PHILADELPHIA — Graphic testimony in a Philadelphia clergy-abuse trial this month has ripped open secret church files and reopened old wounds among Catholics as scarred men and women tell jurors that priests groped, molested or raped them as teens.
The testimony has proven both painful and poignant, especially that of a 48-year-old man who said he had been in love with his parish priest during a five-year sexual relationship that began in ninth grade – and jealous when the priest allegedly bedded down at his farmhouse with other teens.
The stories have been told before, in two Philadelphia grand jury reports and in lawsuits filed around the country.
But Monsignor William Lynn’s decision to go to trial on child-endangerment charges stemming from his 12 years as secretary for clergy has brought the grand jury reports to life – and seemingly put the archdiocese on trial. The judge is allowing testimony about more than 20 accused but uncharged priests, because Lynn knew of complaints lodged against them or took part in internal church investigations.
The accused priests were left in ministry, often transferred to unsuspecting parishes.
Nearly a dozen alleged victims have testified, while internal church memos and Lynn’s 2002 grand jury testimony have been read aloud. And jurors will soon hear from a former altar boy who says he was raped by two priests and his fifth-grade teacher.
“None of these scandals rock my faith. I believe in church teaching and these scandals don’t cause me to doubt it. But it’s very discouraging in terms of the Catholic hierarchy in the American church and its inability to deal” with abuse allegations, said Joseph Fuisz, 41, a Bethlehem native who now lives in Florida and Washington, D.C., and is following the trial closely.
Lynn is the first U.S. church official charged with helping the church cover up complaints of child sexual abuse. He faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted.
“A lot of the information may not be new, but it’s got a particularly salient impact … because it’s personal testimony – in court, under oath, on the record, with a lot of media coverage,” said Timothy Lytton, a University of Albany law professor who wrote a book on Catholic clergy abuse. “I think it turns the heat up.”
One father of six belatedly told the archdiocese that his son had been “extremely upset” about playing Jesus as a child in a sadomasochistic Passion play – but he and his wife “let it go.” In another instance, the man allegedly abused at the farmhouse of the Rev. Stanley Gana said he confided to his mother years later about the abuse, only to be told she planned to remain friends with the priest.
And a woman said she had asked to quit a weekend rectory job where the pastor groped her as a teen, but her parents wouldn’t hear of it. Her sisters followed her into the job – and were also fondled, she said.
“People nowadays are simply much more questioning of authority,” said Nick Ingala, spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based group formed in the wake of the abuse crisis to try to empower lay Catholics. “The accountability here, and the transparency coming about (in the trial) … is really the most important thing that’s happening.”
Many of the women who have testified this month to being fondled sound angry. But the male accusers are shattered. They were more often emotionally entangled with the priest, and say the abuse involved oral sex or sodomy.
“The hope is that this is the last incident we ever hear of in this archdiocese,” lawyer Jim Ledyard said Friday, after noon Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. “I think many of us would be devastated if any further abuse is uncovered.”
The cathedral sits beside the archdiocesan offices where Lynn worked from 1992 to 2004, most of it under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Lynn, 61, is on trial with the Rev. James Brennan, 48, who is charged with sexually assaulting a teen in 1996. Each has pleaded not guilty. Defrocked priest Edward Avery, 69, pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges days before trial, and is serving a 2-1/2 to 5-year prison term.
Avery admitted to a1999 attack on the altar boy. Another priest and former teacher from the northeast Philadelphia parish will go on trial separately later this year. That means disturbing revelations about the church will continue to shake out, even after Lynn’s scheduled 12- to 16-week trial.
And it remains unclear if prosecutors are finished with the decade-long investigation of the Philadelphia archdiocese. One of Gana’s accusers said he was once raped at a house owned by Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia. Bransfield, a former Philadelphia priest and Gana friend, issued a statement saying he wasn’t home at the time. And he forcefully denied trial allegations that he may have molested someone.
Bransfield’s diocese called the trial “a circus” and said Philadelphia prosecutors are trying to “smear individuals not on trial … to bolster their persecution of the church.”
“There is nothing wrong with this prosecution, nothing whatsoever,” he said. “You don’t take our love for the church and its teaching, and our wonderful tradition, and wield those around as artillery in a defense of Lynn.”
Associated Press writers Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia and Michael Rubinkam in Allentown contributed to this report.