The state’s child endangerment statute does not apply to Monsignor William Lynn, his lawyer argued Tuesday before a three-judge Pennsylvania Superior Court panel.
Lynn, the first American Catholic cleric held responsible for a child molestation by another priest, was convicted by jury in June 2012 of a single count of endangering the welfare of a child.
He never was accused of touching a child, but rather of facilitating the acts of another priest, Edward Avery, who Lynn knew was a pedophile, prosecutors had maintained. That was enough to charge Lynn with endangering the welfare of a child under commonwealth law, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Hugh Burns told President Judge John Bender, Senior Judge John Musmanno and Judge Christine Donohue.
Before he was set to go on trial in March 2012, Avery, who had been defrocked, pleaded guilty to child molestation charges. He had been accused of molesting a boy in St. Jerome’s parish in the Northeast in the late 1990s.
Thomas Bergstrom, Lynn’s attorney, argued on Tuesday that the state’s “endangering the welfare of a child” statute requires that the accused must have had some supervisory role over the victim, who in Lynn’s case was identified in court only by his initials, “D.G.” Bergstrom cited Superior Court case history to support his argument.
Bergstrom further argued that his client had neither a supervisory role over Avery’s victim, nor did Lynn know the boy. He had never met the boy and “didn’t even know he existed.”
The case against Lynn, Bergstrom said, “was flawed from the very beginning.”
The defense attorney said that Lynn didn’t know the abuse had been committed and didn’t know about the prior bad acts of other priests until he became the secretary for clergy for the Philadelphia Roman Catholic Archdiocese in the early 1990s. In that position, he compiled a list of accused pedophile priests for his boss, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Burns, the prosecutor, countered that Lynn had testified previously that he supervised pedophile priests and that it was his duty to protect children. The statute does not state that the accused must have supervised children directly, Burns said. It requires that the accused must have supervised the welfare of children.
The monsignor, Burns said, knew Avery was an accused pedophile and that he posed a risk to children when he assigned him to live at St. Jerome’s.
Bergstrom argued further that the state’s child endangerment statute requires that prosecutors charge a defendant with endangering a specific child, not all of the children in the archdiocese in general.
“The commonwealth did not prove that charge,” he said.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, Bergstrom said the court might make a decision sometime in the next month to three months.
Lynn has been serving a three-to-six-year prison sentence since his June 2012 conviction. Bergstrom said his client has lost 70 pounds while behind bars. ••