District Attorney Attorney Seth Williams is not going to sit still for a reversal of the historic child endangerment conviction of Monsignor William Lynn and is appealing that Dec. 26 Superior Court ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The petition to allow the appeal was filed with the state Supreme Court on Monday. The court could put an end to the case simply by refusing to hear the appeal.
Lynn’s attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, labeled the DA’s petition “dishonest.”
Lynn, 63, a former diocesan administrator, was the highest-placed American Catholic official convicted in the Church’s decade-old sex scandal when he was found guilty in mid-2012 and sentenced to three to six years imprisonment. He had served 18 months of his sentence when his conviction was reversed.
The monsignor never was accused of molesting a child, but of shielding priests who did.
During Lynn’s 12 years as the archdiocesan secretary of clergy in the 1990s to 2004, he investigated priests accused of sexually abusing minors, recommended their treatment and also recommended assignments to his boss, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
When arrested in 2011, Lynn was accused of keeping two alleged pedolphile priests in their ministries and, therefore, responsible for their later crimes against juveniles. He was due to go on trial with both of them — the Rev. James Brennan and former priest Edward Avery — in March 2012, but Avery pleaded guilty just days before the trial began.
Avery had been accused of molesting a boy in the Northeast’s St. Jerome parish in the 1990s. Testifying in a later trial, however, Avery denied even knowing that child.
Brennan, Lynn’s co-defendant in 2012, was accused of molesting a boy in the suburbs. Jurors couldn’t agree on a verdict in his case. They did, however, acquit Lynn of conspiracy and of endangering children in Brennan’s case while convicting him of endangering children in connection with Avery’s case.
The monsignor’s attorneys appealed the conviction while he was incarcerated in an upstate prison. Superior Court judges agreed with the defense that Pennsylvania child endangerment statutes didn’t apply to Lynn and reversed his conviction. Lynn was granted bail Dec. 30, which was paid by the Philadelphia archdiocese. He also was given a residence in the rectory of St. William’s parish in Lawncrest.
Lynn’s attorneys repeatedly asserted during pretrial hearings and during the three-month trial that the state’s child endangerment statute did not apply to the monsignor because he never directly supervised minors. They also claimed Bevilacqua made the final decisions on priests’ assignments, not Lynn.
In the DA’s petition to appeal the conviction reversal, it was stated that there was sufficient evidence to prove Lynn endangered children even though he did not have direct contact with children because Lynn reassigned pedophile priests in a “manner that put additional children at risk.”
In finding that the state’s child endangerment statute did not apply to Lynn, Superior Court not only disregarded legal precedents, but added words to the statute that changed its meaning or ignored words that were there and “effectively rewrote the statute,” the DA’s office wrote.
The DA’s petition asserts that, in reversing Lynn’s child endangerment conviction, it established a “tainted precedent” that could negate “an unpredictable number of sound criminal convictions.”
“It would be a daunting challenge to find a more comprehensive misapplication of the law or a more complete departure from the plain language of the statute,” the petition continued.
Even if Lynn could not endanger children, he participated in a general scheme to place known predators in positions in which they could molest children, the DA’s petition continued, and, therefore, Lynn should be considered an accomplice. The DA’s petition pointed out that “despite being responsible for numerous cases of priests who molested children, in no instance did Lynn ever contact police.”
“Their premise is wrong,” Bergstrom said in a phone interview Tuesday. The attorney said the Superior Court decision was a pure and simple review of how the law was applied in Lynn’s case, and “that’s the end of it.”
Besides that, he said, “the entire petition’s dishonest.”
“We believe the DA’s office has, once again, misinterpreted the statute and the case law,” Bergstrom and associate Allison Khaskelis wrote in a Tuesday email to the Northeast Times. “The Superior Court did not add words.”
They also said there is no evidence to support the assertion that Lynn was Avery’s accomplice.
Bergstrom said he has 14 days to file a reply to the DA’s petition and he intends to.
In a statement released Tuesday, the archdiocese said there would be no comment on the case “in deference to the legal process still under way.”
The statement continued, “Regardless of the final outcome of this case, the commitment of the archdiocese to assist and support survivors of sexual abuse on their journey toward healing remains unchanged. Additionally, our efforts to ensure that all young people entrusted to the Church’s care are safe remain unflinching.” ••