BY KATHY KANE
I have been to the trial several times but today was a very difficult day. The courtroom was packed with Lynn supporters on the defense side and victims, family members and supporters on the prosecution side. Although, it was so crowded some late-comers had to mix in where there was an available seat. I looked around at the people who I never knew until this past year: Vicky and Steve, whose bodies were sexually violated as children; Art, whose beloved son is now gone forever; Sr. Maureen, always fighting for children and victims; Joy, who founded a support group for parents of victims; Sharon, Vicky’s rock through the hard times; Irene and her husband, who attend vigils and support Justice4PaKids; Bill and other senior citizens, who do not let age or infirmity keep them from the vigils outside the Archdiocese in the rain, cold or heat; “Had it” Kate, who returned for a second trip from New York for the trial.
Many people have made their way to room 304 over the past 8 weeks. Margaret from Catholic Accountability, who I was with the day they entered the evidence of my former parish priest Fr. Cannon; Jackie and Susan, who I sat in between as we cried the day James and Billy took the stand to speak their truth; Beth, who always extends warmth and comfort to our victims; Rich, who bravely sat and listened to the testimony of James and Billy, their stories so similar to his own; and the family members of the victims who testify. So much painful history has occupied those rows – so much pain.
You wouldn’t know that pain unless you chose to read the Grand Jury reports, met with victims and their family members, and attended on the days the victims testified (rather than only attending when Lynn testified).
Many things happened today in court but there was a point that I almost lost it. Blessington was questioning Lynn about Avery being stationed at St Jerome’s. To hear Lynn explain away things, was a tipping point for me. Lynn explained that while Avery was in residence at St Jerome’s his primary job was chaplain of a hospital. He wasn’t a typical parish priest involved in all the activities of the parish but rather would say Mass a few times a month, be used where needed. Blessington reminded Lynn that this assignment did not work out well for “Billy’, the 10-year-old who Avery brought into a small storage room where he had him strip naked. He violated that boy’s innocent body in ways that are still burned into my brain. No, this assignment did not work out well for Billy, even though the AD knew of Avery for years, his name already part of the infamous shredded memo of 1994. Lynn explained it as if it made perfect sense that Avery performed such duties of hearing children’s confessions. He was not in a confessional box but rather would hear the confessions out in the open. Lynn referred to it I believe as a ‘production line’, many children brought over from the school. Makes sense…right? All those innocent children from St Jerome’s lining up to have their confession heard by a predator priest. What could possibly be odd about that?
I guess the insanity of it all hit me because I went to confession to a predator priest in my childhood parish and my classmate ended up just like ‘Billy’. And of course the AD knew about Fr. Cannon for years when they assigned him to our parish. St Andrew’s of 1970’s was St Jerome’s of the 1990’s, same story, different innocent children.
The questioning also focused on Avery’s side gig as a disc jockey. It turns out Avery actually DJ’ed a dance for the children at St Jerome’s. Lynn explained Avery was told to not DJ anymore school dances. So the same kids lining up for confession to a KNOWN predator priest at St Jerome’s were now also dancing in front of a predator priest….but hey that only happened once. And other than Billy being taken into a closet and sexually violated, business as usual. Blessington was able to illicit what I guess you could call an emotionless apology out of Lynn.
Do any clergy ever cry for these children – for the bodies that have been violated, the innocent souls shattered? Like always, the clergy in the courtroom today acted like they were at traffic court rather than a trial for crimes against children.
On the way out of the room a priest was shaking hands with Lynn supporters. When I approached him I said, “Hi Father, I am here for the victims.” He mumbled something like “oh” and looked away. The same reaction you would receive if you said something inappropriate at a cocktail party. No handshake for me.
That’s okay because I have met so many good people who have filled the aisles behind the prosecution table. We have hugged and cried, held hands and prayed. We have done the very simple thing of seeing Christ in each other and those who were harmed. I wouldn’t have it any other way.