Monsignor's lawyers seek dismissal of enabling charges

Posted: June 07, 2011

Lawyers for Msgr. William Lynn, charged with child endangerment after allegedly enabling abusive priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said Monday that prosecutors had erred in bringing a criminal case against him, and they have asked a judge to dismiss the charges.

Lynn, former secretary for clergy for Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, is the first member of the Catholic hierarchy in the nation to be criminally charged for assigning known abusers to posts that gave them access to new victims. Lynn, 60, who most recently was pastor of St. Joseph Church in Downingtown, has pleaded not guilty.

He was arrested in February along with two priests, the Rev. James Brennan and the Rev. Charles Engelhardt; a defrocked priest, Edward Avery; and Bernard Shero, a former parochial school teacher. Prosecutors say the other four men raped and sodomized altar boys in the mid-1990s.

Lawyers for Brennan, Engelhardt, Avery, and Shero said Monday that prosecutors had offered to recommend prison sentences of 7½ to 15 years if the men would plead guilty to rape, conspiracy, and other charges. Each rejected that suggestion.

Brennan, 47, is charged with raping and sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1996 while on leave from Cardinal O'Hara High School.

Engelhardt, 64; Avery, 68; and Bernard Shero, 48, who had taught at St. Jerome's School in Northeast Philadelphia, are charged with raping and sexually assaulting a boy in the parish beginning in 1998, when he was 10.

Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian Ransom scheduled a hearing in July for arguments on whether prosecutors erred in charging Lynn with child endangerment. Under Pennsylvania law, child-endangerment charges may be brought against parents, guardians, or people who are "supervising the welfare of children," his lawyers said in court papers.

Lynn, who reviewed allegations against priests accused of sex abuse and recommended new assignments, was too far removed from children for the statute to apply, said the lawyers, Thomas A. Bergstrom and Jeffrey M. Lindy.

In fact, they said, when a 2005 Philadelphia grand jury blasted the archdiocese for its handling of sex-abuse claims and accused church leaders of a cover-up, the panel lamented that it could bring no criminal charges against archdiocesan officials. The grand jury said it had considered charging top church officials with child endangerment, but concluded the statute did not allow that.

"The offense of endangering the welfare of children is too narrow to support a successful prosecution of the decisionmakers who were running the archdiocese," the panel wrote, because they were "far removed from any direct contact with children."

"The District Attorney's Office and the grand jury's understanding of the scope of the statute was correct then, and remains so," Lynn's lawyers wrote. They questioned why prosecutors had now concluded otherwise.

The charges against Lynn came in response to a report by a second Philadelphia grand jury, released in February, that sharply criticized the church's handling of sex abuse and recommended that prosecutors bring a criminal case against Lynn.

Also at Monday's hearing, the judge rejected a request from Engelhardt that he be released from a condition of bail that confined him to Pennsylvania.

His lawyer, Michael McGovern, asked permission for the priest to travel back and forth to the Shore to visit relatives in Sea Isle City.

The judge shook her head at the request.

"I'm not going to set it up so it's summer at the Shore," she said. "Pick a weekend."

McGovern settled on the July Fourth holiday. He then lamented, "He'll just have to get used to visiting Scranton, Pittsburgh, and Erie."

"He doesn't have to travel at all," the judge replied. "He can stay home in Philadelphia and make himself happy just like the rest of us."


Contact staff writer Nancy Phillips at 215-854-2254 or nphillips@phillynews.com.

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