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Philadelphia archdiocese legal bill: $11.6M

By Maryclaire Dale

Associated Press

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PHILADELPHIA >> The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia spent $11.6 million on legal fees in the past two fiscal years, most of it on priest sex abuse cases, according to a financial report released Tuesday.

The figure includes $10 million in the first nine months of the current fiscal year that ends June 30, with the rest being spent the prior fiscal year.

The sum does not yet include most of the extensive costs associated with the ongoing criminal trial of Monsignor William Lynn, charged in a groundbreaking conspiracy and cover-up case that is now in a jury’s hands.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has promised more transparency since arriving in Philadelphia last year, called the legal costs “disheartening.”

“It’s a great sadness that people were hurt and that the costs have been so great for the people of the archdiocese,” Chaput said at an unrelated news conference.

By comparison, the archdiocese spent $18.6 million on payroll and benefits in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011. Total operating expenses that year were about $89 million.

The jury in Lynn’s case broke Tuesday, the third day of deliberations, without returning a verdict.

Lynn has four private lawyers defending him on charges he helped cover up child sexual assaults as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. The archdiocese is paying his legal fees.

The church’s legal costs stem from the long-running criminal investigation into priest sexual abuse, related civil lawsuits and the cost of internal church investigations of about 25 accused priests who were suspended last year.

The sum also includes losses from the unrelated embezzlement of nearly $1 million, Chaput said. A former chief financial officer is awaiting trial in that case.

Lynn, 61, was charged last year after Philadelphia prosecutors concluded a second grand jury investigation into sexual abuse complaints at the archdiocese. He was charged with child endangerment and conspiracy, while three priests and a Catholic school teacher were charged with child sexual assaults. Lynn is on trial with the Rev. James Brennan, who allegedly tried to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

The jury has asked for clarification this week on the law on child endangerment, attempted rape and conspiracy.

A conspiracy conviction in Lynn’s case would boost the nine civil suits pending against the archdiocese, according to plaintiffs’ lawyer Marci Hamilton. The lawsuits are on hold amid the criminal trial.

Frank Finnegan, 51, a postal worker from Collingdale, is one of Hamilton’s clients. He alleges that he was molested from age 7 to age 9 by his parish priest in Philadelphia.

Finnegan calls the criminal case, which involves only two priests and two accusers, “the tip of the iceberg of offenses that have occurred in the archdiocese.”

“If it’s a guilty verdict, then it’s empowering. But a not guilty verdict doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Finnegan said.

The Associated Press typically does not identify people who say they are sexual-abuse victims, but Finnegan wanted his name public.

He came forward four years ago, and his alleged perpetrator, now deceased, was never charged. Finnegan’s suit names the archdiocese, Lynn and other officials as defendants.

“Just saying ‘I did the best job I could’ isn’t enough,” he said.

Lynn testified that he did everything within his power to help victims and to try to get accused predator-priests into treatment. But he said his efforts were thwarted by his superiors, including the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Lynn said the cardinal alone had the authority to remove priests from ministry or decide where to place them after treatment. They were often moved to unsuspecting parishes without warning, according to long-secret church documents shown at trial.

According to Chaput’s financial report, money for the church’s legal costs is coming from cash reserves, investments and the sale of real estate and other assets. He pledged the funds would not come from specific fundraising campaigns.

Chaput warned, though, that the archdiocese for many years has spent more than it’s brought in.

“We tried to make it as clear as possible so people will know what the situation is, see how serious things are financially,” Chaput said of the report. “We really do have serious issues.”

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Associated Press Writer Kathy Matheson contributed to this report.





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