8 new civil suits allege Philadelphia priest abuse
Sep 18, 1:02 PM (ET)
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Eight new civil lawsuits allege the Archdiocese of Philadelphia covered up child sex assault allegations made against seven Roman Catholic priests.
The lawsuits were being filed Tuesday by a total of nine plaintiffs. Their attorneys plan to release more details at an afternoon news conference.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said their clients decided to come forward when former archdiocesan official Monsignor William Lynn was found guilty of child endangerment and received a three- to six-year prison sentence. The 61-year-old is the first U.S. church official convicted of endangering children by keeping predator priests in ministry. He served as secretary for clergy at the Philadelphia Archdiocese from 1992 to 2004.
Named in the latest lawsuits are Lynn, Archbishop Charles Chaput, his predecessor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, and the priests accused by the plaintiffs of sexual abuse.
They believe defrocked priest Edward Avery perhaps pleaded guilty to abusing a boy he'd never met because the 2 1/2- to five-year plea offer was a safer bet than going to trial and facing other accusers.
Avery's plea to a sex-assault charge and conspiracy changed the dynamics of Lynn's trial this spring. Jurors convicted him of a single count of endangering Avery's victim, who said he was abused years after Lynn handled an earlier sex-abuse complaint against Avery.
Lynn apologized on the witness stand, saying the earlier complaint from a doctor had "fallen through the cracks." Lynn is seeking bail while he appeals.
According to a bail petition filed Monday, Avery's lawyers told prosecutors that Avery denied ever meeting "Billy," as the grand jury report calls the troubled policeman's son who claims he was abused in 1999 by Avery, another priest and his sixth-grade teacher. Prosecutors also knew Avery had passed a defense polygraph test and offered to instead admit fondling the doctor, according to Lynn's lawyers.
They complained that none of this was disclosed to them, and said it would have affected their trial strategy had they known Avery's plea was dubious.
"This newly discovered information leads to the disturbing conclusion that that the commonwealth was driven by a zealous and single-minded desire to try (Lynn) and obtain a conviction, despite information that put into question the justice of pursuing that outcome," Lynn's lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors called the allegations "completely false" and plan to file a written response to the bail petition.
Avery's plea affects not only Lynn's case, but at least two other pending cases.
"Billy" is the lone accuser in the upcoming trial of the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero, making his credibility crucial. And he has sued the archdiocese, Avery and others for damages. His civil lawyer, Slade McLaughlin, did not immediately return a message Tuesday seeking comment.
Avery's lawyer, Michael Wallace, said he could not comment because Avery remains a potential witness at the Engelhardt-Shero trial, which is set for January and is covered by a gag order.
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