Lynn conviction reversed

A Pennsylvania court over­turned Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn’s con­vic­tion.

Pennsylvania’s Su­per­i­or Court has re­versed the en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren con­vic­tion of Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, and his law­yer hopes to have him out of pris­on by to­mor­row.

Al­though nev­er ac­cused of touch­ing a child, Lynn, when he was con­victed in June 2012, be­came the first mem­ber of the Ro­man Cath­ol­ic hier­archy in the United States con­victed of shield­ing a priest who mo­les­ted a minor.

In a 43-page opin­ion re­leased this af­ter­noon, Su­per­i­or Court judges wrote they “de­term­ined the evid­ence was not suf­fi­cient to sup­port [Lynn’s] con­vic­tion for en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of a child … We are com­pelled to re­verse [Lynn’s] judg­ment of sen­tence.”

Phil­adelphia Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams, who had called Lynn’s con­vic­tion his­tor­ic, today said he dis­agrees with the ap­pel­late court’s opin­ion and likely will ap­peal the de­cision.

The DA’s spokes­wo­man, Tasha Jamer­son, said Lynn won’t be leav­ing pris­on since the Su­per­i­or Court de­cision will be ap­pealed, but Lynn’s at­tor­ney, Thomas Bergstrom, said the court ordered the monsignor dis­charged.

“We hope to have him out to­mor­row,” he said in a phone in­ter­view this af­ter­noon.

If the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice ap­peals the de­cision, Bergstrom said, it will lose. “I think it would be a fool’s er­rand,” he said.

The monsignor has been serving a three-to-six-year pris­on sen­tence im­posed by Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.

Bergstrom had main­tained state law didn’t ap­ply to Lynn’s case and that Lynn, who served the arch­diocese as sec­ret­ary of clergy for 12 years, nev­er made the fi­nal de­cision to as­sign Ed­ward Avery to St. Jerome’s par­ish, where the mo­lesta­tion took place in the late 1990s. That de­cision was made by Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, Bergstrom said dur­ing Lynn’s three-month tri­al in 2012.

Pro­sec­utors, however, had main­tained Lynn, who in­vest­ig­ated and ordered treat­ment for sexu­ally ab­us­ive priests, kept Avery, now de­frocked, in a min­istry that would put him in prox­im­ity to chil­dren even though he knew he was dan­ger­ous to chil­dren.

Lynn, Avery, the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt, the Rev. James Bren­nan and pa­ro­chi­al school teach­er Bern­ard Shero were ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2011 after a Phil­adelphia grand jury re­leased a re­port on sexu­al ab­use by the city’s clergy.

Avery, En­gel­hardt and Shero all had been charged with mo­lest­ing the same St. Jerome’s pu­pil. Bren­nan had been ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a Bucks County youth. All of the al­leged crimes had oc­curred in the 1990s.

Pro­sec­utors al­leged Lynn had con­spired with Avery, En­gel­hardt and Bren­nan to keep them in min­istry that would give them ac­cess to chil­dren.

The de­fend­ant’s law­yers ar­gued that there was no con­spir­acy and re­ques­ted sep­ar­ate tri­als for the men. En­gel­hardt and Shero’s cases were sep­ar­ated from the oth­er three, but they wound up be­ing tried to­geth­er early this year. Shero, who was not a priest and not un­der any dir­ect su­per­vi­sion by Lynn, was not tried for con­spir­acy.

Lynn was to go on tri­al with Avery and Bren­nan, but Avery pleaded guilty to a mo­lesta­tion charge be­fore the tri­al was to be­gin in March 2012.

Jur­ors in the Lynn-Bren­nan tri­al listened to weeks of evid­ence of how the Phil­adelphia arch­diocese handled child-mo­lesta­tion al­leg­a­tions against its priests be­fore hear­ing testi­mony from the vic­tims. Bergstrom main­tained be­fore, dur­ing and after the tri­al that ad­mis­sion of that evid­ence was im­prop­er.

Jur­ors couldn’t reach a ver­dict on Bren­nan, and he is yet to be re­tried. They found Lynn in­no­cent of one count of con­spir­acy and one en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren charge, but found him guilty of the lone en­dan­ger­ment charge.

Earli­er this year, jur­ors found En­gel­hardt and Shero guilty of sev­er­al charges re­lated to their mo­lesta­tion of the same boy who had ac­cused Avery. That vic­tim test­i­fied at their tri­al.

