he was raped by two priests and his fifth-grade teacher at a northeast Philadelphia parish is scheduled to testify Wednesday.

The defense wants to challenge his credibility. But if they do, the judge is likely to let jurors hear that one of the priests has pleaded guilty.

Defrocked priest Edward Avery, 69, pleaded guilty days before trial to sexually assaulting the northeast Philadelphia altar boy in 1999. He is now in prison, serving 2 1/2 to five years for sexual assault and conspiracy.

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is also pondering whether jurors can hear that five other people have come forward since 2010 to say Avery molested them as children. Defense lawyers say those allegations are beyond Lynn's control, since he left office in 2004.

But Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said Lynn left "a powder keg" in place after the first complaint was filed in 1992.

"Lynn put a powder keg out there whose name was Avery. If that powder keg explodes, a kid gets raped," Blessington said.