Graphic testimony in landmark church sex abuse case

William Lynn, philadelphia, catholic church
Catholic Monsignor William Lynn leaves Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center for a lunch break on March 26, 2012 in Philadelphia during his trial on covering up pedophile abuses.

(CBS News) It could be a pivotal case for prosecutors in the nationwide scandal of child sex-abuse by Roman Catholic priests.

Five weeks of testimony concluded Thursday in the Philadelphia trial of a senior clergyman who allegedly chose to protect the church, instead of the children.

It's the first time in the U.S. that a senior official with the Catholic Church has faced charges in the church's child sexual abuse crisis.

CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano reports that Monsignor William Lynn is accused of endangering children by helping reassign priests suspected of child sex abuse to jobs where they continued to prey on boys and girls. Lynn was in charge of Philadelphia's priests from 1992 to 2004.

Jurors have heard graphic testimony from victims recounting how priests under Lynn's supervision sexually abused them sometimes inside churches. One witness testified he went directly to Monsignor Lynn with his complaints of abuse.

Lynne Abraham, a former Philadelphia district attorney, said: "This is the first time in the history of a prosecution in this country where a member of the hierarchy of the church has been put on trial in a public courtroom for covering up sex abuse."

Memo: Abused kids' safety ignored by Philly diocese
Philly priest faces alleged victim at abuse trial
Priest on abuse: "Christ is horrified"
Govt: Admitted predator kept in Philly archdiocese

Abraham spent five years investigating the Philadelphia archdiocese. She found evidence church officials were involved in a systemic cover-up.

"Really what they were doing was shuffling priests around from parish to parish," Abraham said.

The monsignor's defense is he followed the orders of his superior, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Cardinals are the highest-ranking clergy in the Catholic Church. They answer only to the pope.

"This should serve as a warning to everyone across this country that now that this secrecy is being uncovered - not only in Philadelphia but in California and in Washington and in Alaska and everywhere else," Abraham said.

Next fall, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City will be the highest ranking Catholic clergyman to go on trial. He is accused of failing to tell police about suspected child abuse.

"Until the last several years, most of them just thought everyone would believe the church, everyone would believe the bishops and they would be ignored. This is empowering for them," said Marci Hamilton, a Philadelphia attorney who represents clergy sex abuse victims in civil trials.

Philadelphia archdiocese officials declined to talk to CBS News about the Lynn case. The judge has ordered all parties to not comment on the case. Lynn could face up to 28 Years in prison.

Clarification: An earlier version of this Web story incorrectly said testimony was concluded in the trial. There is still testimony to come in the trial.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.