Vince Fumo and Msgr. William Lynn have little but Catholicism in common. So why did I keep thinking about the former millionaire state senator as I sat in a Common Pleas courtroom last week watching a priest try to explain away his troubles?

Like Fumo, Lynn gambled on taking the stand in a criminal case involving arrogance, lies, and the shattering of public trust. Both men believed the sound of their voices would sway jurors contemplating sordid tales and exhaustive evidence. Both misjudged their magnetism.

Fumo put on a risky, though riveting, show during his sweeping 2009 corruption trial. He bragged about having a James Brown work ethic. He embraced audacious acts and champagne tastes befitting a man of his political appetite. He now resides in federal prison.

Lynn, by contrast, shuffles to the witness stand wearing a humble collar and the haggard resignation of a middle manager who knows he's been scapegoated. But as gentle direct questioning segued into a crushing cross-examination, the monsignor's calculation proved just as costly as Fumo's.

The District Attorney's Office has waited a decade to condemn someone for the sins of many fathers. Silence from Lynn might have kept doubt alive. Instead, jurors are listening to a drowning man choke on his own words.

Following holy orders

If you've ever seen one of those YouTube videos of a ravenous python devouring a larger foe — deer, alligator — you have a mental image of what happened when Assistant District Attorney Pat Blessington got hold of Msgr. Lynn. Blessington, a comparatively wiry man with a '70s mustache and mop of silver hair, didn't rise from his chair. He feasted on Lynn from 10 feet away in his seat.

"You said you were doing the will of God?" Blessington began sarcastically.

Lynn hadn't, exactly. Blessington was setting the tone. After the first hour, I lost count of the number of times the prosecutor accused Lynn of "lies" and "lying." By the end of the second day, Blessington had declared that Lynn showed more compassion for "perverts" and "monsters" than kids. The evisceration resumes Tuesday.

Lynn is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for placing two priests in settings where they could harm youngsters. His albatross is Edward Avery, a defrocked priest who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an altar boy in 1999, five years after Lynn put Avery on a list of known pedophiles within the archdiocese.

As secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, Lynn served as chief inquisitor, grilling victims and transferring abusers to stifle scandal. He blames all on his boss, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

"I did what the cardinal asked," Lynn explained meekly, as if a mob hit man could claim he was only following orders. Bevilacqua "wouldn't allow us to announce why someone was leaving."

‘I did my best’

Fumo belongs to Mensa and Lynn is represented by Jeff Lindy and Tom Bergstrom, two of Philadelphia's finest attorneys, yet both defendants suffered from the naive (or egotistical?) misconception that talking about how hard they worked would wow jurors weighing alleged crimes committed on the job.

Lynn repeatedly insisted he did more to root out abusers than anyone, yet admitted he forgot details of many cases, placated pedophiles, and left victims hanging.

"So you had an admission that a 13-year-old girl had been molested and you did nothing to try to find that girl?" Blessington probed regarding one priest who confessed to abuse so fresh at the time he could have been arrested.

"I couldn't find her," Lynn replied, saying he didn't look and didn't bother to ask her name, presuming the cleric "wouldn't tell us."

"I did my best," Lynn whimpered.

"So by your standard," the prosecutor pressed, "your best is nothing?"

Exchanges like that show the folly of defendants thinking words can justify actions, or in this case, inaction. For sport, Blessington asked a question sure to draw a memorable one-word response.

"How many times" he quizzed the monsignor, "did you pick up the phone and call the police?"

Lynn's frozen face grew pink as he paused before answering: "None."

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670,, or follow @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at