PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Roman Catholic monsignor awaits sentencing Tuesday in a landmark prosecution over his handling of complaints that Philadelphia priests were molesting children.
Monsignor William Lynn faces up to seven years in prison for his felony child endangerment conviction. He was cleared of three related charges at trial.
The 61-year-old Lynn is the first American church official convicted in the scandal that’s rocked the Catholic church for more than a decade. But he may not be the last.
Bishop Robert Finn and the Kansas City diocese face a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse. Both Finn and the diocese have pleaded not guilty, and are set to go on trial next month.
“I believe that what Lynn did was done by just about every diocese,” said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks priest-abuse cases. “In most cases, I think the vicar general was well informed, and also the bishop.”
More than 500 U.S. priests have now been convicted of abuse, according to his organization. But Lynn’s three-month trial, he said, shows “just how hard it is to demonstrate collusion.”
The jury acquitted Lynn of conspiring with a predator-priest and others to cover up the complaints.
Lynn has been in prison since the June 22 jury verdict, when the trial judge revoked his bail.
Defense lawyers call Lynn a scapegoat for the Philadelphia archdiocese, and plan an immediate appeal. They will also ask, perhaps as early as Tuesday, that he be released while the lengthy appeals process plays out.
They believe the trial was flawed on many levels, starting with the fact Lynn was charged with child endangerment under a law revised in 2007 to include those who supervise the caretakers of children. Yet Lynn had left the archdiocese headquarters in 2004, after serving 12 years as secretary for clergy, and returned to parish work.
Defense lawyers also believe Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who will sentence Lynn, improperly allowed prosecutors to allow weeks of evidence about priests who were never charged with crimes, to show how complaints were typically handled. The jury heard about alleged abuse that dated back to 1948, and was never proven in court.
Prosecutors are pushing for the maximum seven-year sentence.
“His active, even eager execution of archdiocese policies — carried out in the face of victims’ vivid suffering, and employing constant deceit — required a more amoral character, a striving to please his bosses no matter how sinister the business,” they wrote in a sentencing memo filed Friday. “At any time during those 12 years, he could have had a moment of conscience.”
The defense will ask for house arrest, community service, work release or probation.
“The seven-year maximum sentence that the commonwealth advocates would serve no purpose at all — (it) would merely be cruel and unusual,” Lynn’s lawyers wrote in their sentencing memo.
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