Monsignor in Philadelphia found guilty of child endangerment


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PHILADELPHIA -- A jury convicted Monsignor William J. Lynn of child endangerment Friday, finding that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia secretary for clergy ignored credible warning signs about a priest who later sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy.

The verdict, after a three-month trial, marked the first time since the clergy-sex abuse scandal erupted a decade ago that a U.S. Catholic Church supervisor had been found criminally liable for child-sex crimes by a priest.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina immediately revoked Monsignor Lynn's bail, and deputy sheriffs escorted the white-haired priest to a holding cell. Monsignor Lynn faces up to seven years in prison, and prosecutors vowed to seek a term near the maximum.

The jury of seven men and five women acquitted Monsignor Lynn on two other counts and deadlocked on attempted-rape and child-endangerment charges against his co-defendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan.

District Attorney Seth Williams said his office would review the evidence before deciding whether to retry Father Brennan, accused of trying to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

Mr. Williams and activists hailed Monsignor Lynn's conviction as an unprecedented victory for thousands of children abused by priests over decades.

"This monumental case in many ways will change the way business is done in many institutions -- be they religious institutions, educational institutions, day camps -- where people will not protect predators," the district attorney said.

Monsignor Lynn, 61, sat stone-faced with his eyes cast downward while the jurors' verdict was read after nearly 13 days of deliberations. Family members sobbed in the courtroom's front rows as he took off his black clerical blazer, spoke briefly to his lawyers and then walked through a side door to a cell.

Defense lawyers Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy said they would petition the judge Monday to release Monsignor Lynn on house arrest. They expect to appeal the conviction.

"He's upset. He's crushed," Mr. Lindy said of the monsignor. "He didn't want to do anything other than help kids."

The verdict followed years of investigation and a trial that put a spotlight on confidential church records and complaints of child-sex abuse by priests in the Philadelphia region. Many were locked away in the archdiocese's Secret Archives, files that cataloged decades of misconduct allegations against priests.

At the center was Monsignor Lynn, former aide to the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who emerged as a primary target during two grand jury investigations over the last decade. As clergy secretary from 1992 to 2004, Monsignor Lynn was the administrator whom the cardinal tapped to investigate the complaints and recommend treatment or reassignments for accused priests.

Jurors weren't necessarily convinced of a larger plot. They acquitted Monsignor Lynn of conspiracy.

"This was not about the Catholic Church; this was about what people did," said Isa Logan, 35, a West Philadelphia bank worker who served as jury foreman.

Monsignor Lynn's lawyers noted that he was acquitted on three of the original four charges against him. (At trial, the judge had ruled another conspiracy count unproven.)

And they held to their argument that he was being made a scapegoat for decisions and failings of his bosses, notably Cardinal Bevilacqua, who ultimately approved or rejected Monsignor Lynn's recommendations involving priests' assignments.

They pointed to a handwritten note found weeks before trial suggesting that the cardinal directed his top deputies to shred Monsignor Lynn's list of abusive priests.

Prosecutors never denied that others were also culpable, and grilled Cardinal Bevilacqua in a private deposition two months before his January death.

Father Brennan, on restricted ministry since his accuser filed a 2006 complaint, said he was relieved by the outcome. His attorney, William J. Brennan, said the priest, who was the subject of a single accusation, should never have been tried with Monsignor Lynn.

The trial drew worldwide attention and affected tens of thousands of Philadelphia-area Catholics and their clergy. The investigation that led to Monsignor Lynn's conviction also prompted the archdiocese to remove five active priests for past sexual misconduct with minors, suspend 17 others while it reviewed claims against them, and revamp its policies for handling abuse complaints.

In a statement after the verdict, the archdiocese said it was on "a journey of renewal" and reform. "The lessons of the last year have made our Church a more vigilant guardian of our people's safety," it read.

Advocate groups such as the Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests and BishopAccountability.org praised the verdict and its potential impact. "Because of the Lynn verdict, bishops and church officials are now accountable; they are no longer immune from judgment and punishment," said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org.

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First Published June 23, 2012 4:15 AM


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