Philadelphia archdiocese promises vigilance as priest is sentenced

Philadelphia, Pa., Jul 24, 2012 / 04:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia offered prayer and a pledge to protect children July 24, as Monsignor William Lynn received a three to six year prison sentence for his handling of an abusive priest.

“From the challenges the Church has faced both nationally and locally over the past decade, we understand the full gravity of sexual abuse,” the archdiocese said in its response to the sentence handed down by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina on Tuesday.

In a statement released after the sentencing, the archdiocese reaffirmed its commitment “to protecting children and caring for victims,” while also offering its prayers “for Msgr. Lynn and his family at this difficult time.”

Msgr. Lynn, the archdiocese's secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, was found guilty June 22 on one felony count of endangering a child. The charge stemmed from his response to the case of Edward Avery, a now-laicized priest serving a jail sentence for abusing an altar boy during the 1990s.

The prosecution presented evidence that Msgr. Lynn reassigned Avery to live near a church school, despite having substantiated a claim of abuse against the priest. After being reassigned, Avery sexually assaulted a 10-year-old boy in 1999.

Defense lawyers said the clergy secretary had worked diligently to investigate abuse cases and bring them before the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who had authority over whether or not to remove priests from ministry.

“I did the best with what I could,” Msgr. Lynn said before receiving his sentence on Tuesday. “But the fact is my best was not good enough to stop the harm, and for that, I am sorry.”

His sentence, just short of the seven year maximum, may exceed that of Avery himself – who is serving two-and-a-half to five years for conspiracy and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. A second charge against Monsignor Lynn in the Avery case, accusing him of conspiracy, was rejected by jurors.

No senior U.S. Catholic official has previously been criminally convicted on charges deriving from abuse by another member of the clergy.

Defense attorneys called the sentence unfairly harsh, saying Msgr. Lynn had received a sentence not ordinarily given even to those who are present as direct eyewitnesses of abuse.

While accepting the former official's conviction, the Philadelphia archdiocese said that “fair-minded people will question the severity” of the near-maximum sentence. The archdiocese hopes that the punishment will be “objectively reviewed” and “adjusted.”

Meanwhile, a new trial is expected for Fr. James Brennan, who is accused of attempting sexual assault in 1996. Msgr. Lynn was acquitted of a second endangerment charge stemming from Fr. Brennan's alleged actions.

In Tuesday's statement, the Philadelphia archdiocese acknowledged it had become a national “epicenter” for the issue of clerical abuse.

“We know there is legitimate anger in the broad community toward any incident or enabling of sexual abuse,” the Church said in its statement. “The trial of the past several months has been especially difficult for victims, and we profoundly regret their pain.”

“Since the events some ten years ago that were at the center of this trial, the Archdiocese has changed,” the statement stressed.

“We have taken dramatic steps to ensure that all young people in our care are safe, and these efforts will continue even more forcefully now and in the years ahead.”

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