Dec 26, 2013

Court reverses decision, orders Philly priest released from prison


 

NATIONAL


(CNS photo/Tim Shaffer, Reuters)

By Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- A panel of judges for a Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the decision on a priest's conviction in handling a clerical abuse case and ordered his release from prison.

The decision, announced Dec. 26, involves Msgr. William Lynn, former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Msgr. Lynn has served 18 months of a 2012 prison sentence of three to six years after being found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, a felony.

Prosecutors had argued that the priest had reassigned abusive priests to new parishes in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in his diocesan role as clergy secretary. However, Msgr. Lynn's attorneys argued that Pennsylvania's child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not to supervisors, which was Msgr. Lynn's role.

Prosecutors could appeal the Superior Court panel's decision or ask the full Superior Court to rehear the case.

The priest's lawyers told The Associated Press they will try to get the priest released from the state prison in Waymart by Jan. 2.

A statement from the Philadelphia Archdiocese said the Dec. 26 decision "does not and will not alter the church's commitment to assist and support the survivors of sexual abuse on their journey toward healing or our dedicated efforts to ensure that all young people in our care are safe."

The statement promised vigilance in child protection and said, "The reputation of the church can only be rebuilt through transparency, honesty and a fulfillment of our responsibility to the young people in our care and the victims and survivors who need our support."

Msgr. Lynn, 62, who recommended priest assignments to the archbishop of Philadelphia and investigated claims of sexual abuse of minors by clergy from 1992 to 2004, became the first official of the U.S. Catholic Church to be convicted of a felony for his responsibilities in managing priests, some of whom abused children.

His conviction was based on the case of former priest Edward Avery, who admitted he had sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy at his northeast Philadelphia parish in 1999. The former priest, laicized in 2006, is serving a sentence of two-and-a half to five years in prison. Earlier this year, Avery said he never touched the boy and only entered his guilty plea to get a lighter sentence.

A statement by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the group was "heartsick over this decision" and that "thousands of betrayed Catholics and wounded victims will be disheartened by this news."