US priest guilty over handling of child abuse allegations
Monsignor William Lynn was found guilty yesterday of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, making him the highest-ranking US Roman Catholic official convicted in the church's child sex abuse scandal.
The jury acquitted Lynn, who oversaw hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, on two other counts, conspiracy and another charge of child endangerment.
He is the first US church official convicted of a crime for how he handled abuse claims.
Lynn helped the archdiocese keep predators 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 said.
Lynn (61) had faced about 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of all three counts. He was convicted only on one of the endangerment counts, leaving him with the possibility of three-and-a-half to seven years in prison.
The jury could not agree on a verdict for Lynn's co-defendant, Rev James Brennan, who was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy. Lynn has been on leave from the church since his arrest last year.
He served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
No matter the verdict, the trial exposed how deeply involved the late cardinal was in dealing with accused priests. Rarely an hour of testimony went by without Cardinal Bevilacqua's name being invoked.
He 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 warned him that the archdiocese had three diagnosed paedophiles, a dozen confirmed predators and at least 20 more possible abusers in its midst. Prosecutors learned this year that a copy had been stashed in a safe.
Lynn didn't react when the verdict was read and remained sitting in his chair, his head lowered.
He also didn't acknowledge the dozen or so family members, some weeping, sitting in the gallery.
With the verdict, 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 he endangered the victim of defrocked priest Edward Avery, who pleaded guilty before trial to a 1999 sexual assault.
Lynn had deemed Fr Avery "guilty" of an earlier complaint by 1994, and helped steer him into an inpatient treatment programme.
But Lynn knew that Fr Avery later was sent to live in a northeast Philadelphia parish, where the altar boy was assaulted.