Friday, February 11, 2011

Child endangerment
Downingtown priest charged with child endangerment (updated 5 p.m.)
Thursday, February 10, 2011

By ERIC S. SMITH, Staff Writer

DOWNINGTOWN — A Downingtown priest, who previously served as the Secretary of the Clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, will face two charges of endangering the welfare of a child after failing to report two priests who were allegedly abusing children, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney.

Monsignor William Lynn, who has been the priest at St. Joseph’s in Downingtown since 2004, was responsible for investigating alleged abuse and making recommendations to “ensure that priests could not reoffend,” District Attorney Seth Williams announced today. Lynn served at the Archdiocese in that capacity from 1992 until 2004. Lynn is also listed on the St. Joseph School website as the school’s Pastor. The Archdiocese did not return comment about Lynn’s current status with the school.

The charges against Lynn come after a grand jury found sufficient evidence to charge three priests - Edward Avery, Charles Engelhardt and James Brennan - as well as a teacher, Bernard Shero with rape, indecent sexual assault and related offenses, Williams said. The priests and teacher all worked for St. Jerome Perish in Philadelphia at the time of the alleged assaults.

Click here to read the grand jury report (PDF).

The grand jury report states that Lynn knew of previous reports of abuse by the priests in question. Avery was sent to a therapy program for sexual offenders and after he left the program, Lynn assigned him to St. Jerome, which had a school. Avery’s previous record was not reported to anyone. The therapy program made recommendations that Avery should not be at a facility with minors, the grand jury report states.

The grand jury found that Lynn also knew of previous relations between Brennan and young boys and simply hid them. Brennan served as a member of the faculty at Cardinal O’Hara High School was known to have “inappropriate relationship” with students, the grand jury report states.

“Monsignor Lynn acted as if his job was to protect the abuser, never the abused,” the grand jury report states.

St. Joseph’s parishioner Tom Caridi said that faith will play an important role as the charges and court proceedings continue.

“One would really have to be strong in their faith and believe that the truth would come out,” Caridi said in an interview on Thursday. “The truth should guide our decisions and any response in this matter. The truth will hopefully find Msgr. Lynn innocent of these charges.

“An unfortunate situation has come about for us in the local parish who responded well to Msgr. Lynn. We found him to be a humble servant in Christ.”

Caridi admitted that the parishioners were unaware of what exactly Lynn’s role was with the Archdiocese and what he did there. Fellow parishioner Kathy Wusinich agreed with Caridi about the way the congregation viewed Lynn.

“I can say nothing but good things about Msgr. Lynn,” Wusinich said. “He is a very kind and good man. I’ve known him since he’s been here and he’s been nothing but a good, holy man.”

The grand jury found that Avery, Engelhardt and Shero allegedly raped a 10-year-old boy about 12 years ago. The men reportedly committed the rapes on separate occasions.

In 1996, Brennan allegedly raped a 14-year-old boy, the grand jury found.

While at the Archdiocese, Lynn worked under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. The grand jury found insufficient evidence to charge Bevilacqua in this case, but said more reports of abuse “are still coming in.”

These findings come more than five years after a 2005 Philadelphia grand jury found that the Catholic church was covering up many acts of sexual abuse. That report says that there was documentation of abuse by at least 63 priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, said in a statement that he is willing to work with the district attorney’s office during the investigation.

“It is my intention to consider carefully and take very seriously any observations and recommendations of this grand jury,” Rigali said.

Click here to read Cardinal Rigali's statement (PDF).

“At this moment, as people of faith we must reach out in compassion and support for one another and for all who are affected by this news. Victims of sexual abuse by clergy may find this news deeply painful. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, is a national organization that is designed to help those who have been abused by the clergy.

“This might be the first time ever that a high-ranking individual Catholic official has been specifically charged with recklessly endangering children,” SNAP spokeswoman Barbara Dorris said in a written statement. “This news may mean that finally one of the hundreds of complicit Catholic officials who have hidden or are hiding clergy sex crimes might be brought to justice. “Our hearts ache for these two victims who, along with hundreds of other Philly area boys and girls, were betrayed twice – first by predatory Catholic priests and employees and later by Msgr. Lynn.”

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