September 20th, 2012
08:00 AM ET
By Sarah Hoye, CNN
Philadelphia (CNN) – Defense attorneys for a senior Roman Catholic official convicted in the child sex abuse scandal said this week that prosecutors persuaded a defrocked priest to falsely admit to sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy in exchange for their client’s conviction.
Monsignor William Lynn, 61, was found guilty in June of one count of child endangerment, and is serving a sentence of 3 to six years at a minimum-security facility. The trial judge denied bail pending his appeal.
The trial marked the first time U.S. prosecutors charged not just the priests who allegedly committed abuses, but also a church leader for failing to stop them.
In a motion to reconsider bail pending an appeal filed Monday in Pennsylvania Superior Court, defense attorneys say they learned in August that defrocked priest Edward Avery passed a polygraph test before the trial and revealed that he did not know, and never touched, the former altar boy he pleaded guilty to abusing.
“This came to my attention very late in the game,” said Thomas Bergstrom, defense attorney for Lynn. “Ultimately, (Avery) did plead guilty because prosecutors were dangling 20 years in prison in his face if he didn’t plead.”
Just days before the landmark trial began in March, Avery, 70, pleaded guilty to involuntary deviant sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child. He was sentenced to 2½ to five years.
Avery pleaded guilty to a crime he didn't commit because there was a credible accusation against him from a different victim and the prosecution offered him a “sweet deal,” Bergstrom said.
“I’m not looking to undo his plea,” Bergstrom said. “I don’t have to be the judge here in terms of deciding if what he says is truthful. I should have been told about this so I could have decided how to respond.”
Avery’s alleged abuse of the boy - who testified during the trial - was a major portion of the 2011 grand jury report that charged three Philadelphia priests and a parochial school teacher with raping and assaulting boys in their care. Lynn was charged with covering up allegations of molestation and rape against priests by transferring them to other parishes.
Avery, who was defrocked in 2006, and another priest, the Rev. James Brennan, were accused of sexually abusing children between 1996 and 1999. Before Avery pleaded guilty, both were slated to go on trial with Lynn. The same jury that convicted Lynn was unable to reach a verdict against Brennan, who was accused of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old. The Philadelphia district attorney's office announced it would retry Brennan.
Hugh Burns, chief of the appeals unit in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, said Avery pleaded guilty to sexually abusing the former altar boy under oath and of his own free will.
“He pleaded guilty because the evidence against him was compelling, and because he was in fact guilty,” said Burns, who referenced Avery’s testimony from his sentencing.
Polygraph results are inadmissible in court, Burns said, and added that his office will file an official response to the motion.
“Frankly, this is the first I've ever heard of a defendant arguing not that he didn't do what he was accused of doing, but that his accomplice supposedly didn't do what the accomplice pleaded guilty to having done. This is a desperation argument with no legal validity.”
On Tuesday, attorney Jeff Anderson and co-counsels Marci Hamilton and Dan Monahan announced the filing of eight new lawsuits for nine alleged victims of clergy abuse against the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Lynn and seven priests accused of sexual abuse.
“We have not received copies of the cases that the plaintiffs have said they intend to file, so we cannot provide more detailed information on those particular lawsuits at this time. We believe lawsuits are not the best mechanism to promote healing in the context of the very private and difficult circumstances of sexual abuse. We will work to assure all victims of sexual abuse receive appropriate assistance,” said Kenneth Gavin, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The lawsuits bring the total filed against the archdiocese by Jeff Anderson & Associates to 16 complaints on behalf of 17 accusers.
“Bringing these cases is important because until there is accountability it is difficult to begin a journey of healing. With the filing of these cases today, these courageous survivors can start to heal,” said Anderson, who is also handling lawsuits for alleged victims of sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.