DA office: Lynn conviction reversal a mistake

The Phil­adelphia Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice last week claimed -— again — that the state Su­per­i­or Court made a mis­take last year in re­vers­ing the child en­dan­ger­ment con­vic­tion of Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn.

In a brief filed Ju­ly 10 with Pennsylvania’s Su­preme Court, the DA claimed the Su­per­i­or Court re­versal of the monsignor’s his­tor­ic 2012 con­vic­tion should it­self be re­versed by the com­mon­wealth’s highest court. The DA’s brief ar­gued the ap­pel­late court erred when it de­clared late last year that Lynn didn’t dir­ectly su­per­vise chil­dren and, there­fore, couldn’t be tried un­der Pennsylvania’s child en­dan­ger­ment stat­ute. 

The brief makes much of the same ar­gu­ments made when Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams asked the state Su­preme Court to hear an ap­peal of the re­versal of Lynn’s con­vic­tion.

Lynn, now free on bail but re­stric­ted to liv­ing in St. Wil­li­am’s rect­ory in the North­east, served as sec­ret­ary for clergy for Phil­adelphia’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic arch­diocese from 1992 to 2004. In that role, he in­vest­ig­ated mo­lesta­tion al­leg­a­tions against priests, and he also re­com­men­ded their treat­ment as well as their as­sign­ments.

Pro­sec­utors had ar­gued Lynn en­dangered a child by know­ingly as­sign­ing a priest he knew was a mo­lester to St. Jerome par­ish in the North­east where that priest sub­sequently mo­les­ted a 10-year-old boy. Al­though the monsignor nev­er was ac­cused of even touch­ing a child, when he was found guilty of one child en­dan­ger­ment charge after a three-month tri­al in 2012, he be­came the highest-rank­ing Amer­ic­an church of­fi­cial con­victed in a child sex ab­use case.

Lynn ap­pealed his con­vic­tion, which was re­versed in Decem­ber. He was freed on bail after serving 18 months of a three-to-six-year pris­on sen­tence.

In the brief filed Ju­ly 10, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­neys Hugh Burns Jr., Ron­ald Eis­en­berg and Ed­ward Mc­Cann Jr. ar­gued that Su­per­i­or Court nar­rowly mis­in­ter­preted the state’s En­dan­ger­ing the Wel­fare of a Child law, a stat­ute they claimed the Pennsylvania Gen­er­al As­sembly meant to be viewed broadly.

But even if the high court dis­agrees with that as­ser­tion, the as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­neys wrote, the Su­per­i­or’s Court’s de­cision should be re­versed be­cause the monsignor could be seen as guilty of en­dan­ger­ing a child as an ac­com­plice in the arch­diocese’s drive to cov­er up mo­lesta­tion charges and re­as­sign priests who had been ac­cused of sexu­ally ab­us­ing minors.

“When the stat­ute is prop­erly con­strued, as it had been for the 40 years pri­or to the in­stant Su­per­i­or Court rul­ing, the evid­ence is ob­vi­ously and over­whelm­ingly suf­fi­cient,” the ADAs wrote. In fact, they wrote that the Su­per­i­or Court de­cision even said so in its de­cision: “The com­mon­wealth presen­ted more than ad­equate evid­ence to suf­fi­ciently demon­strate that [de­fend­ant] pri­or­it­ized the arch­diocese’s repu­ta­tion over the safety of po­ten­tial vic­tims of sexu­ally ab­us­ive priests.”

Fur­ther, they wrote that Lynn’s role was “to col­lect and as­sess in­form­a­tion, make re­com­mend­a­tions, and par­ti­cip­ate in the de­cision pro­cess of how to deal with the prob­lem of priests with­in the arch­diocese who were sexu­al pred­at­ors against chil­dren. Lynn even claimed that his per­son­al ef­forts im­proved the man­ner in which the arch­diocese handled such is­sues.”

It was Lynn’s duty to make sure chil­dren were not harmed, the ADAs wrote.

