Monsignor William J. Lynn, a former archbishop’s aide in Philadelphia, was found guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of children in a sex abuse case. Lynn is now the highest-ranking official of the US Roman Catholic Church convicted in the priest sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the Church for the past several years, cost billions of dollars in settlements and bankrupted several dioceses.
Lynn, an aide to the late and powerful Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua who died in January, was acquitted on two additional counts, a conspiracy charge and a second count of endangerment. He has been on leave from the Church since his arrest in 2012. After the monsignor’s conviction was announced, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina of the Common Pleas Court revoked his bail and he was led from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies after removing his black clerical jacket. Lynn could face three and a half to seven years in prison.
As the secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 in Philadelphia, the US’s sixth largest archdiocese of 1.5 million, Lynn was responsible for some 800 priests. Recommending priest assignments and investigating sexual abuse were among his responsibilities. But prosecutors charged that Lynn had knowingly reassigned predatory priests to parishes and downplayed credible accusations, thereby neither doing enough to keep potential molesters away from children and never notifying law enforcement.
“Smoking Gun”: List of Predatory Priests Kept in Locked Safe
A twelve-member jury deliberated for thirteen days over reams of evidence. But what the New York Times called the “smoking gun” was a list written by Lynn in 1994 with the names of about three dozen active priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. Testimony revealed that, after seeing the list, Cardinal Bevilacqua ordered that all copies be shredded. In February, lawyers for the archdiocese presented a “frayed folder including a copy of the list, saying it had been found in a locked safe.”
One of the names on the list was that of the former Rev. Edward V. Avery. After an abuse incident, Avery spent six months in a church psychiatric facility in 1993 and doctors said that he should be kept away from children and receive “close follow-up care.” Lynn allowed Avery to live in a parish rectory. In 1999, Avery was convicted of sexual assault after an incident of sexual abuse with a 10-year-old altar boy. But Avery was not removed from the ministry until 2003 and remained a priest until 2006. He was to be tried with Lynn but pleaded guilty to the assault just before the trial and was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years in prison.
Lynn’s protection of Avery was the case behind his conviction of children endangerment. The jury was deadlocked about the two other counts against him: Both of these involved the Rev. James J. Brennan who was charged attempted rape and endangerment. The defense challenged the credibility of Brennan’s accused, who has a criminal record and who had accused Brennan of trying to rape him when he was 14 years old in 1994. Judge Sarmina declared a mistrial in Brennan’s case.
A Victory For Victims and Their Advocates
Victims’ rights advocates, who have long argued that senior church officials should be charged with crimes for covering up for priests with histories of sexual abuse, have hailed Lynn’s conviction as a victory. The monsignor’s conviction portends more charges against senior church officials and more victims’ lawsuits in Philadelphia and around the US:
“The guilty verdict sends a strong and clear message that shielding and enabling predator priests is a heinous crime that threatens families, communities and children, and must be punished as such,” said Barbara Dorris, of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
In February of 2011, a grand jury report charged the archdiocese with failing to report or remove as many as 37 priests, all of whom had past accusations but remained active in the ministry. This was nine years after the National Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a national “zero-tolerance” policy, stating that any priest charged with credible accusations would be removed.
Five months after the grand jury report, Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali, who had succeeded Cardinal Bevilacqua, announced that he was retiring. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the former head of the Denver Archdiocese, took over the Philadelphia Archdiocese last summer. In May, he announced that five priests, all of whom had been named in the grand jury report, would be removed.
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