Story of ‘ladies man’ priest turned molester unfolds in court
Just four years out of seminary, the Rev. Sylwester Wiejata was rapidly making a name for himself. Unfortunately for officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the reputation of the young, darkly handsome Wiejata was as a ladies’ man — and one with an eye for married women.
Just four years out of seminary, the Rev. Sylwester Wiejata was rapidly making a name for himself.
Unfortunately for officials of the Roman Catholic 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 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese.
Lynn has denied that his alleged inaction let priests 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.
Wiejata, now 42, was defrocked by the church in March 2002, 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 of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in West Grove in Chester County, the young priest promptly began a new affair with another married parishioner.
Lynn told the grand jury that 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 receiving new complaints that Wiejata's "sexual acting-out" was taking a disturbing new turn.
In May 2000, Lynn told the grand jury that he received a phone call from a theology professor who accused Wiejata of acting inappropriately with the professor's 20- and 21-year-old daughters during a dinner at his house.
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 had an affair with him. She said that she came home and discovered Wiejata fondling and kissing her 13-year-old daughter.
In his testimony before the grand jury, Lynn struggled to explain why he did not try to discover the child's identity and why he did not consider calling police. Although his phone memo notes contained the name "Pat," Lynn insisted that he did not know if that was the anonymous caller's name.
Lynn said he did not call the West Grove parish to see if the name matched that of anyone who attended the Assumption church. Nor did he call police. Lynn also told the grand jury that he had doubts about the caller's credibility because she admitted to an affair with Wiejata.
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 he had fondled the 13-year-old girl.
After Wiejata acknowledged molesting the girl, Lynn gave him a choice: prison 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.
Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @JoeSlobo
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