December 26, 2013
By Ben Finley, Allison Steele and Aubrey Whelen / Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — A state appeals court on Thursday reversed the conviction of Monsignor William J. Lynn, the former Archdiocese of Philadelphia administrator who became the first church official nationwide to be tried for covering up child sex abuse by priests.
In a 43-page opinion, a three-judge Superior Court panel wrote that prosecutors had misapplied Pennsylvania’s child endangerment law by claiming that Monsignor Lynn, as the archdiocese secretary for clergy, was responsible for abuse because he supervised a priest, Edward Avery, when Avery sexually abused an altar boy in the mid-1990s.
The court wrote that the law, as it was written during Monsignor Lynn’s tenure in the 1990s and early 2000s, only held accountable people who directly supervised children.
Monsignor Lynn, 62, has been serving a three- to six-year prison term since his conviction and sentencing last year. His lead lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, said he hoped that the monsignor would be freed in a few days.
“It’s the right result, and it’s the right decision,” Mr. Bergstrom said. “It’s unfortunate that he had to spend 18 months in prison before we got it.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said his office likely will appeal the decision. “I am disappointed and strongly disagree with the court’s decision,” he said. …
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, was disappointed by the decision. He said church officials have “time and time again” used expensive, smart lawyers to escape responsibility for abuses. “I think many, many survivors and betrayed Catholics will feel very sad about this decision,” he said.
Monsignor Lynn’s supporters maintained that he was being made a scapegoat for the church hierarchy, and he consistently maintained that he followed orders. “We can’t have the Salem witch hunts on Catholic priests, like they’ve had in the past,” said Joe Maher of Opus Bono, a network for priests accused of sexual assault. “This will send a message to other prosecutors that you really have to find and hold accountable those that have caused the harm to the victims, and not to those that may have been in authority over those who were abusing.”
As the secretary for clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua for nearly a dozen years, Monsignor Lynn had responsibilities that included proposing assignments for priests and investigating complaints against them. Prosecutors portrayed him as a powerful gatekeeper who quietly shuffled abusive priests between parishes, misinformed parishioners and worked harder to protect the church’s reputation than he did to protect children.
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