The first member of the Roman Catholic Church’s U.S. hierarchy convicted of hielding a child-molesting riest is getting out of jail. Monsignor William Lynn just isn’t getting out for free.
How oon he will get out remains a question.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina agreed to let the 62-year-old clergyman go while Philadelphia’s district attorney appeals the reversal of the monsignor’s historic 2012 child endangerment conviction — if Lynn can post 10 percent of bail she set at $250,000.
Besides requiring the money, Sarmina attached some strings: Lynn must report to the court weekly in Philadelphia and wear an electronic monitoring device. Also, he must surrender his passport.
“We can live with that,” Thomas Bergstrom, Lynn’s attorney, said after this morning’s hearing in the Criminal Justice Center. “We’ll have to live with it.” Bergstrom had asked Sarmina to free Lynn on his own recognizance or set bail at 10 percent of $50,000.
Bergstrom said he doesn’t know where Lynn will get the $25,000 he needs to make bail, but the attorney said he was confident the money won’t be a problem.
He said he is hoping to have Lynn out of Waymart State Correctional Institution in Northeast Pennsylvania before the end of the week. However, the electronic monitoring requirement might delay that. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington told the court that arranging electronic monitoring is not accomplished quickly.
Lynn’s lawyers appealed that first-of-its-kind conviction as the monsignor served the three-to-six-year sentence Sarmina imposed. Defense lawyers and prosecutors made their cases before Superior Court in the summer.
A three-judge panel ordered the cleric’s conviction reversed the day after Christmas, and Bergstrom has been trying to get him released since. He asked the Superior Court judges who reversed the monsignor’s conviction to free him, but they tossed that decision back to Sarmina, who presided over the monsignor’s three-month trial in 2012.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Seth Williams vowed today to appeal what he called the Superior Court’s “puzzling” ruling.
“This office will do whatever we can to make sure this decision does not stand,” he said.
As this morning’s hearing opened, it was apparent that Sarmina was leaning toward setting bail for Lynn, who has served 18 months of his sentence.
Before hearing arguments, she said that, since the Superior Court put Lynn’s conviction in question, then his sentence also is in question.
Although Lynn’s case was a result of a Philadelphia grand jury investigation of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, the monsignor never was accused of molesting a child. Rather, prosecutors had maintained the monsignor put children at risk by allowing priests he knew to be child molesters to continue in roles that would bring them in contact with minors.
THE CASE AGAINST LYNN
Part of Lynn’s role as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 was to investigate allegations that priests sexually abused minors. He also ordered medical and psychological examinations of the priests he investigated and also arranged for their treatment.
The monsignor recommended clerical assignments to his boss, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Stemming from that part of his job, Lynn had faced two charges of endangering children and conspiracy because, prosecutors said, the monsignor allowed two priests who allegedly had molested minors to stay in their ministries, after which those same priests molested again.
Key to the prosecution’s case was that, according to the then-most current Pennsylvania child endangerment law, Lynn was criminally responsible for the crimes the other priests committed.
The leader of a support group for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy said Lynn’s “callousness, recklessness and deceit caused kids to be hurt and predators to walk free.” David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he hopes Pennsylvania’s highest court will re-instate his conviction.
In a 43-page opinion released Dec. 26, 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.”
The child endangerment law, as written at the time, didn’t apply to Lynn, who had no direct knowledge of the minors who were victimized, the judges wrote.
Williams, who in 2012 had called Lynn’s conviction historic, said on Dec. 26 that he disagreed with the appellate court’s opinion and likely will appeal it.
“Let’s be clear. William Lynn is not a patsy; he is no fall guy,” Williams said today during a noon news conference. “He is a cold, calculating man who endangered the welfare of countless children for decades by moving known predators throughout the archdiocese of Philadelphia.”
The monsignor, who turns 63 on Jan. 5, has been imprisoned since his conviction.
“The decades-long inaction of Lynn put countless children in harm’s way, and he is where he belongs — behind bars,” Williams said in a statement released Friday.
Bergstrom said an appeal of the Superior Court decision would fail: “I think it would be a fool’s errand.”
During this morning’s hearing, Bergstrom said he doubted Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices would even bother hearing the DA’s appeal.
The weekly reporting and electronic monitoring requirement were Sarmina’s answers to Assistant District Attorney Hugh Burn’s assertion that Lynn was a flight risk.
That just flabbergasted Bergstrom.
“There’s not a chance he’s going to flee the jurisdiction,” Bergstrom said. “Why in the world would he flee?”
Bergstrom said Lynn never missed any hearings or a day of his trial.
Saying he might flee “is just silly,” Bergstrom said. “Where’s he going to go, anyway?”
Before and during Lynn’s trial and when he appealed the guilty verdict, Bergstrom had maintained that state law didn’t apply to the monsignor’s case and that Lynn 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 Bevilacqua, Philadelphia’s archbishop at the time, Bergstrom argued. The cardinal, who was expected to testify at Lynn’s trial, died months before proceedings began.
During and after the trial, Bergstrom said the charges against Lynn never made any sense.
Prosecutors conversely maintained that Lynn kept Avery, now defrocked, in a ministry that would put him in close proximity to children even though Lynn knew Avery was dangerous to children.
Archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin said it was too early to address any questions about Lynn returning to a church assignment. He said he couldn’t immediately address how much the archdiocese had paid for Lynn’s defense or if Archbishop Charles Chaput had talked to the monsignor since Superior Court reversed his conviction last week.
IT BEGAN IN 2011
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 were charged with molesting the same St. Jerome’s pupil. Brennan was accused of molesting a Bucks County youth. All of the alleged crimes occurred in the 1990s, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors alleged that Lynn had conspired with Avery, Engelhardt and Brennan to keep them in ministry.
The five defendants’ lawyers argued that there was no conspiracy and requested separate trials for the men. Engelhardt’s and Shero’s cases were tried separately from the other three last January. 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 couldn’t reach a verdict on Brennan. The DA’s office is seeking a new trial in his case. Jurors acquitted Lynn on one count of conspiracy and one count of endangering children, but found him guilty of the lone endangerment charge involving Avery.
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. ••