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Trial expert: Church could have gone to policeExpert: Philadelphia church officials could have referred sex-abuse complaints to police
PHILADELPHIA (AP) ' An expert on Roman Catholicism told jurors Thursday that no church law prevented the Philadelphia archdiocese from relaying to police the scores of complaints coming in about priests molesting children.
The Rev. Thomas Doyle also described internal laws that make it a church crime to harbor criminals or fail to act in certain situations.
Doyle testified for the prosecution in the novel child-endangerment trial of Monsignor William Lynn, who served as secretary for clergy in Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004.
Lynn, 61, is the first Catholic church official in the U.S. charged with child endangerment for allegedly failing to protect children from suspected priest-predators. He isn't accused of molesting children but of putting them in harm's way through his administrative decisions. He faces years in prison if convicted.
Defense lawyers argue that the Philadelphia archbishop alone determined whether accused priests could stay in ministry. Secret documents presented in court show that the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died this year, frequently signed off on such recommendations from Lynn and others.
A 2005 grand jury described harrowing accounts of child sexual abuse lodged against 63 Philadelphia priests since 1948, but none were charged because legal time limits had expired. Lynn was charged last year based on more recent complaints involving three priests and a teacher. The jury is also hearing many of the earlier complaints because Lynn worked on or knew about them.
Lynn's lawyers were expected to cross-examine Doyle later Thursday.
In direct questioning, Doyle described the reforms U.S. bishops adopted in 2002, the year the national priest-abuse scandal exploded in Boston. The bishops agreed that no U.S. priest who admitted abuse or was found guilty by church investigators could remain in any kind of ministry.
"You can't even work at a veterinary hospital," Doyle said.
In the past, those priests were often transferred to unwitting parishes, or given limited duties at old-age homes with access to parishes with schools, according to church documents entered as trial evidence. The church thereby supplied them with new victims, prosecutors argue.
Doyle, describing the power the Catholic church vests in its priests, told jurors they are seen as "representatives of Christ on earth" and "gatekeepers" for one's entrance to heaven. Presumably, prosecutors hoped to explain why some accusers waited years or decades to file complaints.
In a rare moment of levity in the somber trial, Doyle was asked to explain what Catholics mean by the term "limbo," long viewed as a temporary station between heaven and hell.
"The best definition I can think of is ... a minimum-security hell," he said.
The trial is expected to last several months.
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