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Witness recalls gropings by priest in her teen years

She was a 13-year-old girl, fifth child of seven in a devout Catholic family in suburban Roslyn whose mother attended Mass once or twice daily.

She was a 13-year-old girl, fifth child of seven in a devout Catholic family in suburban Roslyn whose mother attended Mass once or twice daily.

But the girl dreaded Sunday mornings.

Not because of a crisis of faith but because she knew it would mean another morning of groping by the Rev. Albert T. Kostelnick.

The woman, now in her mid-50s, told a Philadelphia jury this morning about how Kostelnick, now retired, fondled her for two years as she worked in the rectory of St. John of the Cross church in Roslyn - and then did the same to two of her sisters who followed her into the job.

"I didn't know what to do," the woman told the Common Pleas Court jury. "I felt helpless and trapped. My parents expected me to work."

The woman's testimony continued the prosecution's effort to show how Msgr. William J. Lynn and other church leaders shuffled and protected priests suspected of sexual misconduct or abuse.

Lynn, who as secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004 ran the office that recommended priests' assignments, is the first church official nationwide to be tried for allegedly enabling or covering up clergy sex-abuse.

His codefendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, is charged with attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

Both have denied the accusations.

Although Kostelnick is not criminally charged in trial, city prosecutors are citing his case and others to show a pattern in which Lynn and officials of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia showed concern for the sexually abusive priests, but not their victims.

Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, the woman testified that her mother volunteered her to work in the St. John's rectory serving meals to the priests on Saturday's from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

She earned $5 for her work, the woman said, and endured the physical attentions of Kostelnick. The woman said the priest, who lived at St. John's, taught at an archdiocesan high school.

She said Kostelnick would dine alone at the end of a 12-foot-long conference table, farthest from the closed door. As she served his meal, she continued, the priest began holding her hands and making small talk. She said he then gradually moved his hands to her breasts.

She never told her parents at the time, she said, because they were so devout. "They wouldn't have believed me and, if they did, they wouldn't have done anything," she said.

She finally told her mother when she was 38 years old, after the birth of her own daughter. Her mother told her: "Let it go. I happened a long time ago and just move on," the witness said.

Finally, in December 2001, the woman testified, she wrote a letter to Lynn - who coincidentally attended St. John's school with her brother - reporting what happened.

Lynn's assistant, Rev. Vincent Welsh, replied and began a series of conversations about the woman's allegations.

Later, the woman said, Welsh told her that another woman had corroborated her story about Kostelnick but that the priest had denied everything and a psychological evaluation was negative.

Under questioning by Allison Khaskelis, a lawyer on Lynn's defense team, the woman acknowledged that Lynn's office responded promptly and that she later was offered and accepted therapy paid for by the church.

According to the 2005 grand jury report, the priest admitted in 2004 to the Archdiocese review board his long-standing habit of fondling the breasts of young girls.

By the time he was removed in 2004, the Archdiocese had reports from 18 alleged female victims.

Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985,, or @joeslobo on Twitter.