Defense lawyers may play up scapegoat aspect in child sex-abuse case

Several weeks into a landmark trial over child sexual abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, defense lawyers are ready to lay out their case. They’ll argue that Monsignor William Lynn acted responsibly by reporting abuse allegations to higher officials. Lynn is accused of endangering children by transferring priests accused of sexual abuse to unsuspecting parishes.

Monsignor William Lynn served as secretary for clergy under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.Rocco Palmo is the editor of “Whispers in the Loggia,” a website that covers Catholic news and politics.

“Over their cross-examination, the defense essentially kept coming back to the same point which is, ‘Was Monsignor Lynn the ultimate person responsible for reassigning priests?’  And you know the answer, not just in Philadelphia but in any Catholic Diocese, is, no, he wasn’t. That everything would ultimately be determined at the time by Cardinal Bevilacqua,” said Palmo.

Monsignor Lynn is the first U.S. church official to be charged in a child sex abuse case for his administrative actions.

Terry McKiernan, the president of bishop-accountability.org, said he expects the defense will try to present Lynn as a middle manager who was doing his best in a difficult situation: “And things obviously went wrong, but that isn’t his fault.”

McKiernan said the defense will try to convince the jurors that Lynn is a scapegoat, but, “It’s going to be very, very hard to argue that because the testimony that he gave to the grand jury that resulted in the 2005 grand jury report was very, very detailed; and he admitted really in no uncertain terms in that testimony that he had really made the wrong choices. I think it’s going to be very difficult now to back-pedal on that and blame his actions on others.”

McKiernan said many church observers nationwide are keeping an eye on the precedent-setting trial.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.