Avery, in pris­on garb, test­i­fied, too, claim­ing he had not mo­les­ted that boy and denied even know­ing him. He said he pleaded guilty so he could get a re­duced sen­tence be­cause he didn’t want to die in pris­on. He cur­rently is serving a 2½-to-5-year term.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge El­len Ceisler in June sen­tenced  En­gel­hardt to a min­im­um of six years in pris­on. He was sen­tenced to 3½ years to sev­en years for en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of a child and 2½ years to sev­en years for in­de­cent as­sault on a child. Ceisler ordered the sen­tences to be served con­sec­ut­ively.

Shero was sen­tenced to eight to 16 years for rape and giv­en the same sen­tence for his con­vic­tion on in­de­cent as­sault charges. The judge ordered the sen­tences to be served con­cur­rently.

In ad­di­tion, Shero was ordered to serve a sen­tence of 3½ years to sev­en years in pris­on for en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of a child, to be served con­sec­ut­ive to the first sen­tences.

Both men were ordered to serve five years on pro­ba­tion after re­lease from pris­on. They are ap­peal­ing their con­vic­tions.

Mi­chael McGov­ern, En­gel­hardt’s at­tor­ney, today told the North­east Times he ex­pec­ted the re­versal of Lynn’s con­vic­tion would be help­ful to his cli­ent’s case.

He said the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice has been dealt a stag­ger­ing blow.

“I am op­tim­ist­ic that the ap­pel­late court will see through the DA’s wrong­ful pro­sec­u­tion of oth­er in­no­cent de­fend­ants, Fath­er Charles En­gel­hardt, my cli­ent, and Mr. Bern­ard Shero.”

The de­cision, un­der­stand­ably buoy­ing to de­fense at­tor­neys, was dis­heart­en­ing to mem­bers of SNAP, the Sur­viv­ors Net­work of those Ab­used by Priests. Many SNAP mem­bers at­ten­ded Lynn’s tri­al.

“Once again, an­oth­er high-rank­ing Cath­ol­ic of­fi­cial who re­peatedly en­dangered kids and en­abled pred­at­ors is es­cap­ing pun­ish­ment.

“We are heart-sick over this de­cision and we ap­plaud pro­sec­utors for ap­peal­ing it,”  aid Dav­id Clo­hessy of St. Louis, SNAP, dir­ect­or.

“This rul­ing gives cor­rupt Cath­ol­ic of­fi­cials en­cour­age­ment to con­tin­ue de­ceiv­ing po­lice, stone­walling pro­sec­utors, ig­nor­ing vic­tims, des­troy­ing evid­ence, fab­ric­at­ing alibis, hid­ing crimes, and pro­tect­ing pe­do­philes,” Clo­hessy con­tin­ued. “If kids are to be safer, we need to hold em­ploy­ers more re­spons­ible, not less re­spons­ible, for put­ting in­no­cent chil­dren in harm’s way. It’s already very hard for vic­tims to find the cour­age and strength to re­port to law en­force­ment. This de­cision, if it stands, will make it even harder.”

Susan Mat­thews, writ­ing on cath­ol­ic­, said the court’s de­cision will not re­lieve Lynn of mor­al or eth­ic­al guilt.

Lynn might go free, she wrote, but how the arch­diocese handled child-mo­lesta­tion al­leg­a­tions is now well-known be­cause of his tri­al.

“The memos and let­ters [which were read dur­ing Lynn’s tri­al] proved the arch­diocese covered up clergy child sex ab­use with the know­ledge of many Church ad­min­is­trat­ors, in­clud­ing Lynn,” Mat­thews wrote. “Wheth­er or not Lynn sits in jail, the world knows what happened in the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia.”

In a state­ment re­leased this af­ter­noon, the arch­diocese said, “The de­cision by the Su­per­i­or Court to over­turn this con­vic­tion does not and will not al­ter the Church’s com­mit­ment to as­sist and sup­port the sur­viv­ors of sexu­al ab­use on their jour­ney to­ward heal­ing or our ded­ic­ated ef­forts to en­sure that all young people in our care are safe.”

The arch­diocese said it is com­mit­ted to im­me­di­ately re­port­ing any al­leg­a­tion of sexu­al ab­use in­volving a minor to law en­force­ment.

“The repu­ta­tion of the Church can only be re­built through trans­par­ency, hon­esty and a ful­fill­ment of our re­spons­ib­il­ity to the young people in our care and the vic­tims and sur­viv­ors who need our sup­port. … We re­cog­nize that today’s news is es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult for sur­viv­ors and their fam­il­ies. We pro­foundly re­gret their pain.” ••

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