Calif. Man Accused of Attacking Priest Seeks Justice for Abuse as Young Boy

Opening statements were scheduled to be made Wednesday in the trial of a California man accused of beating up an elderly priest who he claims molested he and his brother more than 35 years ago.

William Lynch, while seeking to avoid jail, says attacking the retired priest was the only way of forcing him to own up to the alleged abuse.

"I don't want to go to jail but I've come to realize that this whole thing is really bigger than me and the way that I've chosen to handle this is to make a statement," Lynch told The Associated Press. "I'm prepared to take responsibility for anything I've been involved in. I'm willing to do it. I think it's a small sacrifice to get Father Jerry into court."

Lynch claims the Rev. Jerold Lindner, now 65, sexually abused he and his brother more than three decades ago during a camping trip, also forcing the young boys to perform sex acts on one another. Lynch, 44, sought out the priest at a retirement home in May 2010 to confront him about the alleged abuse.

According to police reports, when Lynch showed up at the Los Gatos retirement home he asked Lindner if he recognized him. When he received a negative answer, Lynch began punching him, and yelled "Turn yourself in or I'll (expletive) come back and kill you."

Lindner, who has since recovered from the physical attack, has been accused of molesting and taking advantage of a number of children, including some in his own family, while he was a priest. He was also named in two additional lawsuits in 1973 and 1985, which were part of the $660 million settlement reached between the Roman Catholic Church and more than 550 plaintiffs in 2007 over sexual abuse allegations against clergy.

Since his arrest, Lynch has claimed that attacking the retired priest was the only way to expose his alleged crimes.

The judge presiding over the case in Santa Clara County Superior Court has allowed cross-examination, meaning that Lynch's lawyer can ask Lindner about the sexual abuse allegations, and even call up three witnesses who have claimed they were also molested by the priest when they were young. Lynch's younger brother was expected to be among the list of witnesses.

The former priest has been accused of abuse by nearly a dozen people, including his own sister and nieces and nephews, but has not been criminally charged because the time limit for prosecution had expired. The Lynch brothers apparently settled with the Jesuits of the California Province for $625,000 in 1998 over their allegations of abuse, but still want Lindner to be prosecuted for his crimes.

"What the jury needs to be deciding is did an assault take place? There might be sympathetic reasons for an assault, but yes, it's an assault," argued Deputy District Attorney Vicki Gemetti, defending Lindner. "The victim is not squeaky clean but that doesn't change the fact that you can't take the law into your own hands."

Jody Armour, a professor at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law who specializes in criminal law and social justice issues, has suggested that a testimony about the alleged abuse Lynch suffered could potentially convince the court to see him in a more favorable light – although jurors are supposed to stay neutral and not be swayed by any sympathy they may feel for Lynch's story.

"These are some of the toughest cases in criminal law," Armour offered. "Even though that jury will be told, 'Don't think about this, this is not evidence, it just goes to credibility,' how are people going to keep those two things separate in their mind?"

Lynch has said that regardless if he himself is found guilty of assaulting Lindner, dealing with the case head on might be the only way to help him deal with the ramifications of the abuse he suffered as a boy. He claims he has dealt with depression and alcoholism, attempted suicide and suffered a failed marriage because of the alleged abuse.

"He still comes into my dreams now. He just took ownership of me in a way that's hard to get rid of and I have to learn how to live with him," Lynch said.

"My expectations are realistic, but I'm also coming into this for the first time sort of in control of my life," he added.

Another case of violence against clergy accused of sexual abuse include a man in Baltimore in 2002 who shot a priest three times after the clergyman refused to apologize for claims that he molested the man when he was a young boy. The priest survived, and the defendant was acquitted of attempted murder, although he had to serve 18 months of home detention on a gun conviction.