D.A. appeals overturning of Lynn's conviction

Posted: January 30, 2014

Citing its "great importance as a matter of public policy," Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams formally asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to reinstate the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Catholic Church official convicted for his supervisory role over a sexually abusive priest.

The petition says the state's highest court should hear the appeal because the Dec. 26 opinion by a three-judge Superior Court panel that reversed Lynn's conviction was "serially erroneous," potentially precedent-setting, "and the subject of national attention."

After a 13-week trial and 121/2 days of deliberations in July 2012, a Common Pleas Court judge sentenced Lynn to three to six years in prison for child endangerment. He was immediately taken into custody.

The jury found that Lynn allowed the Rev. Edward V. Avery, with a history of sexually abusing children, to live in a Northeast rectory, where Avery later assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy. Avery pleaded guilty in the 1999 attack and is now serving 21/2 to five years in state prison.

Lynn, 63, was released from prison Jan. 2 after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia posted the required 10 percent of his $250,000 bail. He is living in the rectory of St. William's, a parish in the Lawncrest section of Northeast Philadelphia, on electronically monitored house arrest.

At issue in the appeal - and throughout Lynn's prosecution - is whether he was properly charged under the state's child endangerment statute.

The Superior Court panel agreed with Lynn's attorney, Thomas A. Bergstrom, that Lynn's 2012 conviction cannot be affirmed under the original child endangerment law or the amended version enacted in 2007.

Bergstrom argued that the pre-2007 version requires direct personal supervision of a child. As the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary of clergy - responsible for investigating complaints against priests and recommending discipline - Lynn was only a "supervisor of a supervisor," Bergstrom said.

Bergstrom said the post-2007 law, which enabled prosecution of church officials for crimes committed by priests they supervised, cannot be retroactively applied to Lynn, who left as clergy secretary in 2004 after 12 years.

But in the 35-page petition by Hugh J. Burns Jr., chief of the District Attorney's Appeals Unit, prosecutors argue that the Superior Court's interpretation of the original child-endangerment statute wrongly inferred that its authors meant "direct supervision."

"The Superior Court insulated [Lynn] from criminal liability as a principal by inventing statutory language that does not exist, ignoring language that does, applying a nonexistent holding from a prior decision, and applying a nonexistent statutory element," Burns wrote.

Burns also contended that the Superior Court misinterpreted another legal theory that would have supported a guilty verdict against Lynn as an "accomplice" to the pedophile priests he supervised. The theory holds that Lynn knew or should have known that putting a pedophile priest near children would create more victims.

Burns wrote that the Superior Court "ignored facts indicative of guilt and read the record only for the purpose of finding inferences in [Lynn's] favor."


215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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