PHILADELPHIA - Only days before the start of the March 2012
trial of Father James Brennan and Msgr. William Lynn on
charges related to the clergy sexual abuse scandal, former
priest Edward Avery admitted he'd sexually assaulted a
10-year-old altar boy at his Northeast Philadelphia parish in
Avery - who was laicized, or removed from the clerical state,
in 2006 - pleaded guilty and soon began serving a sentence of
two-and-a half to five years in prison.
Now, Avery says he never touched the boy and only entered his
guilty plea to get a lighter sentence. He recanted his
testimony Jan. 17 on the witness stand at the trial of Oblate
Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher
Bernard Shero. Their trial began the week of Jan. 14.
Both men are charged with sexually assaulting the same altar
boy from 1998 to 2000.
Msgr. Lynn was convicted of conspiracy in June, becoming the
first high-ranking clergyman in the United States to be
convicted for failing to deal with the abuse scandal in the
church. He is currently serving three to six years in state
prison. Father Brennan awaits a retrial in the spring after
his case ended in a hung jury in June.
While the revelation about Avery in the courtroom was
dramatic, one veteran legal expert believes it will have
little bearing on Msgr. Lynn.
"It means nothing except political posturing," said Jeffrey
M. Lindy, a criminal defense lawyer with long experience and
a former member of Msgr. Lynn's legal defense team.
If Msgr. Lynn's case is appealed to Pennsylvania Superior
Court as expected, the court can only review the facts of the
case as presented at trial, not Avery's new recanting of
testimony, Lindy told the CatholicPhilly.com, the news
website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
"In terms of the Superior Court appeal, this has zero
impact," he said. "It's not part of the record, it's an
unrelated proceeding. It's not part of his (Msgr. Lynn's)
If an appeal is made to reduce Msgr. Lynn's bail, the
Superior Court already denied that request last summer and is
unlikely to approve it now, Lindy believes.
At any rate, he does not expect any decision to come soon.
"The Superior Court is going to sit on this. It's too hot.
It's too controversial," he said.
In addition, Lindy said that if Msgr. Lynn's defense wins the
appeal, the district attorney will appeal to the state
Supreme Court. If he loses, the defense also will likely
appeal to the state's highest court.
Another strategy for Msgr. Lynn could be to utilize a
"post-conviction release act" to appeal the conviction only
after he has served his minimum sentence - three years - and
as he begins his parole.
Avery could be charged with perjury as a result of recanting
his earlier sworn testimony, in which case a successful
prosecution would result in jail time in addition to the
sentence he is now serving.
Lindy does not think the district attorney will press perjury
charges, but neither does he think Avery will serve any less
than the five-year maximum of his sentence.
As to why Avery would recant his earlier testimony, Lindy
suggested it could be a matter of pride, since Avery passed a
polygraph test before last year's trial indicating he
believed he was being truthful about not assaulting the altar
boy in question.
But Lindy suggested the real reason may be financial.
"(Avery) doesn't want a civil judgment," the lawyer said,
adding the former priest may have financial resources he
wishes to shield from lawsuits.
Lindy's former client, Msgr. Lynn, had few resources, like
most people in religious life.
"He had a 15-year-old car, that was it," Lindy said.