A free man: Monsignor William Lynn enters the Criminal Justice Center at 13th and Filbert streets on Monday morning. His conviction was reversed Dec. 26. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO
The public got a look at a much changed Monsignor William Lynn on Monday morning as he entered the Criminal Justice Center at 13th and Filbert streets.
Lynn, the first member of the U.S. Roman Catholic hierarchy found guilty of shielding a pedophile priest, lost 80 pounds during the 18 months he was locked up, his attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, said before his conviction was reversed Dec. 26.
And Monday, that change showed as Lynn appeared before the judge who presided over his 2012 trial and had sentenced him to three to six years in prison.
Before he was sent to prison, Lynn was a stout man.
The monsignor was in Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina’s courtroom for a brief hearing Monday to go over the conditions of his bail, Bergstrom said.
After Superior Court judges had reversed Lynn’s June 2012 conviction, they refused Bergstrom’s request to order the monsignor freed. Instead, they said Sarmina should decide, and on Dec. 30, she said the monsignor could get out of jail while the District Attorney appeals the reversal, but only if he could come up with 10 percent of bail she set at $250,000.
The archdiocese put up that money New Year’s Eve, an act that plainly outraged District Attorney Seth Williams, but there were other strings attached to Lynn’s freedom.
Sarmina said Lynn also must be fitted with an electronic monitor and stay put in a residence within Philadelphia. Those conditions were satisfied last week, Bergstrom said, after Lynn was released from prison in Waymart, Pa., and brought to Philadelphia. He will reside in the rectory at St. William Roman Catholic Church in Lawndale.
Lynn also must report to a parole officer weekly.
DA Williams claimed the Church’s decision to pay Lynn’s bail was appalling, but Archbishop Charles Chaput last week said it was the right thing for the archdiocese to do.
In a letter released to Catholic on Jan. 3, Chaput said Lynn remains on administrative live and, therefore may not function publicly as a priest.
“The Superior Court ruling does not vindicate Monsignor Lynn’s past decisions,” Chaput wrote. “Nor does it absolve the archdiocese from deeply flawed thinking and actions in the past that resulted in bitter suffering for victims of sexual abuse and their families.”
WHY WAS LYNN CHARGED?
Lynn’s arrest and trial had stemmed from a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. It was the second city grand jury to investigate and report molestation allegations against priests and how the Church handled them.
However, the monsignor never was accused of molesting minors. Instead, prosecutors alleged he endangered children by shielding pedophiles priests, making it possible for them to continue to have access to kids in archdiocesan parishes and schools.
The monsignor had served from 1992 to 2004 as secretary for clergy for the Philadelphia archdiocese. The highly placed position, akin to a dean of men, put Lynn in contact with priests accused of molesting minors, the people who made those allegations and the doctors who examined and treated those priests. Part of the secretary of clergy’s job was to investigate sexual abuse allegations, recommend treatment or therapy and also recommend priestly assignments. He reported to the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Lynn was charged with endangering the welfare of children — specifically, two children, who told authorities years later that they were molested by two priests whom prosecutors said Lynn knew were pedophiles. Lynn also was charged with conspiracy.
Those two priests were accused of molestations that occurred in the late 1990s. One occurred in St. Jerome’s parish in Holme Circle. The other allegedly took place in the suburbs. Edward Avery, who was defrocked, was arrested along with Lynn and was charged with the St. Jerome crime. He pleaded guilty in March 2012 before he was to go on trial with Lynn and the Rev. James Brennan, the priest accused in the suburban crimes.
After a three-month trial, the jury couldn’t reach a verdict in Brennan’s case, found Lynn innocent of endangering kids in regard to Brennan and found him innocent of conspiracy.
However, jurors found Lynn guilty of endangering children in regard to Avery’s case.
Lynn’s conviction made U.S. legal history because no other highly placed member of the Catholic Church had ever been found guilty of endangering children by not removing molester priests.
Bergstrom and Lynn’s other defense attorneys had insisted that the state’s endangering the welfare of children statute — or EWOC law — didn’t apply to Lynn and that the monsignor had no supervisory role with children. That’s the assertion Superior Court judges agreed with when they reversed Lynn’s conviction Dec. 26.
Defense attorneys also had claimed Lynn had no final say in how priests were assigned and, therefore, couldn’t be held responsible for decisions by the man they maintained did have that say — Cardinal Bevilacqua. The retired cardinal might have been the star witness in the case, but he died a few months before the trial began.
Much of the months of testimony in the Lynn-Brennan trial had nothing directly to do with either man. Documents were read and witnesses testified about how the archdiocese had handled sexual abuse complaints against priests for decades before Lynn was secretary for clergy. In pretrial hearings, Lynn’s attorneys had fought to keep those documents and witnesses out of the courtroom, but Sarmina allowed almost all of what Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington had wanted.
Prosecutors said they wanted to show Lynn was part of a pattern of covering up accusations and transferring priests rather than reporting them to authorities.
That evidence essentially was putting the archdiocese on trial, Jeff Lindy, one of Lynn’s lawyers, asserted during one of many pretrial hearings.
That trial, if not in a court of law, certainly was heard in the court of public opinion, a fact Chaput acknowledged in his Jan. 3 letter.
“I understand and accept the anger felt toward the archdiocese by many of our people and priests as well as the general public for the ugly events of the past decade,” the archbishop wrote. “Only time and a record of honest conversion by the archdiocese can change that.”
During testimony at his 2012 trial, Lynn said he tried to do what he could to protect children. However, he said he never reported any of the sexual-abuse allegations he investigated to authorities.
The district attorney’s office has said the reversal of Lynn’s conviction will be appealed, and Williams said he hoped Lynn would finish his prison sentence.
Along with Lynn, Brennan and Avery, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and St. Jerome’s parish school teacher Bernard Shero were arrested after the grand jury issued its report in 2011. Lawyers for Engelhardt, an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales, and Shero successfully argued to have their cases separated from those of the other three men.
Shero and Engelhardt were charged with molesting the same St. Jerome school boy Avery had been charged with abusing. The victim, who testified at Lynn’s trial, also testified against Shero and Engelhardt at their January 2013 trial. Avery also testified at Shero and Engelhardt’s trial, but said he had pleaded guilty to molestation charges only because he wanted to reduce his prison sentence. He said he didn’t touch and didn’t even know the victim who had testified he was molested by the three men when he was 10 and 11 years old.
Both Shero and Engelhardt were found guilty and sentenced to long prison terms. Their attorneys are appealing those convictions. Prosecutors decided to retry Brennan.
What’s being said about bailing out Monsignor William Lynn:
“Monsignor Lynn presents no danger to anyone. He poses no flight risk. The funding for his bail has been taken from no parish, school or ministry resources, impacts no ongoing work of the Church and will be returned when the terms of the bail are completed. Nor does it diminish in any way our determination to root out the possibility of sexual abuse from the life of our local Church. As a result, I believe that assisting Monsignor Lynn’s family and attorney with resources for his bail is both reasonable and just. We have acted accordingly.” — Archbishop Charles Chaput
“I am shocked and dismayed that the archdiocese has made it possible for William Lynn to get out of jail. This is a man who was basically an accomplice to serial pedophiles by looking the other way while they tormented innocent children for years. The church has sent a horrible message today to all sexual abuse victims that their pain doesn’t matter. And this action shows that things haven’t changed and it’s business as usual at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.” — District Attorney Seth Williams
“We are grateful that Monsignor Lynn spent months locked up and hope he will again. We are disappointed that he’s been freed and we hope he will not flee the country or take any further steps now to help child-molesting clerics in any way.” — David Clohessy Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests