The defense in the landmark clergy sex-abuse trial rested Tuesday after Msgr. William J. Lynn ended three days of contentious testimony the way he started it — asserting he did his best to protect children but lacked the power to do more.
"I did much more than had been done before I got there," Lynn said, later adding: "I have many victims that told me I helped them."
After the former Archdiocese of Philadelphia clergy secretary left the stand, the landmark trial moved briskly toward a conclusion.
Lawyers for Lynn and codefendant the Rev. James J. Brennan called their last witnesses, a parade of friends, relatives, parishioners, priests, and nuns who praised the defendants as law-abiding citizens.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina told jurors to return Thursday for closing arguments. Deliberations could begin by the end of the week.
Nearly 60 witnesses testified during the 11-week trial.
Who did not could be critical. Brennan chose not to testify, gambling that prosecutors failed to prove their contention that he tried to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996.
And neither commonwealth nor defense lawyers asked to show jurors the seven-hour videotaped deposition of the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua or call to the witness stand two of his former aides, Bishops Edward Cullen and Joseph Cistone. According to a memo shown in court, both men allegedly knew about Bevilacqua's order to shred a central piece of evidence — a 1994 list that identified area priests suspected of abusing minors.
Lynn, who investigated clergy sex-abuse complaints and recommended actions against accused priests, compiled the list. He contends that he did it to get a handle on the problem of predator priests, but that his superiors, specifically Bevilacqua, ultimately shaped church policy and decided where problem priests would serve.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington continued to scoff, sometimes loudly, at that suggestion. He and Lynn barely acknowledged each other as they returned to their courtroom seats Tuesday morning, then picked up where they left off five days earlier — battling and usually disagreeing over what Lynn meant or intended in dozens of confidential church memos he wrote about priests accused of sexual misconduct.
Blessington called Lynn "the eyes and the ears" of the cardinal, and a man in "a powerful position" to understand the scope of abuse but who failed to do anything about it.
He focused on the most substantive and potentially damning evidence in the child endangerment case: Lynn's recommendation that the Rev. Edward Avery be allowed to live and celebrate Mass at St. Jerome Church in Northeast Philadelphia in the mid-1990s, after learning that Avery had molested a teen two decades earlier.
Avery pleaded guilty before trial to sexually assaulting an altar boy at St. Jerome in 1999. Didn't members of that parish deserve to know his history before he arrived? the prosecutor asked.
"Yes, I think they would," Lynn replied.
"But you lied instead," Blessington charged.
"Yes, I lied," Lynn said. "Because at that point I was not permitted to say why someone was removed from their parish."
The prosecutor also suggested that Lynn acted to remove the Rev. Michael McCarthy in 1993 only because the wife of a generous church donor had complained that McCarthy was running a travel agency from his Norristown rectory. Blessington noted that McCarthy was named a pastor in 1992 despite abuse accusations against him in 1986 and 1991.
Lynn denied the donations played any role in his decisions and said he was acting because another priest complained about McCarthy.
He also said the complaints against McCarthy came in before he became secretary for clergy and that Bevilacqua and Cullen were the ones who let McCarthy stay a pastor.
"I didn't have the power to do anything," Lynn said.
Lynn's codefendant, Brennan, is accused of trying to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Brennan has denied the allegation.
In a flash of unexplained drama, Brennan's lawyer, William J. Brennan, erupted in anger and was cited in contempt late Tuesday by the judge after a prosecutor said aloud that his client is no longer allowed to call himself a priest. The outburst led to a closed-door meeting with the judge and lawyers, but no explanation.
James Brennan was the defendant in a 2008 internal church trial but its outcome is unclear. The archdiocese website describes him only as a priest with restricted ministry.
Church officials and the lawyers have repeatedly declined to comment because of a gag order.
Also Tuesday, Sarmina denied a new bid by defense lawyers to dismiss as beyond the statute of limitations an endangerment charge against Lynn and Brennan. Prosecutors called it a "Hail Mary" attempt to revisit legal ground already decided by the judge.