Monsignor William Lynn, the first member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to be found guilty of shielding a child-molesting priest, was sentenced Tuesday to three to six years in prison.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina told Lynn he knew “full well what was right,” but, instead, facilitated and supported “monsters in clerical garb.”
Lynn’s attorneys said they planned to appeal Lynn’s child endangerment conviction next month. They said Lynn had been convicted for the crimes one of his co-defendants had committed against a boy the monsignor had never met.
“He didn’t even know of the abuse until after 2010,” said Jeff Lindy, one of Lynn’s lawyers.
He characterized his client’s sentence as “not fair, but not unexpected.”
“It doesn’t make any sense. It never made any sense,” attorney Thomas Bergstrom said of the case against Lynn.
The monsignor has been in custody since June 22, when a jury found him guilty of one count of endangering children after a history-making three-month trial. Lynn was acquitted of a second endangering count and a conspiracy charge. Lindy said Sarmina will decide Aug. 6 if Lynn may be freed on bail while his appeal of the conviction progresses. That appeal will be filed after that hearing, he said.
On June 22, jurors could not make a decision on attempted rape and conspiracy charges against Lynn’s co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan. On Monday, the District Attorney’s office announced its intention to retry Brennan.
In a packed courtroom on Tuesday, several defense witnesses recounted Lynn’s warmth, kindness and humanity.
“It would be an absolute waste to have him sit in a jail when he could be out serving the community, because he is a gifted and loving priest,” said niece Erin Lynn.
Monsignor Lynn told the judge he had been a priest for 36 years and had only tried to help people.
Bergstrom and Lindy appealed to Sarmina to give the monsignor a light sentence, but Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington urged the judge to give Lynn the maximum — three and a half to seven years.
“He is a man who did horrific things,” Blessington said as many of the monsignor’s friends and relatives assembled in the courtroom grumbled in dismay.
Lynn’s conviction was based on the charge that he endangered children because he assigned Edward Avery to live in St. Jerome’s parish in the Northeast even though he believed Avery, then an archdiocesan priest, was a child molester. Avery subsequently molested a 10-year-old altar boy there. In late March, Avery pleaded guilty to that crime, committed in 1999, just days before he was to go on trial with Lynn and Brennan.
Blessington said the boy had suffered and pointed out the victim’s parents, friends and relatives in the courtroom. All of them suffered, the ADA told Sarmina, because of Lynn’s actions.
He said Lynn’s attorneys were asking for mercy for a man who had ample opportunity to show mercy to the victims of predator priests by removing those priests or by calling police, but he didn’t.
Outside the courthouse, District Attorney Seth Williams said he hoped the case would end the Catholic Church’s failure to report priests who sexually abuse children.
The church, which had had “a culture, a bureaucracy that protected pedophile priests,” is changing, he said.
“The church is trying to do much more,” Williams said. “I hope that it is sincere.”
In sentencing Lynn, the DA said, Sarmina took into consideration all the arguments of the defense and the commonwealth as well as letters from victims and Lynn’s friends and family.
Williams’ decision to prosecute Lynn was even more significant than the sentence imposed, said Viktoria Kristiansson, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney now based in Washington.
The investigation of Lynn “should have an effect on the thoroughness of prosecutions across the country and the world,” she said in a phone interview last week.
Lynn’s sentence likely will change the approach both defense lawyers and prosecutors take in such cases, said Philadelphia attorney Greg Pagano.
“I think it’s going to have a ripple effect,” he said, adding that the Lynn case could serve as a guide to prosecutors in other jurisdictions.
“It’s a guide for the world,” said Marci Hamilton, who is representing several people who are suing the archdiocese and the priests they say abused them as children. “I do think that [District Attorney] Seth Williams has set the standard so the prosecutors now know they can get justice for the victims of child sexual abuse.”
“It’s going to cause defense attorneys to be more concerned about charges like this and how they negotiate cases,” Pagano said. “They may take them more seriously and be more cautious about taking them to trial.”
Sentencing Lynn to such serious prison time should prove an incentive to prosecutors elsewhere to proceed against church officials, said Anne Bowen Poulin, a professor at Villanova University’s School of Law. A lighter sentence would have signaled to prosecutors that they wouldn’t accomplish much in similar cases, she said.
Before and during the trial, Lynn’s lawyers insisted it was not Lynn, but his boss, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who made the decisions on priests’ assignments in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Lynn, who was secretary for clergy from 1992-2004, testified he could conduct investigation of molestation allegations but could only recommend treatment and assignments to the cardinal. He said he could remove only those priests who admitted sex crimes.
The cardinal, who was the city’s archbishop until 2003, died in January at 88.
The archdiocese itself had reported the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales, and Avery, now defrocked, to authorities. Both men had been stationed at St. Jerome’s parish and it was there that they allegedly molested the 10-year-old altar boy whose family was in court Tuesday.
Slade McLaughlin, an attorney who represents the family of that victim, said they were satisfied that Lynn was sentenced to prison.
“I think that they feel there has been some vindication,” he said. “Obviously, their lives, the life of their son, have been ruined … They have a sense that justice has been served.”
McLaughlin said the victim, now an adult, has “suffered tremendously. He’s been propelled into a life of drugs, alcohol. He really is having a difficult time finding himself.”
During the grand jury probe, allegations that former lay teacher Bernard Shero had sexually abused the same boy came to light as did allegations that Brennan had molested a 14-year-old Bucks County boy.
Lynn, Engelhardt, Brennan, Avery and Shero pleaded not guilty, at least, initially. Each defendant later was charged with conspiracy, but that charge against Shero was soon quashed and his case was later separated from the other defendants’. Engelhardt’s case was separated, too. He and Shero currently are scheduled to go on trial Sept. 4.
More online …
Find links to the 2005 and 2011 Philadelphia grand jury reports on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy at http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/grandJury_clergyAbuse2.html
See recent Northeast Times stories on the trial, verdict and subsequent hearings at: