Priests’ trial continues in Philadelphia
The witness described with dignity and composure the horrific details of the sexual abuse he said he endured as a boy from a former priest, Stanley Gana, during testimony last week at the trial of two priests of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Father James J. Brennan, 48, faces a charge of attempted rape of a boy in 1996. Msgr. William Lynn, 61, faces child endangerment and conspiracy charges connected to his role as archdiocesan secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. In that role he was responsible for handling priest personnel issues, especially allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.
One of those priests was Gana, who was ordained in 1970 and laicized, or stripped of his priestly identity, in 2006. He became the focus of testimony by witnesses and examination of archdiocesan records last week in which jurors learned of the complicated process of handling abuse allegations in the Archdiocese at that time, and the steps or missteps in confronting priest sexual abuse.
The testimony of the witness, now a middle-aged man, began in a similar form to that of other alleged victims presented at the trial: his was a devout Catholic family that was honored when a priest showed interest in their young son, and incredulous that a priest would ever do him harm.
Even greater was the honor that the son might have a vocation to the priesthood.
After it was alleged that Gana showed classic signs of grooming and manipulating his intended young victim with favors, attention and a trip to a farm Gana owned in the Scranton area, the priest allegedly raped the 14-year-old boy and continued to do so throughout his high school years.
The boy grew up and eventually entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the 1980s. The young man said in time he was able to break free from Gana and end contact with him.
Although then-Father Lynn was an administrator at the seminary during the years the witness studied at St. Charles, the young man did not relay his allegation of abuse until 1992, when Msgr. Lynn worked in the archdiocesan chancery.
One year later the witness was ordained a priest for the Bridgeport (Conn.) Diocese.
Msgr. Lynn testified in 2002 before a Philadelphia Grand Jury that he interviewed Gana about the allegation, which Gana denied.
Msgr. Lynn testified that he grappled with conflicts regarding the case: He held doubts about the credibility of the seminarian’s accusation against Gana yet also doubted Gana’s denial of the allegation. Further, Msgr. Lynn felt compelled to protect the reputation of a priest if he were being falsely accused.
Even though the seminarian had mentioned two other boys who may have been allegedly abused by Gana, Msgr. Lynn did not seek to interview them regarding potential abuse because he was relying on psychologists’ advice of the time which indicated victims could suffer more harm if confronted by past abuse.
Msgr. Lynn also hoped that as had happened with other priests, a psychological evaluation of Gana at St. John Vianney Center, the archdiocesan facility for treatment of priests in Downingtown, would reveal the truth of the allegations, if not an admission by Gana.
But when Msgr. Lynn transitioned to his new role as secretary for clergy in 1992, the matter of sending Gana to the facility for an evaluation or following up with possible other victims ”fell through the cracks,” he said in the testimony.
In the 2002 testimony that was read aloud in court last week, Msgr. Lynn said he did not report the allegation to civil authorities because “we weren’t required to,” under state law of the time.
He also testified that by 1995 another alleged victim of Gana corroborated the seminarian’s allegations, and Msgr. Lynn concluded that Gana “was guilty of what he did, what they allege.”
Although Gana again denied the allegations, Msgr. Lynn recommended and Cardinal Bevilacqua approved a psychological evaluation. By November of that year the evaluation report called Gana “at risk for inappropriate and possibly dangerous behavior.”
After years of resistance to treatment and continued allegations of sexual misconduct, Gana was removed from priestly ministry and laicized in 2006 – though parishioners in the Philadelphia Archdiocese were never told the reasons for his removal from ministry until learning of allegations in the 2005 grand jury report.
The witness on the stand last week, who left the priesthood after the clergy sexual abuse crisis erupted in Boston and around the United States in 2002, gave testimony along with another witness that broadened the scope of the trial.
Two witnesses linked Gana at the time of their abuse to a then-Philadelphia priest and now Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese in West Virginia. While no allegations from a victim of abuse surfaced, the allegations of a tie to Gana and his alleged history of sexual abuse elicited a response from the bishop.
“I have been deeply saddened by the priest child abuse scandal that has been connected to a handful of my former colleagues and friends from St. Charles Seminary,” Bishop Bransfield said in a statement. “Over the years, I have felt devastation for both the victims and the Church as I learned about the terrible actions they took with innocent victims.
“To now be unfairly included in that group and to hear the horrific allegations that are being made of me is unbelievable and shocking. As a native of Roxborough, I consider Philadelphia my home. I have openly been an advocate for the eradication of the abusive behavior of priests in every diocese, and have demonstrated this in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, where I now live and serve.
“I have never sexually abused anyone,” he said.
“I ask you to pray for me and the parishioners of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston as well as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. At the same time, please join me in prayer for all those who have been affected by sexual abuse.”
(Read the full statement here.)