Monsignor William Lynn, who was to face a second day of cross-examination Thursday, testified Wednesday he had very limited options under parish rules enforced by late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
"The cardinal wouldn't allow us to announce in those days why someone was leaving," Lynn said, referring to the real reason an accused priest was being removed from a parish.
"I felt I was helping priests and helping victims as best I could," Lynn earlier told jurors in direct examination by one of his defense attorneys, Thomas Bergstrom, explaining only Bevilacqua, who died Jan. 31, had the authority to reassign priests or remove them.
Lynn, 61, served from 1992 to 2004 as secretary for clergy for the 1.5 million-member Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in charge of job assignments for priests and investigating complaints about their behavior.
He is not accused of committing sexual abuses, but rather of knowingly endangering minors and conspiring with other officials to protect accused priests.
He has pleaded not guilty and faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 1/2 to 21 years if convicted in the landmark trial.
Also on trial is the Rev. James Brennan, accused of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old. Brennan also pleaded not guilty.
Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy, said when he was appointed to that post he did not realize his responsibilities would include investigating abuse charges. He said he tried with his recommendations to keep abusive priests from doing more harm.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington dismissed Lynn's claims he was a humble servant simply doing what Bevilacqua told him to do.
"You were just following orders? Is that your excuse?" Blessington asked during cross-examination.
"I tried to move things forward. I thought was I was doing the best I could do," CNN quoted Lynn as replying.
"I was the one who met with the victims and who met with the priests. ... I was the one who send the information upstairs," he said, referring to a list he made in 1994 of 35 active priests who were credibly charged or confirmed as child molesters.
The list was later found inside a locked safe that was drilled open in 2006.
"It's not as black and white as you're making it," Lynn testified.
When asked if his efforts helped a former altar boy molested in a church sacristy by now-defrocked priest Edward Avery during the 1998-99 school year, Lynn said he did what he could.
"I did my best with the parameters I had," he said.
Avery was also to have gone on trial with Brennan and Lynn but pleaded guilty in March to involuntary sexual deviate sexual intercourse after admitting to sexually assaulting the 10-year-old altar boy.