(RNS) A Pennsylvania appeals court has overturned the conviction of Monsignor William J. Lynn, the first U.S. Catholic cleric convicted on charges of covering up the sexual abuse of children.
The court ruled unanimously that Lynn was wrongly convicted of child endangerment for his handling of priest sex abuse complaints, The Associated Press reported.
The 2012 case drew national attention as Lynn was tried for what many see as unaddressed crimes of child sex abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church. At Lynn’s conviction, no U.S. Catholic cleric had been held accountable in criminal court.
Since then, Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge for failing to tell police about a priest suspected of sexually exploiting children. Finn is the first U.S. bishop to be charged with failing to report suspected child abuse.
Lynn’s conviction, for which he has been serving three to six years in prison, was based on his supervision of the Rev. Edward Avery. Prosecutors argued that Lynn, secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, knew Avery was a sexual predator but continued to assign him and other priests, also known to be abusers, to new parishes.
Lynn’s attorney argued that child-endangerment law applied “only to parents and caregivers, not supervisors.” Last year, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina disagreed.
Lynn told Sarmina at his sentencing that he did his best to mitigate the damage done by the abusive priests and repeated his argument that he lacked the authority to do anything more.
“But the fact is, my best was not good enough — and for that I’m truly sorry,” Lynn told her.
Samina said, “You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong.”
On Thursday (Dec. 26), a Superior Court panel reversed her decision. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said the state “most likely will be appealing.”
YS/MG END GROSSMAN