Penn. appeals court overturns “historic” conviction of Msgr. William Lynn

Superior Court states the basis for June 2012 conviction of Lynn was "fundamentally flawed"

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A landmark criminal conviction of a Roman Catholic monsignor imprisoned for his handling of sexual-abuse allegations was overturned Thursday by a Pennsylvania appeals court.

A three-judge Superior Court panel ordered the release of Msgr. William Lynn, the first U.S. Catholic official ever convicted of a criminal charge related to the alleged coverup of sexual abuse of minors by other priests.

Msgr. Lynn, who served in the Philadelphia Archdiocese as a top aide to its archbishop, could be released as early as this week, his lawyer said. He already has served 18 months of a three-to-six-year sentence after a Pennsylvania jury last year found him guilty of child endangerment for allowing a priest accused of sexual abuse to continue to have contact with children.

In overturning his conviction, the court said it “cannot dispute” that there “was more than adequate evidence” presented at trial showing that Msgr. Lynn “prioritized the Archdiocese’s reputation over the safety of potential victims of sexually abusive priests.”

But, the court said, that wasn’t sufficient to prove that Msgr. Lynn was guilty of child endangerment or had “specific information that [the accused priest] intended or was preparing to molest…any other child.”

The court’s ruling (PDF file) contained the following remarks:

Appellant [Msgr. Lynn] did not know or know of D.G. [accuser of abuse Dan Gallagher], he was not sufficiently aware Avery’s supervision of D.G. or any other child at St. Jerome’s, nor did he have any specific information that Avery intended or was preparing to molest D.G. or any other child at St. Jerome’s. In sum, the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that Appellant acted with the ‘intent of promoting or facilitating’ an EWOC [‘Endangering the Welfare of Children,’ the crime for which Lynn was convicted] offense.

Having determined that the evidence was not sufficient to support Appellant’s conviction for EWOC either as a principal or as an accomplice, we are compelled to reverse Appellant’s judgment of sentence. And, as there are no other offenses for which he was convicted in this case, Appellant is ordered discharged forthwith.

Judgment of sentence reversed. Appellant is discharged. Judgment Entered.

Ralph Cipriano of reports:

In a 43-page opinion, the Superior Court said Judge M. Teresa Sarmina’s decision to allow the conviction of Lynn under the state’s original child endangerment law was “fundamentally flawed.”

“It’s just absolutely wonderful,” said Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn’s defense lawyer. “This whole prosecution was totally dishonest from day one,” Bergstrom said of District Attorney Seth Williams and his staff. “They had to know that that statute didn’t apply to Lynn. And their attempt to justify it just doesn’t wash.”

“The tragedy of this is Lynn should have never been prosecuted,” Bergstrom said. “He’s been sitting in jail 18 months for a crime he couldn’t possibly commit as a matter of law.”

“Now, we’re working on getting him [Lynn] out of jail,” Bergstrom said. “We’re looking for a judge to vacate the sentence. The warden needs more than just our assurances” to let the monsignor out of jail, Bergstrom said.

Lynn’s defense lawyers have long argued that the state’s original child endangerment law didn’t apply to Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s former secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Despite the plain language of the law, however, and a 2005 grand jury report that specifically said the law didn’t apply to Lynn, it’s an argument that fell on deaf ears until today.

“This was the defense position from day one,” said Alan J. Tauber, a member of Lynn’s defense team. “It’s a shame that Msgr. Lynn had to spend even a day in jail, much less a year and a half, before the defense argument was vindicated.”

“This is a triumph for the rule of law,” Tauber said. “It’s a complete rejection of the district attorney’s application of the law.”

Read has a number of links to various news stories and documents related to the case, verdict, and this ruling. 

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.