Landmark US church sex abuse trial opens

Landmark US church sex abuse trial opens Philadelphia: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia protected sexual predators in its ranks for more than 70 years, putting the church's reputation over the safety of children, a prosecutor said Tuesday at the start of a landmark priest abuse case that's shaken the Roman Catholic establishment.

The church kept secret files dating back to 1948 that show a long-standing conspiracy to doubt sex abuse victims, protect priests and avoid scandal, Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho said in opening statements.

Coelho called the case "a battle between right and wrong within the archdiocese and the office of secretary for clergy."

She outlined the decades-old sexual abuse complaints found buried in secret archives to build a case against Monsignor William Lynn, who supervised priests as secretary for clergy from 1992 through 2004. Lynn is the first US church official charged for his administrative role in the sex abuse crisis.

He is on trial with the Rev. James Brennan, who is charged with the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Both men entered not guilty pleas before the jury today.

Co-defendant Edward Avery, a defrocked priest, entered a surprise guilty plea Thursday to a sexual assault charge and will serve two-and-a-half to five years in prison. Avery also acknowledged that the archdiocese kept him in parish work despite knowing of an earlier complaint lodged against him, a point that could bolster the conspiracy charge against Lynn.

Coelho said the archdiocese did little or nothing about sex abuse complaints until the church's sex abuse scandal exploded in Boston in 2002.

"Victims are met with scepticism and priests are believed ... at all costs," Coelho said, speaking softly to the jury.

The defence is expected to begin its opening statements later today.