Abuse victim testifies in Philadelphia church trial

Reuters News

3/28/2012 5:28:46 PM - Reuters News

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The jury in the Philadelphia Archdiocese pedophilia case on Wednesday got a look at the lurid lives of priests that were allegedly ignored by a top church official now on trial for child endangerment.

Testimony by a former altar boy who said he was abused and by a priest who stumbled upon his fellow clergy's misdeeds came during the trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the most senior church official to go to trial in the child sex abuse case rocking the Roman Catholic Church.

Lynn, 61, who served as secretary of the clergy under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for covering up allegations against priests, many of whom were simply transferred to unsuspecting parishes.

Lynn, who was effectively the archdiocese's personnel director, said he tried to expose suspect priests by giving a list of their names to Bevilacqua but his boss ordered the paperwork shredded.

One victim recalled being 15 years old in 1991 when he was stalked by a priest who saw him viewing gay pornography at a bookstore and, although they did not know one another, vowed to find him at a later date.

"I was scared, I just didn't know what was going to happen," said the former altar boy, now 36 years old.

He was wearing his school blazer and the priest, identified as Francis Trauger, later tracked him down at his Catholic high school in South Philadelphia, St. John Neumann, saying, "I told you I could find you."

The priest told him that he lied to school officials about being the boy's former teacher and convinced them to let him peruse school photos until he found the boy, the victim testified.

The priest took him into a small conference room in the school, where he locked the door. He started touching the teen's thigh and then told him they should pray.

The youth got on his knees to do so. Trauger was behind him, and began unzipping the youth's trousers and undoing his belt, he testified. But a knock on the door by a school staff member interrupted the incident, he said.

Twelve years later, in 2003, Trauger was forced from the priesthood after an archdiocese investigator determined that he had abused children.

In separate testimony, the Reverend Joseph Okonski, told the jury that he discovered a trove of gay and sadomasochistic pornography belonging to another priest, Michael Murtha, in their shared closet in a North Philadelphia rectory in 1995.

He also found a letter that Murtha allegedly wrote but never sent to a 7th grade parochial student describing the sex acts Murtha wanted to perform on the youth.

Years later, the archdiocese asked the Vatican to defrock Murtha.

Neither Murtha nor Trauger were charged with a crime.

Lynn is on trial with Reverend James Brennan, 49, who is charged with attempted rape of a teenage boy.

Three others indicted by the same grand jury include defrocked priest Edward Avery who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in church in 1999. The others are a priest and a former archdiocese school teacher accused of child sex abuse who will be tried at a later date.

Lynn, who has not been charged with abuse, faces up to 28 years if convicted on all counts.

(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Paul Thomasch)