A priest’s molestation of a little boy at a Northeast parish back in the late 1990s has led to the nation’s first conviction of a high-placed Roman Catholic official for shielding a predator priest.
Monsignor William Lynn was found guilty Friday of endangering children, not for ever touching a minor, but for allowing Edward Avery to continue in ministry despite his known history as a child molester.
Despite his attorneys’ protestations that he was not a flight risk, the stunned Lynn was led away to a holding cell Friday afternoon by sheriff’s deputies as his relatives sobbed nearby.
At his office across from City Hall, District Attorney called the trial “historic,” saying it was clear that abuse happened and it was clear predators were protected.
Avery, now defrocked, pleaded guilty in March to molesting a 10-year-old St. Jerome altar boy.
Avery’s victim, now an adult, testified at the trial and Lynn himself testified he felt he had failed to protect him.
Lynn was acquitted of two charges – conspiracy and endangering children by allegedly allowing his co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, to remain in ministry despite complaints about his behavior.
The jury of seven men and five women could not reach a decision on attempted rape and child endangering charges against Brennan.
The DA said his office will consider retrying Brennan.
Lynn faces three and a half to seven years imprisonment. He’ll be sentenced Aug. 13. When asked if he thought his client had been made a fall guy for the city’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Lynn’s attorney, Jeff Lindy said, “Of course, he is; he’s taking a hit for others in the Catholic Church.”
During the trial, Lynn’s attorneys had argued that the former secretary for clergy did not have the final say in how the archdiocese dealt with priests believed to be sexual predators.
Those decisions were made by Lynn’s boss, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, they said.
Outside the Criminal Justice Center at 13th and Filbert streets, Brennan said, “I’m very tired, very grateful.”
“We are happy to be out here in the sunshine with Father Brennan going home,” said the priest’s attorney, William Brennan.
The attorney is no relation to his client.
During the trial, Father Brennan’s attorneys had insisted the young man who said the priest tried to rape him when he was 14 was a liar with a lengthy criminal record.
Attorney Brennan said his client was in a kind of limbo after “a lengthy, bitterly fought criminal trial.”
Jury foreman Isa Logan said jurors were divided on Brennan and stayed that way.
They had been even farther apart on Wednesday when they told Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina they had reached one verdict, but were deadlocked on four others.
The judge instructed them to keep trying, but gave them a day off Thursday to accommodate one juror’s personal commitments.
That rest time, Logan said, “did us some good.”
It was apparent to him that some jurors had needed some time and some clarity, he said.
It was the charges against Lynn that made the case so extraordinary. It is rare, although not unheard of, for priests to be charged with sexually abusing minors. Before Lynn, however, no high-ranking Roman Catholic official had been criminally charged with shielding molesters.
That Lynn was so charged was applauded by members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national victims support organization. Several SNAP members attended the trial and stood by as jurors met.
That he was convicted of one such charge was applauded by the city’s district attorney.
“Today’s verdict is a victory for all of the named and unnamed victims of child sexual assault,” DA Williams said Friday. “This trial was historic. Monsignor Lynn is the first member of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy convicted of endangering children that he did not personally assault.”
Williams said he believed Lynn was found guilty of the most serious charge against him.
When asked if Lynn’s acquittal on the conspiracy charge sent the wrong message, the DA said that the monsignor “as he sits in a holding cell right now, he got the message.”
The DA said Lynn’s prosecution will help stop what he called a generations-old conspiracy of silence about predator priests within the Catholic Church.
“Many people for many generations have unclean hands,” he said.
He said Lynn never disputed what a grand jury had alleged — that church officials knew of the abuse and of the active attempts to hide it.
“They merely denied they bore the responsibility for those decisions,” he said.
Many of Lynn’s relatives regularly attended the three-month trial. People who identified themselves as victims of molester priests were in Courtroom 304, too.
One, a Fishtown man who asked not to be identified, said he had attended every day of the trial.
ldquo;I’m here for the victims who can’t be here,” he said.
The trial began on March 26. Jurors began deliberations on June 1.
After the jury’s decisions were announced Friday, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, said Lynn’s bail should be revoked and he should be jailed immediately to await sentencing.
“Let justice begin today,” he said.
Sarmina, after listening to sometime loud and angry comments from both defense and prosecutors, ordered Lynn’s bail revoked. However, she said she would entertain motions for Lynn to get house arrest until sentencing.
The monsignor’s attorneys said they expect to file such motions on Monday.
On Wednesday, when the weeks of deliberations seemed they would end with a hung jury, David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director, still saw the case against Lynn as worthwhile.
“No one can deny this whole process has been extraordinarily positive,” he said midweek. “It has to give Catholic officials across the country pause when they’re asked to deceive parishioners, stonewall police, stiff-arm prosecutors and conceal suspicions of child abuse.”
What’s different, too, he said, is that a conviction in a criminal case could result in imprisonment.
ldquo;The prospect that they might go to jail until now really hasn’t existed in the minds of high church officials,” he said. ull;•
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or at firstname.lastname@example.org