When the Pope Goes to Prison ...

Philadelphia Inquirer
July 2, 2015

Msgr. William J. Lynn leaves the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 6. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ/Staff Photographer)

Word that Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility when he is in the city Sept. 26-27 for the World Meeting of Families must have held special significance for one of the 2,760 men in the city’s largest jail.

He’s No. 1102886, also known as Msgr. William J. Lynn, the 64-year-old former Secretary for Clergy of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Lynn was the first church official convicted for a supervisory role over priests accused of having sexually abused children. Lynn’s conviction was a landmark in the church’s clergy sex-abuse scandal and his appeal of his child endangerment conviction has been a legal roller coaster.

Found guilty by a Philadelphia jury in 2012, he was sentenced that July to 3 to 6 years in prison by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina and immediately incarcerated in a state prison.

Eighteen months later, Lynn was released on house arrest in a Northeast Philadelphia rectory after the state Superior Court reversed his conviction and vacated his sentence. But the District Attorney’s office then appealed to the state Supreme Court and in April, the state’s high court reinstated Lynn conviction and on April 30, Sarmina ordered Lynn back to prison to continue serving his term.

Although Lynn’s lawyers expected him to go back to the state prison at Waymart in Northeastern Pennsylvania, he was taken first to Curran-Fromhold and there he has remained as his lawyers try to convince the Superior Court that the conviction may still be challenged on other grounds.

Some might think it unlikely that church officials would want an encounter that would highlight Francis’ dynamism and compassion and a scandal from which the church and Archdiocese of Philadelphia are still struggling to recover.

On the other hand, the Archdiocese’s support for Lynn, who was secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 – investigating allegations against priests and recommending action to the archbishop – has not wavered.

The church has funded Lynn’s defense since he first was called before a Philadelphia County grand jury that began investigating Catholic clergy sex-abuse allegations in 2003. In August 2012, after the guilty verdict, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput estimated the 13-week trial cost the Archdiocese $11.9 million and that was before two-plus years of appeals and counting.

As for the odds of Lynn being in the inmate audience for the Pope’s visit, city prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla declined to speculate.

“I don’t even know if he’d request it,” said Giorla and, even if Lynn did, his request would have to be approved after being evaluated by prison staff against security and other criteria.

Giorla said he hasn’t even determined how many CFCF inmates may get the chance to be present for the Pope’s visit. Giorla said it will depend on the size of the space available and the number of seats required by city and papal dignitaries and necessary prison staff needed to maintain security and order.

“Right now, we’re just waiting for the dust to settle,” Giorla added.

Defense attorney Thomas A. Bergstrom said he visited Lynn at CFCF Wednesday and said Lynn was bearing up well but did not want to petition for bail pending appeal. Bergstrom said Lynn did not want to go through the turmoil of going in and out of prison as the appeals go on.

As for the Pope's visit to CFCF, Bergstrom said "he's aware of it as we all are."

Bergstrom, however, said neither Lynn nor he discussed whether he might be present for the Pope's visit: "What will be will be."








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