By Tony Hanson and Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There was high drama in a Philadelphia court room today, as one of the defendants in the Philadelphia priest sex abuse case took the stand in his own defense.
Monsignor William Lynn is charged with endangering minors by allowing priests accused of sexually abusing children to remain in ministry. After nearly eight weeks, his appearance as a witness in his own defense is a stunning development in this landmark trial.
Lynn is the highest ranking cleric called to answer for years of moving predator priests without informing civil authorities, unsuspecting parishes or victims.
Today, Lynn took the witness stand and told the jury that he did not have the authority as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s “secretary for clergy” to remove priests from ministry unless they admitted to sexual abuse of minors.
According to Lynn’s testimony this morning, he also did not have the authority to transfer them or put them on administrative leave.
He said he could only make recommendations to his supervisors, and that ultimately the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had the final say on priest placements.
But Lynn detailed, through documents from the church’s “secret archives,” steps he did take in response to allegations of sexual abuse, including outpatient and in-patient treatment and continuing care and supervision of priests suspected of prior misconduct.
In cross examination, prosecutor Patrick Blessington quoted a handwritten note written by the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua that said, “Never admit to a victim that there are other accusations against a priest.”
Blessington pressed hard.
“Why did you keep the public in the dark?” he asked.
“The cardinal wouldn’t allow us to announce why a priest was leaving,” Lynn answered.
“Were you misleading parishioners, parents and children sexually exploited by priests?”
Lynn answered, “Purposely? No.”
Lynn agreed that there was no job more important than protecting children.
“I was protecting kids every day,” he testified.
It’s a high-stakes decision for Lynn to take the stand, exposing him to cross-examination by the prosecution once he completes his direct testimony.
Former DA Lynn Abraham – who empaneled the grand jury that launched this investigation and, ultimately, the charges against Monsignor Lynn, said clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church is a problem beyond Philadelphia.