District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced Wednesday that he "cannot'' file perjury charges against a Jesuit priest because of a legal technicality -- even though he believes the cleric lied under oath by denying he molested two children.

Santa Clara County's top prosecutor said he would like nothing more than to go after the Rev. Jerold Lindner, branding him a "child molester'' who attacked 7-year-old Will Lynch and his 4-year-old brother in the mid-1970s. The priest was never charged with any sex crimes because the era's short statute of limitations had run out by the time the boys reported the incidents.

"Just as the law prevents me from prosecuting him for molestation, it prevents me from filing perjury charges,'' Rosen said. "It's frustrating.''

But Rosen's announcement was immediately denounced by a group of adults who say they were raped, sodomized or fondled by the Rev. Jerold Lindner decades ago when they were children.

"He's just 100 percent wrong,'' said Pat Harris, a lawyer who flew up from Los Angeles to meet with Rosen shortly before he made the announcement. "They just want to wash their hands of the whole thing.''

Draw attention

The opportunity to charge Lindner with perjury arose out a controversial assault trial that prosecutors lost this summer, in which Lindner was the victim. In 2010, when Lindner was 65, he was pummeled at his residence, the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, by Lynch, then 42.

Lynch said he was frustrated that Lindner was never brought to justice. So the San Francisco man refused to accept a plea deal for the assault in order to land Lindner in court and draw attention to clergy sex abuse.

Even though Lynch admitted assaulting the priest, a sympathetic jury in July acquitted him. Jurors were informed during the trial that the Jesuits have paid millions to settle civil lawsuits brought by some of the alleged victims, including Lindner's niece and the Lynch brothers.

Frustrated justice

In a press release, Santa Clara County prosecutors said Lindner's denials during the Lynch trial were not "material'' to the case in which he testified, making it impossible for them to go after him for perjury.

"We believe Lindner lied,'' Rosen said. "But perjury is not merely lying under oath. It is a highly technical criminal offense that requires several elements to be proved.''

To be charged with perjury, a person must knowingly testify falsely about something that was central to the case and probably would have influenced its outcome. Rosen said Lindner's brief denials weren't unimportant. But he noted Lindner's denials were stricken by the judge and weren't primary to the jury's decision.

Disappointed victims

Lynch's lawyer Harris strongly disagreed. Rosen's announcement came 5 minutes after the prosecutor and three of his top attorneys met with Lynch and Harris at the county government center in San Jose.

"They are the ones who made Will's motive part of the case,'' Harris said. "To now say what happened more than three decades ago is not material is incredibly hypocritical.''

Harris said Rosen made a political decision to ditch a case his office lost and that the office's legal analysis was worse than that of a first-year law student's.

Rosen denied the accusation, saying "I know what public opinion is on this case, and if I wanted to score points I would file the perjury case. But people elected me to do what was right, not what I thought was popular.''

Lynch reacted to the decision more mildly than Harris, saying he and the other victims are indeed disappointed. But said he believes Rosen is sincere in promising to work with him to eliminate California's statute of limitations on most child sex abuse crimes. The office has spearheaded that effort and been successful in getting the Legislature to extend the limitations.

Lynch is holding the first fundraiser for the effort Sunday at the Estrellita restaurant in Los Altos. Admission to two seatings, at noon and at 2 p.m., is $20 per person.

"The one positive thing to come out of this,'' Harris said, "is that the DA's office has Will Lynch -- the single best person in California to push for getting rid of the limitations.''

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.