House arrest for Lynn?

William Lynn’s attorney, Jeff Lindy, in front of the courthouse after the judge decides not to let Lynn out on bail until his sentence, Tuesday, June 26, 2012, Philadelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouchnikova)

A judge is considering allowing house arrest for the first highly placed member of the nation’s Roman Catholic hierarchy to be convicted in a sex-abuse case. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina heard arguments Tuesday on whether to allow Monsignor William Lynn to stay at the Lower Northeast home of an in-law until he is sentenced on Aug. 13.

The judge made no decision, but said she would do so on Thursday, July 5.

A jury found the 61-year-old monsignor guilty on Friday of one count of endangering children. He immediately was taken into custody and spent the weekend in jail.

Lynn appeared with his attorneys before the judge on Tuesday. He was wearing a black shirt, which was absent, for the first time, of his clerical collar.

Even if Sarmina had granted Lynn’s house arrest request immediately, he would have remained in custody in the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on State Road for three to four weeks while arrangements were made for his release, including fitting him with an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Lynn has asked to stay in the home of Rita DeCarolis, who is an in-law of one of his in-laws.

The time it would take to set up house arrest prompted Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington to label the attempt as absurd because he estimated Lynn would be free for only about three weeks before he was sentenced.

Although acquitted of two other charges, Lynn faces from three and a half years to seven years imprisonment. Blessington said he would ask for the maximum sentence. Lynn’s attorneys are preparing to appeal the conviction once Sarmina sentences their client.

Those attorneys, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeff Lindy, argued Tuesday that Lynn was not a flight risk or a danger to the community and should not remain incarcerated while he awaits sentencing.

Pointing to pages lying on the desk before him, Lindy said, “I’d eat these pieces of paper” if Lynn fled.

Meanwhile, the District Attorney’s office is considering whether to retry Lynn’s co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan. The jury of seven men and five women, who had been deliberating since June 1, could not reach a verdict on attempted rape and child endangerment charges. There was no word this week on when a decision on Brennan’s case will be made.

On Tuesday, Blessington argued Lynn has more incentive to flee now because he had spent a few days in a cell and “has had a taste of jail.”

The prosecutor also said that, because Lynn is priest in the Roman Catholic Church, which exists worldwide, he could leave the country, assume another name and “blend in.” There is no extradition treaty with the Vatican, Blessington said.

Sarmina asked Lynn if he would be willing to sign an extradition waiver so he could be brought back from the Vatican if he fled there, and Lynn quickly said he would.

Although the judge made no ruling Tuesday, she allowed the house-arrest process to begin, but said she wanted prosecutors to see if the Vatican, the seat of the Catholic church, would honor an extradition waiver, and she wanted Lynn’s attorneys to explain to him the consequences of fleeing.

Lynn’s brother James put up 10 percent of the monsignor’s $50,000 bail in February 2011. Sarmina doubled the bail on Tuesday.

A LEGAL FIRST

The monsignor is the first high-ranking Catholic cleric in the United States charged — and convicted — of endangering children. He was accused of shielding another priest he knew was a molester and, because he kept that predator priest in his ministry, the man was able to sexually abuse another victim.

That man is Edward Avery, who until days before the trial began was one of Lynn’s co-defendants.

Avery, now defrocked, had been accused of molesting a 10-year-old altar boy in the late 1990s at St. Jerome parish in the Winchester Park section of Northeast Philadelphia. He pleaded guilty to the crime just days before the trial began and immediately was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison.

His victim testified at the trial and is likely to be on the stand during the trials of two of Lynn’s other former co-defendants if their trials begin in September as scheduled.

That victim is now an adult. He has accused the Rev. Charles Engelhardt of molesting him before Avery did, and he has accused Bernard Shero, a former St. Jerome parish school teacher, of molesting him after Avery did.

Shero and Engelhardt were arrested in February 2011 along with Lynn, Avery and Brennan after a grand jury investigated their activities. Engelhardt, an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales, and Shero saw their cases separated from the other defendants months before Lynn and Brennan went on trial. Their trial begins Sept. 4.

The grand jury began investigating Avery and Engelhardt after the archdiocese reported them to authorities. That probe widened to include Shero, Lynn and then Brennan, who was accused of trying to rape a 14-year-old Bucks County boy in 1996.

Brennan’s case was not easy for jurors, their foreman, Isa Logan, told reporters after their verdicts were announced. Jurors were split, he said, and would not budge either way on their positions. Logan said jurors looked at the facts of the case and the defendants, not a larger picture of how their decisions would affect the Catholic Church.

A deacon in a West Philadelphia non-denominational church, Logan stressed that faith did not play a role in the verdict. He said the jurors were very open-minded and very intelligent.

For him, a U.S. Army veteran, he said, the evidence that Catholic priests had molested children was beyond his experience.

“I never knew stuff like this happens,” he said Friday. ••