PHILADELPHIA » Monsignor William Lynn helped the Archdiocese of Philadelphia keep predator-priests in ministry, and the public in the dark, by telling parishes their priests were being removed for health reasons and then sending the men to unsuspecting churches, prosecutors argued in a landmark clergy-abuse trial.
A jury agreed, making Lynn the first U.S. church official branded a felon for covering up abuse claims.
The 61-year-old Lynn was convicted of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy Friday. He served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
“Many in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia hierarchy had dirty hands,” Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said. “They failed to realize that the church is its people.”
Williams said he did not have sufficient evidence last year to charge other officials, including Bevilacqua, who died in January at age 88.
Lynn had faced about 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of all three counts he faced — conspiracy and two counts of child endangerment. He was convicted of only a single endangerment count, which carries a possible 3 1/2- to seven-year prison term.
The jury could not reach a verdict for Lynn’s co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, who was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1999.
Despite Lynn’s acquittal on the conspiracy charge, the trial exposed how deeply involved the late cardinal was in dealing with accused priests.
Bevilacqua had the final say on what to do with priests accused of abuse, transferred many of them to new parishes and dressed down anyone who complained, according to testimony. He also ordered the shredding of a 1994 list that Lynn prepared, warning that the archdiocese had three diagnosed pedophiles, a dozen confirmed predators and an additional 20 possible abusers in its midst.
Church lawyers turned over a surviving copy of the list days after Bevilacqua died.
Lynn didn’t react when the verdict was read, or acknowledge the siblings and other friends and relatives who accompanied him to court for much of the three-month trial. Several of them were wept.
The judge revoked Lynn’s bail and he was taken to jail, although his lawyers plan to ask on Monday that he be granted house arrest until sentencing. No date was set, but the judge scheduled an Aug. 13 presentencing hearing.
The defense pledged to appeal the conviction.
“He’s upset. He’s crushed. He’s in custody and he was the administrator who didn’t touch a child and had only limited authority,” defense lawyer Jeffrey M. Lindy said.
With the verdict, after 13 days of deliberations, jurors concluded that prosecutors failed to show that Lynn was part of a conspiracy to move predator priests around. The jury, however, did find that Lynn endangered the victim of defrocked priest Edward Avery, who pleaded guilty before trial to a 1999 sexual assault.
Lynn had deemed Avery “guilty” of an earlier complaint on the 1994 list, and helped steer him into an inpatient treatment program run by the archdiocese. But Lynn knew that Avery later was sent to live in a northeast Philadelphia parish, where the altar boy was assaulted.
The victim alleges that he was also assaulted by another priest and his Catholic school teacher. They are expected to be tried later this year.
After the verdict, the archdiocese apologized to clergy-abuse victims and said the church was on a “journey of reform and renewal that requires honesty and hope.”
“We are committed to providing support and assistance to parishioners as they and the church seek to more deeply understand sexual violence, and to create an environment that is safe and welcoming to all, including past victims,” read the church’s statement, which did not reference Lynn directly.
Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, called the verdict “a watershed moment” in the priest sex-abuse crisis.
“Lynn was a smart, able manager who at any time could have called the police, warned parishes, or threatened to blow the whistle,” McKiernan said. “He was not a helpless good guy. The only helpless people in this ongoing catastrophe were the children, the many hundreds of boys and girls who were sodomized and terrorized by the men Lynn managed.”
More than 500 Roman Catholic priests have been convicted of abuse charges across the U.S., according to his group’s count. Lynn is the first church official to be convicted for his administrative actions.
Defense lawyers say Lynn alone tried to document the complaints, get priests into treatment and alert the cardinal to the growing crisis. Church documents show therapists had called one accused priest a ticking “time bomb” and “powder keg.”
During the 10-week trial, more than a dozen adults testified about wrenching abuse they said they suffered at the hands of revered priests.
A former seminarian said he was raped by a priest throughout high school at the priest’s mountain house.
A nun testified that she and two female relatives were sexually abused by a priest described by a church official as “one of the sickest people I ever knew.”
A troubled young man described being sexually assaulted in the church sacristy in 1999 by Avery after the 10-year-old altar boy served Mass. Avery is serving a 2 1/2- to five-year prison term.
“I can’t explain the pain, because I’m still trying to figure it out today, but I have an emptiness where my soul should be,” another accuser testified.
Seven men and five women sat on the jury, along with eight alternates. Many have ties to Catholic schools or parishes, but said they could judge the case fairly. There are about 1.5 million Catholics in the five-county archdiocese.
Defense lawyers argued that Lynn was merely a middle manager, and perhaps a fall guy for the archdiocese. Lynn himself, during three grueling days on the stand, mused about a question he was asked: “You want me to answer for the whole church?”
Jury foreman Isa Logan, a bank employee and deacon at his independent West Philadelphia church, said he’d have taken a court-martial during his Army service rather than follow unjust orders.
“I’m a human being before I’m a soldier,” said Logan, a 35-year-old father of three.
He described the deliberations as sometimes tense.
Philadelphia prosecutors have been investigating the archdiocese for 10 years, since the national crisis erupted in the Boston archdiocese.
“I can assure you, as Monsignor Lynn sits in a holding cell right now, he got the message, and others will get the message as well,” Williams said.