Lawyers ask Pa. Supreme Court to uphold Lynn conviction reversal

The state’s Superior Court was justified in reversing Monsignor William Lynn’s historic child endangerment conviction, the cleric’s lawyers argued in a brief filed last week with the state Supreme Court.

In June 2012, Lynn became the highest-ranking American Catholic administrator convicted in a child sex abuse case. He never was accused of touching a child. Rather, the monsignor, who served 12 years as the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s secretary for clergy, was convicted of endangering children for reassigning a priest he knew was a pedophile to the Northeast’s St. Jerome parish, where he molested a 10-year-old boy in the late 1990s.

In their Aug. 1 Pennsylvania Supreme Court brief, Lynn’s attorneys, Thomas Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis, argued that the 2013 Superior Court reversal of Lynn’s conviction should be upheld. The Superior Court was right that the statute under which Lynn was charged couldn’t apply to him because he had no direct supervisory role over children.

Further, repeating earlier assertions, they argued that, besides that the law didn’t apply to him, Lynn was not the man who made final decisions about the assignments of priests and, therefore, couldn’t be held accountable for what those priests did after being reassigned. Lynn’s lawyers repeatedly have stated their client had no authority to make such a living assignment. He had superiors who could, the ultimate being Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, then the city’s archbishop.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office has argued that Lynn knew Edward Avery, a priest who has since been defrocked, was a known pedophile who was able to molest the St. Jerome pupil because Lynn had assigned him to life in the parish rectory.

He knew no such thing, Lynn’s attorneys wrote. Although Avery was evaluated more than once, he never was diagnosed a pedophile, so how could Lynn know he was.

Lynn’s attorneys characterized as a stretch the DA’s assertion that, even if the high court believes Lynn did not directly endanger children, he is culpable as an accomplice.

However, the lawyers did not deny children were abused.

“The historical abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is well-documented and beyond dispute. … This brief in no way seeks to diminish or defend that reality, rather to defend a man who admittedly never abused a child and who was wrongfully convicted as a matter of law,” they wrote.

Avery pleaded guilty to molestation offenses before going on trial with Lynn in early 2012.

Lynn had been arrested in early 2011 along with Avery, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, the Rev. James Brennan and former St. Jerome parish school teacher Bernard Shero. Engelhardt, Avery and Shero were accused of molesting the same young St. Jerome pupil. Brennan was accused of molesting a Bucks County teen.

Lynn was never charged with molesting anyone. Prosecutors charged Lynn’s actions made the crimes of the other men possible.

The DA’s office wanted to try all five together, but Engelhardt’s and Shero’s attorneys argued for separate trials. Their cases were separated from the other three, but the two were tried together in early 2013. Both were convicted of numerous charges and sentenced to long prison terms. They are appealing their convictions.

Prosecutors based their cases on the testimony of one victim, often referred to as D.G., who testified at the trials. He said he was first molested by Engelhardt, and then Avery, and then Shero. Avery testified at Engelhardt and Shero’s trial, and claimed he never touched D.G. and didn’t even know him. He told jurors he had pleaded guilty in 2012 because he felt that doing so would reduce the time he might spend behind bars. “I didn’t want to die in prison,” he said.

In their brief, Lynn’s attorneys said the monsignor also didn’t know or know of D.G., who made his accusations about Avery, Engelhardt and Shero years after Lynn left his post as secretary for clergy.

Lynn had known about another man’s accusations about Avery, the monsignor’s lawyers had written, and he had recommended evaluations for Avery. Lynn was told Avery had alcohol problems, they wrote, but he was never told Avery was a pedophile.

Brennan was tried along with Lynn, who faced two conspiracy charges as well as two endangering children counts. Jurors could not reach any verdicts on the molestation charges against Brennan, who was accused of molesting a teen who was a member of a family that was friendly with the priest. He is yet to be retried.

Lynn was convicted of one count of endangering children in relation to Avery’s case. He was sentenced to three to six years in prison. He served 18 months of that sentence before his conviction was reversed and he was freed on bail while the DA appealed the reversal. The monsignor lost 80 pounds in prison, Bergstrom said. Lynn’s freedom is limited. He lives in the rectory of St. William parish in Lawndale, where he must stay while his case is being considered by the state’s high court. ••