A monsignor who is the only U.S. church official ever charged with transferring pedophile priests to unsuspecting parishes will be tried alongside four priests accused of rape, a judge ruled Friday.
Common Pleas Judge Lillian Ransom denied most of the pretrial requests made by Monsignor William Lynn, two current priests, a former priest and a former Catholic schoolteacher. The men wanted their cases to be tried separately and asked for many of the charges against them to be dismissed.
Lynn, 60, the lynchpin of the case, is charged with conspiracy and child endangerment for allegedly transferring priests he believed to be pedophiles. Lynn, who served as secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004 under former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, is the only U.S. church official ever charged in the sex-abuse scandal for his administrative actions.
The four others are charged in the same criminal case with raping boys in their care. Three of them are accused of raping the same child, starting when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999, according to a scathing grand jury report released in February that faulted the church for knowingly harboring priests who sexually abused children.
The Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, and former priest Edward Avery, 68, are accused of raping the boy in the church sacristy. Prosecutors say former sixth-grade teacher Bernard Shero, 48, raped him during a ride home from school. The fourth defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, 48, is accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996.
The judge on Friday dismissed only the conspiracy charges involving Shero, saying prosecutors failed to prove he was in collusion with Avery and Engelhardt. She also rejected the defense attorneys' requests for access to the mental health records of the two accusers, who are now grown men.
Lynn's attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, objected to the judge's refusal to dismiss felony child endangerment charges against his client and his refusal to separate his trial from the others, saying the monsignor had no children under his supervision and therefore cannot be guilty of endangering them. Bergstrom asked the judge for certification to appeal to a higher court, which she denied.
If found guilty of the two charges, Lynn could be sentenced to up to 28 years in prison.
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victim advocacy group, praised the judge's actions.
"The Catholic church isn't some loosely-knit hippie commune. It's a rigid, secretive, tightly-knit institution," he said in a written statement. "So when crimes happen, it's disingenuous for church officials to pretend that everyone involved is disconnected from one another."
The Feb. 10 grand jury report blasted both Bevilacqua and his successor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, for their handling of priest-abuse complaints in the 1.5-million member archdiocese but said there was not enough evidence to charge them with any crimes. The pope recently named Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to succeed Rigali.
The former altar boy in the case has filed a civil lawsuit seeking at least $450,000 in damages from the archdiocese and other defendants. The now 23-year-old man, identified in the lawsuit only as "Billy," said he been hospitalized 10 times for drug and mental-health treatment as a result of his childhood abuse.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors declined to comment after the hearing, citing a gag order imposed in the case.