Pa. monsignor seeks prison release, plans appeal
PHILADELPHIA—Lawyers for an imprisoned Roman Catholic official will push to have him released to await sentencing, arguing that he has a good chance of having his conviction thrown out on appeal.
Monsignor William Lynn has been in prison since a jury found him guilty June 22 of felony child endangerment. Lynn oversaw clergy abuse complaints at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004.
A judge has suggested that she might release Lynn to house arrest at a hearing Thursday, if she's persuaded he couldn't seek refuge at the Vatican or elsewhere.
The 61-year-old Lynn faces 3 1/2 to seven years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 13. But defense lawyers expect to move that same day for a stay of the sentence while he appeals.
By any account, his case is unprecedented in the 20-year history of clergy abuse investigations in the United States. Lynn was the first U.S. church official ever charged for his handling of abuse complaints.
He was charged with child endangerment even though the same district attorney's office had concluded in 2005 that no church officials could be charged with that crime because they didn't supervise any individual children. Prosecutors used a 2007 amendment to the law to reach back and charge him last year.
Despite defense objections, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina never defined the term "supervisor" during jury instructions.
And in perhaps her most pivotal ruling, she allowed prosecutors to spend most of the three-month trial on evidence related to prior bad acts, concerning sex abuse complaints lodged against 20 priests who weren't part of the direct case against Lynn. The complaints dated to 1948, and the priests were never charged because the statute of limitations had long run out.
"We spent 35 (of 40) days trying the case that had not been charged," defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said Friday.
Many of those victims testified, giving harrowing accounts of abuse that moved some jurors to tears.
The jury was less sure of the testimony of at least one of the two direct accusers in Lynn's case. One testified that he had been molested by the Rev. James Brennan, Lynn's co-defendant, and the other by the Rev. Edward Avery, who pleaded guilty before trial. The jury deadlocked on the Brennan charges and acquitted Lynn of endangering that accuser.
The jury also acquitted Lynn of conspiring with Avery to endanger children but convicted him of endangering Avery's victim.
Lynn admitted on the stand that a 1992 sex abuse complaint against Avery had "fallen through the cracks." He said he'd been new on the job as secretary for clergy and was distracted by his mother's illness and death.
"And I'm sorry for that," Lynn testified.
In 1999, Avery sexually assaulted the trial accuser, at age 10, in a church sacristy. The same man alleges he was also assaulted by another priest and his Catholic schoolteacher at St. Jerome's in northeast Philadelphia. The Rev. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero go on trial over those charges later this year.
It remains unclear whether that trial will bring an end to the city's 10-year criminal investigation of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, or whether anyone else will be charged based on new evidence that emerged at Lynn's trial.
An internal 1994 memo turned over only this year shows long-powerful Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had top aides shred a list of known or suspected predator-priests that Lynn had prepared. Bishop Joseph R. Cistone, who now leads the Saginaw, Mich., diocese, witnessed the shredding. And retired Allentown Bishop Edward Cullen, Bevilacqua's right-hand man, discussed the list at the cardinal's "issues meeting."
Neither Cullen nor Cistone was called to testify about it. And District Attorney Seth Williams won't say if they or anyone else are in his crosshairs.
"I haven't made a decision as to whether or not to retry James Brennan or if there will be additional defendants," Williams said after the Lynn verdict.
"Many in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia hierarchy had dirty hands," Williams said. "We had the most evidence as to Monsignor Lynn."
It may now be up to an appeals court to determine if that evidence was enough.
During his tenure, as before, the reports that priests were raping and molesting children were kept in locked, secret files at church headquarters.