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Shredded-memo motion denied to defense in predator-priests trial

The discovery of Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua's 1994 order to shred a memo about 35 Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests suspected of molesting children is no reason to dismiss the case against one of his key aides, a judge ruled Monday.

The discovery of Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua's 1994 order to shred a memo about 35 Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests suspected of molesting children is no reason to dismiss the case against one of his key aides, a judge ruled Monday.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina denied a bid by defense attorneys to drop the charges after prosecutors argued that the shredding directive and other recently unearthed files were the equivalent of "a smoking gun" that bolstered, not weakened, their case against Msgr. William J. Lynn.

The documents, they say, prove Lynn plotted with Bevilacqua, the longtime archbishop who died Jan. 31, and others to protect abusive priests and shield the church from lawsuits.

They said Lynn's attorneys misportrayed the files last week in a bid to try out a new strategy - "a combination of the dead-guys-did-it and the I-was-only-following-orders defenses" - and to sway potential jurors.

"Defendant has used this phony legal motion to falsely paint himself in a sympathetic light - as the pawn of a conspiratorial clique that did not include him," Assistant District Attorneys Patrick Blessington and Mariana Sorensen wrote in court papers.

The clash over the records came as the district attorneys and lawyers for Lynn and two former parish priests charged with him began interviewing prospective jurors. On Monday, lawyers chose five of the 12 jurors and 10 alternates they will seat. The trial starts March 26 and could last four months.

Lynn is the first Catholic church official to be tried for covering up clergy sex abuse. Prosecutors say that as the archdiocese's secretary of clergy from 1992 until 2004, he endangered children by recommending two priests, the Rev. James J. Brennan and Edward Avery, for assignments that enabled them to abuse boys. Each has denied the charges.

The fireworks Monday stemmed from revelations that Bevilacqua had ordered another aide to shred a 1994 memo Lynn wrote about 35 priests suspected of molesting children.

In a motion to dismiss the case, Lynn's attorneys, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy, argued that Lynn had drafted the memo because he wanted to gauge the problem of priest misconduct involving children. They contend that he was unaware Bevilacqua ordered it destroyed and that the order suggested that any scheme to protect predatory priests flowed from the top.

Lynn had described the list to a Philadelphia grand jury examining clergy sex abuse eight years ago, but said at the time that he was unable to find it. Officials discovered a copy of it in 2006 in a locked safe at the archdiocese's Center City offices, but turned it over to prosecutors only this month.

With it was a handwritten note, scrawled in 1994 by Msgr. James Molloy, then the assistant vicar for administration, outlining Bevilacqua's instructions to shred the list of priests.

Lynn's attorneys argued that Molloy, who died in 2006, secretly hid the records in the safe. They say that he, Bevilacqua, and two other ranking administrators, Bishops Edward Cullen and Joseph Cistone, misled investigators during the first grand jury investigation and that Lynn was unfairly charged based on that flawed testimony.

"The only person who appeared before the grand jury and told the truth with respect to that list was Father Lynn," Bergstrom told the judge Monday. "The rest of them lied."

In their filing and in court, prosecutors scoffed at the argument. They say that Lynn, not Molloy, was the one who placed the list of priests in a locked safe and that he later denied knowing where it was. They said they also learned last week that another copy of the memo had been recently found on diskettes in Lynn's former office.

"Oh, yeah, there was a whole lot of lying going on at that grand jury," Blessington told the judge before jury selection resumed. "Some of the most pervasive and offensive was by defendant Lynn."

In their court filing, the prosecutors said the documents and other evidence suggested Lynn did not prepare the list voluntarily, but was directed to do so by Bevilacqua. The cardinal, they said, made reviewing child-sex-abuse complaints a priority, not out of concern for victims, but to help the church devise a strategy to combat a wave of complaints and lawsuits.

Prosecutors cited a copy of a memo from Robert O'Hara, the head of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the church's lobbying arm. The memo refers to a 1994 committee that Bevilacqua and other bishops had formed "to examine how the dioceses of Pennsylvania can better protect their secret archives from civil-law discovery."

They also included handwritten records of meetings Lynn attended or was briefed on in which church officials discussed gathering background on a civil attorney who represented several accusers and how to respond to a Time magazine writer's inquiries on abuse claims.

"Lynn was not a low-level or peripheral player," Blessington and Sorensen said in their filing. "Not only did he make recommendations for priest assignments that were almost uniformly approved, he was also involved in every high-level policy decision about how to handle the Archdiocese's predator-priest problem."

One of the priests identified in Lynn's 1994 memo was Avery, now his codefendant in the case. Lynn had included Avery under the heading "Guilty of Sexual Misconduct with Minors."

According to the charges, Lynn later approved Avery's assignment at a Northeast Philadelphia hospital and let him live and celebrate Mass at a St. Jerome's parish. There, prosecutors say, Avery sexually abused a 10-year-old altar boy.