Lawyers ask Pa. Supreme Court to uphold Lynn conviction reversal

The state’s Su­per­i­or Court was jus­ti­fied in re­vers­ing Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn’s his­tor­ic child en­dan­ger­ment con­vic­tion, the cler­ic’s law­yers ar­gued in a brief filed last week with the state Su­preme Court.

In June 2012, Lynn be­came the highest-rank­ing Amer­ic­an Cath­ol­ic ad­min­is­trat­or con­victed in a child sex ab­use case. He nev­er was ac­cused of touch­ing a child. Rather, the monsignor, who served 12 years as the Phil­adelphia Arch­diocese’s sec­ret­ary for clergy, was con­victed of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren for re­as­sign­ing a priest he knew was a pe­do­phile to the North­east’s St. Jerome par­ish, where he mo­les­ted a 10-year-old boy in the late 1990s.

In their Aug. 1 Pennsylvania Su­preme Court brief, Lynn’s at­tor­neys, Thomas Bergstrom and Al­lis­on Khaskel­is, ar­gued that the 2013 Su­per­i­or Court re­versal of Lynn’s con­vic­tion should be up­held. The Su­per­i­or Court was right that the stat­ute un­der which Lynn was charged couldn’t ap­ply to him be­cause he had no dir­ect su­per­vis­ory role over chil­dren.

Fur­ther, re­peat­ing earli­er as­ser­tions, they ar­gued that, be­sides that the law didn’t ap­ply to him, Lynn was not the man who made fi­nal de­cisions about the as­sign­ments of priests and, there­fore, couldn’t be held ac­count­able for what those priests did after be­ing re­as­signed. Lynn’s law­yers re­peatedly have stated their cli­ent had no au­thor­ity to make such a liv­ing as­sign­ment. He had su­per­i­ors who could, the ul­ti­mate be­ing Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, then the city’s arch­bish­op.

The Phil­adelphia Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice has ar­gued that Lynn knew Ed­ward Avery, a priest who has since been de­frocked, was a known pe­do­phile who was able to mo­lest the St. Jerome pu­pil be­cause Lynn had as­signed him to life in the par­ish rect­ory.  

He knew no such thing, Lynn’s at­tor­neys wrote. Al­though Avery was eval­u­ated more than once, he nev­er was dia­gnosed a pe­do­phile, so how could Lynn know he was.

Lynn’s at­tor­neys char­ac­ter­ized as a stretch the DA’s as­ser­tion that, even if the high court be­lieves Lynn did not dir­ectly en­danger chil­dren, he is culp­able as an ac­com­plice.

However, the law­yers did not deny chil­dren were ab­used.

“The his­tor­ic­al ab­use by priests of the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia is well-doc­u­mented and bey­ond dis­pute. … This brief in no way seeks to di­min­ish or de­fend that real­ity, rather to de­fend a man who ad­mit­tedly nev­er ab­used a child and who was wrong­fully con­victed as a mat­ter of law,” they wrote.

Avery pleaded guilty to mo­lesta­tion of­fenses be­fore go­ing on tri­al with Lynn in early 2012.

Lynn had been ar­res­ted in early 2011 along with Avery, the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt, the Rev. James Bren­nan and former St. Jerome par­ish school teach­er Bern­ard Shero. En­gel­hardt, Avery and Shero were ac­cused of mo­lest­ing the same young St. Jerome pu­pil. Bren­nan was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a Bucks County teen.

Lynn was nev­er charged with mo­lest­ing any­one. Pro­sec­utors charged Lynn’s ac­tions made the crimes of the oth­er men pos­sible.

The DA’s of­fice wanted to try all five to­geth­er, but En­gel­hardt’s and Shero’s at­tor­neys ar­gued for sep­ar­ate tri­als. Their cases were sep­ar­ated from the oth­er three, but the two were tried to­geth­er in early 2013. Both were con­victed of nu­mer­ous charges and sen­tenced to long pris­on terms. They are ap­peal­ing their con­vic­tions.

Pro­sec­utors based their cases on the testi­mony of one vic­tim, of­ten re­ferred to as D.G., who test­i­fied at the tri­als. He said he was first mo­les­ted by En­gel­hardt, and then Avery, and then Shero. Avery test­i­fied at En­gel­hardt and Shero’s tri­al, and claimed he nev­er touched D.G. and didn’t even know him. He told jur­ors he had pleaded guilty in 2012 be­cause he felt that do­ing so would re­duce the time he might spend be­hind bars. “I didn’t want to die in pris­on,” he said.

In their brief, Lynn’s at­tor­neys said the monsignor also didn’t know or know of D.G., who made his ac­cus­a­tions about Avery, En­gel­hardt and Shero years after Lynn left his post as sec­ret­ary for clergy.

Lynn had known about an­oth­er man’s ac­cus­a­tions about Avery, the monsignor’s law­yers had writ­ten, and he had re­com­men­ded eval­u­ations for Avery. Lynn was told Avery had al­co­hol prob­lems, they wrote, but he was nev­er told Avery was a pe­do­phile.

Bren­nan was tried along with Lynn, who faced two con­spir­acy charges as well as two en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren counts. Jur­ors could not reach any ver­dicts on the mo­lesta­tion charges against Bren­nan, who was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing a teen who was a mem­ber of a fam­ily that was friendly with the priest. He is yet to be re­tried.

Lynn was con­victed of one count of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren in re­la­tion to Avery’s case. He was sen­tenced to three to six years in pris­on. He served 18 months of that sen­tence be­fore his con­vic­tion was re­versed and he was freed on bail while the DA ap­pealed the re­versal. The monsignor lost 80 pounds in pris­on, Bergstrom said. Lynn’s free­dom is lim­ited. He lives in the rect­ory of St. Wil­li­am par­ish in Lawndale, where he must stay while his case is be­ing con­sidered by the state’s high court. ••

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