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. ••