“The evid­ence told a very dif­fer­ent story,” they con­tin­ued. “Far from pro­tect­ing chil­dren, Lynn en­gaged in a pat­tern of con­ceal­ment and fa­cil­it­a­tion of child sexu­al mo­lesta­tion by pe­do­phile priests. His con­duct led dir­ectly to the sexu­al ab­use of vic­tim D.G. by Fath­er Ed­ward Avery.”

The ADAs also poin­ted out that, throughout his 12-year in­volve­ment in in­vest­ig­at­ing al­leg­a­tions against priests, Lynn nev­er re­por­ted those ac­cus­a­tions to po­lice.

“D.G.” is a name as­signed to the vic­tim who ac­cused Avery, the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and par­ish school teach­er Bern­ard Shero of mo­lest­ing him at St. Jerome Church and school dur­ing the late 1990s. D.G., now in his 20s, was iden­ti­fied in court, but it is the news­pa­per’s policy not to identi­fy the vic­tims of sex crimes. D.C. said En­gel­hardt sexu­ally ab­used him when he was a 10-year-old al­tar boy. He said Avery, who was Naz­areth Hos­pit­al’s chap­lain, sub­sequently mo­les­ted him, and that he was still later mo­les­ted by Shero later.

Lynn had in­vest­ig­ated al­leg­a­tions against Avery, who was as­signed to live at St. Jerome’s rect­ory. Dur­ing Lynn’s tri­al, pro­sec­utors said Lynn had put Avery in the par­ish and, there­fore, was guilty of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren be­cause that’s where Avery mo­les­ted D.G. 

Be­fore go­ing on tri­al with Lynn and an­oth­er priest, James Bren­nan, in 2012, Avery pleaded guilty to two mo­lesta­tion charges and was sen­tenced to two and a half to five years im­pris­on­ment. Shero and En­gel­hardt were con­victed of sev­er­al charges each a year later and both sen­tenced to long pris­on terms. Avery re­mains in pris­on as do Shero and En­gel­hardt, who are ap­peal­ing their con­vic­tions. Jur­ors could not reach a ver­dict in the case of Bren­nan, who had been ac­cused by an­oth­er vic­tim. He has yet to be re­tried. 

Dur­ing Lynn’s tri­al, the monsignor’s at­tor­neys had ar­gued the EWOC stat­ute didn’t ap­ply to Lynn be­cause he had no dir­ect su­per­vis­ory role with chil­dren. Su­per­i­or Court judges agreed with that and re­versed his con­vic­tion.

In the Ju­ly 10 brief, the as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­neys ar­gued that Su­per­i­or Court’s take on Pennsylvania’s child en­dan­ger­ment was plain wrong, ad­ded nonex­ist­ent word­ing to the law and dis­reg­arded pre­vi­ous rul­ings.

“The er­ro­neous Su­per­i­or Court rul­ing in this case had to aban­don dec­ades of ap­pel­late pre­ced­ent, and lit­er­ally re­write the stat­ute in or­der to por­tray de­fend­ant as someone sup­posedly out­side its am­bit,” the ADAs wrote.

The law is drawn broadly, they wrote since it isn’t pos­sible to know “every par­tic­u­lar type of adult con­duct against which so­ci­ety wants its chil­dren pro­tec­ted.”

Fur­ther, they wrote, “One who acts in a ca­pa­city of pro­tect­ing chil­dren and gov­erns an­oth­er per­son or per­sons who in­ter­act with those chil­dren is a su­per­visor of the wel­fare of chil­dren.”

Also dur­ing the tri­al, Lynn’s law­yers ar­gued that it was Lynn’s boss, Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, who was the fi­nal au­thor­ity on where priests were to be as­signed, not Lynn. The car­din­al, who re­tired be­fore Lynn was ar­res­ted, died months be­fore the monsignor went on tri­al in 2012. Lynn’s at­tor­neys have un­til Aug. 11 to file their briefs with the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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