Men of the cloth back in court

Men of the cloth back in court
Metro file photo

The fate of the last two priests named as co-conspirators by a 2012 grand jury report alleging the Archdiocese of Philadelphia protected sexual predators remains unclear as the retrial of one of the defendants begins Wednesday.

Father James J. Brennan, 51, is facing his third retrial on charges that he attempted to rape a 14-year-old boy.

Credibility issues with his accuser dogged previous trials. The victim came forward after a decade to state that Brennan sexually abused him during a sleepover at the priest’s home.

Meanwhile, his former co-defendant, Msgr. William Lynn, 62, is free on bail pending a state Supreme Court decision on his case.

The two were alleged to have discussed the violation of children in a collegial way, according to a 2011 grand jury report presentment.

“Msgr. Lynn even discussed with Father Brennan ‘rumors’ that the priest was ‘shacking up’ with one of his students,” the presentment said.

At their 2012 trial, a jury convicted Lynn of endangerment of the welfare of a child, on the grounds that he continued to place priests with histories of abuse in close proximity to children. The jury deadlocked on Brennan.

A mid-level appeals court freed Lynn from prison, who was one year into his three-to-six year sentence, in December 2013.

D.A. Seth Williams appealed that decision to the state court in a bid to re-convict Lynn.

“I was surprised,” said Thomas Bergstrom, Lynn’s defense attorney, of the decision by D.A. Seth Williams to fight to re-convict.

“The Superior Court decision was pretty tight and academic, it was sound and logical and right on point,” he said.

If the Supreme Court does rule that Lynn could be convicted of endangerment, Bergstrom said they still have other legal grounds to appeal.

“The judge let in a litany of evidence of misconduct by other priests over 40 to 50 years,” he said.

Arguments in Lynn’s case were held Nov. 18. A decision could be forthcoming as early as next week, Bergstrom said.

Of the five named as complicit in abuse in the 2011 grand jury report, former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was not charged due to his deteriorating mental condition. He died in 2012.

Rev. Charles Engelhardt died in November 2014 while in prison and appealing his conviction for sexual abuse.

Former parish school teacher Bernard Shero is serving eight to 16 years for rape.