Just four years out of the seminary, the Rev. Sylwester Wiejata was rapidly making a name for himself.
Unfortunately for officials of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the reputation of the young, darkly handsome Wiejata was as a ladies man — and one with an eye for married women.
On Tuesday, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury listened to the grand jury testimony of Msgr. William J. Lynn as he tried to explain his alleged failure to act as Wiejata's sexual overtures went from married women to single women in their 20s and, ultimately in August 2000, allegations that he had fondled the 13-year-old daughter of a woman with whom he had an affair.
As secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, Lynn, 61, was the Archdiocesan official responsible for investigating allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
Charged with conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children, Lynn is the first Catholic church official to be criminally prosecuted in a landmark trial focusing on the sexual abuse of children by some priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese.
Lynn has denied that his alleged inaction enabled deviate priests to continue preying on children and his lawyers have argued that he was often the first church official here to move against priests accused of sexual misconduct.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington read to the jury Lynn's 2002 testimony before the county investigating grand jury about the Wiejata case.
The reading of Lynn's testimony during the trial, now in its sixth week, is part of the prosecution's attempt to portray Lynn as more interested in protecting the church's reputation than the welfare of priests' victims.
Under questioning by a city prosecutor before the grand jury, Lynn described his efforts to discreetly discover if Wiejata's conduct was on the verge of becoming a public scandal.
Lynn said he asked Msgr. John Gillespie, Wiejata's pastor at Our Lady of Calvary parish in the Far Northeast, to be "looking for gossip."
"Gillespie did not feel the woman would make things public," Lynn told the grand jury.
Lynn said he never spoke to the woman who was involved with Wiejata: "I figured she was an adult in a secret relationship."
Wiejata, now 42, was defrocked by the church in March 2002, just six years after his ordination. According to trial testimony, Wiejata began an affair with a married woman at his first parish assignment, Our Lady of Calvary. Moved to the Assumption B.V.M. parish in West Grove in Chester County, the young priest promptly began a new affair with another married parishioner.
Lynn told the grand jury Wiejata was removed from the Assumption church in 1999 and became a patient at St. John Vianney Hospital in Downingtown, the church-run facility for priests with sexual or substance-abuse problems.
But after eight months of treatment, Lynn's testimony revealed, the church official was getting new complaints that Wiejata's "sexual acting-out" was taking a disturbing new turn.
In May 2000, Lynn told the grand jury that he got a phone call from a theological professor who accused Wiejata of acting inappropriately with the professor's 20- and 21-year-old daughters during a dinner at his house. The professor said that Wiejata asked the young women to sit in his lap and then told one that he dreamed of kissing her.
In August 2000, Lynn told the grand jury, he received an anonymous call from a woman, who said she knew of Wiejata's history because she had an affair with him. She said that she came home and discovered Wiejata there fondling and kissing her 13-year-old daughter.
In his testimony before the grand jury, Lynn struggled to explain to the prosecutor why he did not try to discover the child's identity and why he did not consider calling the police. Although his phone memo notes had the name of a person named "Pat" on the pad, Lynn insisted that he did not know if this was the name of the anonymous caller.
Lynn said he did not contact the West Grove parish to see if the name matched with anyone who attended the Assumption church. Nor did he call police, telling the grand jury prosecutor that "I wasn't thinking in terms of a crime." Lynn also told the grand jury that he had doubts about the caller's credibility because she admitted to an affair with Wiejata. "I thought she might be vindictive," he said.
Still, Lynn ordered Wiejata — then still on administrative leave from the ministry — to come to his offices on Aug. 4, 2000 and, with an aide taking notes, confronted Wiejata, who ultimately admitted to fondling the 13-year-old girl.
After Wiejata acknowledged molesting the girl, Lynn gave him a choice: jail or a treatment program.
"What if I moved to another state?" Wiejata asked Lynn, according to his notes from the meeting.
"I don't know," Lynn replied.
Wiejata was allowed to attend a retreat house in Larchmont, N.Y. The archdiocese paid the bills.
According to public records, Wiejata has never been criminally or civilly prosecuted. He has lived at the same Chicago address since 2004, the records suggest.
The unresolved question of the girl's identity caused Thomas A. Bergstrom, one of Lynn's attorneys, to ask Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to order the prosecution to tell the jury if it tried to learn the girl's identity.
Bergstrom argued that the statute of limitations for charging Wiejata with molesting the girl is still open: "What's good for the goose is good for the gander. It's simply not fair if they never tried to find her."
Blessington angrily denounced Bergstrom's motion as an attempt to "deflect attention from that guy [Lynn], the delegate — read accomplice — of the Cardinal."
Sarmina denied the defense move and told Bergstrom that "you are not precluded from doing your own investigation."