“I did not intend any harm to come to him. The fact is, my best was not good enough to stop that harm. I am a parish priest. I should have stayed (one).”
–Monsignor William J. Lynn, speaking at his sentencingabout a victim of clergy abuse
In his role as vicar for clergy under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Monsignor Lynn was responsible for handling clergy abuse cases. When an accusation was made that Father Avery had abused an altar boy, Monsignor Lynn recommended that the priest be sent to a rehabilitation center. Upon completion of treatment, and with the assurance of treatment professionals that the priest was indeed rehabilitated and unlikely to commit further acts of abuse, Father Avery was reassigned to another parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled December 26 that Monsignor William Lynn, secretary for clergy from for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was wrongly convicted in a criminal child endangerment case involving convicted former priest Edward Avery.
According to the appeals court ruling, the state’s child-endangerment law at the time of Father Avery’s transfer clearly applied only to parents and caregivers. The law was only amended in 2007 to include supervisors like Monsignor Lynn.
Monsignor Lynn has already served fifteen months of a three- to six-year sentence for his role in the handling of the case. Today’s decision overturns the legal basis for a prosecution that was viewed, according to the New York Times, as a “milestone in holding senior church officials accountable for keeping abuse reports secret in past decades and transferring predatory priests to unwary new parishes.”
With the conviction overturned, Lynn will likely be released immediately. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has indicated that he plans to appeal; but Thomas A. Bergstrom, a lawyer for Monsignor Lynn, called the ruling “a strong opinion by a unanimous court.” Bergstrom added, “He shouldn’t have been convicted. He shouldn’t have been sentenced.”