“We’ll have a real fight on our hands,” Thomas Bergstrom said last week. “And I think we’re going to win it.”
That fight is the appeal of Monsignor William Lynn’s 2012 child endangerment conviction. Bergstrom, Lynn’s attorney, yesterday filed a brief with Pennsylvania Superior Court spelling out why he believes his client’s conviction should be overturned.
In June 2012, Lynn became the first member of America’s Roman Catholic hierarchy to be convicted in a child molestation case. Lynn was found guilty of one count of endangering children. He was found innocent of a second count of endangering children and of a conspiracy charge. He was immediately taken into custody and has remained incarcerated ever since.
The monsignor, who had investigated sexual misconduct allegations against archdiocesan priests, never was accused of touching a child.
However, a Philadelphia grand jury that looked into sexual abuse by priests said Lynn, who had served as the archdiocese’s secretary for clergy, had shielded priests. Grand jurors said Lynn had allowed molesters to continue in their ministries, which included contact with children, and should be held accountable for the actions of two priests they said abused minors.
Before, during and after Lynn’s three-month trial in 2012, Bergstrom maintained the monsignor didn’t have the final say in assigning priests and couldn’t be blamed for what they did.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It never made any sense,” Bergstrom said after Lynn was found guilty of one count of endangering children. The monsignor is serving a three- to six-year state prison sentence.
The monsignor was arrested in February 2011 along with two other priests, an ex-priest and a former Catholic school teacher. Lynn was charged with two counts of endangering children. The others were charged with child molestation and related offenses. Conspiracy charges later were lodged against all defendants.
The brief Bergstrom filed yesterday attacks Lynn’s conviction with three main points, he said.
The state’s child endangerment statute doesn’t apply to the monsignor because he never directly supervised children. It, therefore, was an error to allow him to be tried on that charge.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina erred in allowing 21 other clerical sexual misconduct cases that dated to the 1940s to be introduced during the trial. “None were acts of Lynn,” the attorney said. The monsignor served as secretary for clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua from 1992 to 2004. Presenting those cases made it difficult for Lynn to get a fair trial.
Sarmina also erred in the information about the state’s child endangerment law that she gave to jurors before they began their deliberations. Lynn was never a supervisor of children.
If the appeals court finds any of these points are valid, Bergstrom said, Lynn’s conviction would be overturned.
In his brief Bergstrom brings up other issues that he said could result in a new trial if Superior Court agrees Lynn’s case was unfairly affected.
For example, Bergstrom said, he and other members of Lynn’s defense team decided that they didn’t want to cross-examine a witness who testified he had been molested by a priest Lynn had investigated. They made that decision because Judge Sarmina ruled a cross-examination could allow testimony of that cleric’s guilty plea, which Lynn’s attorneys thought would be damaging to him.
Edward Avery, now defrocked, had been stationed at St. Jerome parish in the Northeast where he allegedly molested a 10-year-old altar boy in the late 1990s. Previously, Lynn had investigated sexual abuse complaints against Avery and had recommended therapy as well as reassignments. Lynn said he didn’t order Avery placed in the parish. It was Cardinal Bevilacqua, Lynn had testified, who made the decision to place Avery’s residence at St. Jerome.
Avery was due to go on trial in March 2012 along with Lynn and the Rev. James Brennan, who had been accused of the 1990s molestation of a Bucks County teenage boy. Avery pleaded guilty to molestation charges before the trial began. In pleading guilty, Avery did not name a victim.
“We did not want all that other stuff to come in,” Bergstrom said last week, and said he felt Sarmina “held a gun to our head.”
Lynn’s co-defendant, Brennan, however, went home after verdicts were read on June 22, 2012, because jurors could not reach verdicts on the attempted rape and conspiracy charges he faced. He is due for retrial in October.
Prosecutors have until May to file their Superior Court brief, Bergstrom said, adding he expected to argue the case before the court by late summer or early fall.
Since Lynn’s conviction, two of the other men arrested with him in February 2011 have been tried and found guilty of sexually abusing the same St. Jerome altar boy Avery was accused of molesting.
Avery was a prosecution witness during the January trial of the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former St. Jerome teacher Bernard Shero. Although he pleaded guilty to molestation charges before Lynn and Brennan’s trial began last year, he maintained he never had contact with the victim who testified during both trials.
Shero and Engelhardt are scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, April 18.
Bergstrom, who visited his client April 8, said Lynn is working in the library at Waymart state prison in Wayne County, Pa.
“He’s safe. He’s not being hassled,” the attorney said. ••