William Lynch is accused of assaulting a priest he claims abused him as a child. (Reuters)
William Lynch accused of assaulting Jerold Lindner, priest he claims abused him as a child (Reuters)

The trial of a man accused of beating a priest who allegedly abused him and his younger brother more than 35 years ago is scheduled to begin in California.

William Lynch, now 44, has been charged with assault and abuse after he allegedly attacked Rev Jerold Lindner at a retirement home for priests in California in 2010.

Opening statements were due to be heard at Santa Clara County superior court. Lynch faces four years in jail if he is found guilty.

He has refused to discuss a plea bargain deal with prosecutors. It is believed he will call several of the priest's alleged victims as witnesses.

The Lynch brothers, who were seven and four years old at the time, have accused Lindner of raping them during a camping trip in northern California's Santa Cruz Mountains and forcing them to engage in a sexual act with each other while he watched.

The judge ruled that the defence is only allowed to ask general questions about the alleged sexual abuse.

Other defence witnesses who claim they were sexually abused by the priest, including Lynch's younger sister as well as nieces and nephews, cannot be questioned about specific details relating to the sexual abuse claims.

Deputy district attorney Vicki Gemetti told the Associated Press: "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.

"The victim is not squeaky clean, but that doesn't change the fact that you can't take the law into your own hands."

Lynch told AP: "I don't want to go to jail but I've come to realise that this whole thing is really bigger than me.

"I'm prepared to take responsibility for anything I've been involved in. I'm willing. It's a small sacrifice to get Father Jerry into court."

Lynch is accused of going to the retirement home and asking to see Lindner under false pretences. When he got there, he asked Linder if he recognised him. The priest said he did not, then Lynch began punching him, according to a police.

On a 911 tape, Lynch can be heard shouting: "Turn yourself in or I'll [expletive] come back and kill you."