Pennsylvania Court Considers Fate of Roman Catholic Church Official

A Roman Catholic church official's criminal conviction for child endangerment should be reinstated even though he did not directly supervise any children, a Philadelphia prosecutor argued Tuesday before the state Supreme Court.

The legal dispute in the case of Monsignor William Lynn revolves around a state law that was revised in 2007, and whether the older version of it applies to him.

Lynn, 63, had served about a year and a half of a three- to six-year sentence before the Superior Court, a lower-level appeals court, threw it out late last year.

On Tuesday, Hugh Burns with the Philadelphia district attorney's office argued Lynn's actions allowed a priest, Edward Avery, to have contact with children even after claims of abuse had come to Lynn's attention in his role as the Philadelphia Archdiocese's secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004.

"It wasn't necessary for him to know for certain that Avery would molest a particular victim," Burns argued, saying there was sufficient evidence of Lynn's guilt both as an accomplice and a principal to the crime.

Avery, accused of molesting an altar boy, pleaded guilty of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. He is currently in state prison.

Lynn came across a complaint about Avery in church files in 1992 and met with him, leading to Avery's treatment at a church-affiliated mental health facility. Avery was later posted at St. Jerome's Parish, where, according to the Superior Court opinion, he took a boy into the sacristy and ordered him to strip tease. He then fondled and performed oral sex on the child. A second, similar episode followed two weeks later.

Lynn's defense attorney, Tom Bergstrom, argued the Legislature's objective in the 2007 amendment of the endangering the welfare of children statute was so that it would no longer be confined to parents, guardians and others with direct supervision of children.

Bergstrom said Lynn had no control over placing priests who had been accused of abuse — that was the purview of the archbishop.

Lynn had been the first U.S. church official ever charged with keeping accused priests in ministry, and at sentencing the county judge said he had "enabled monsters in clerical garb ... to destroy the souls of children."

The Lynn case could have implications for the criminal prosecution of three former Penn State administrators accused of a criminal cover-up of child abuse complaints about Jerry Sandusky.

Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley all face charges of endangering the welfare of children, and the Supreme Court's decision in the Lynn appeal could determine whether allegations that date before 2007 apply whether or not they were directly supervising children themselves. No trial date has been set in those cases, now before a county judge in Harrisburg.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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