High-Level Catholic Priest Convicted in Philadelphia
A Philadelphia jury delivered a sharp rebuke of the Catholic Church’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse by its priests, convicting for the first time a senior church official of not taking steps that could have prevented further attacks.
Msgr. William Lynn, who served as secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was found guilty on Friday of one count of child endangerment for allowing a priest to take a new assignment involving contact with children even after learning of allegations that he had engaged in inappropriate contact with at least one minor.
The landmark ruling came after jurors heard nearly 10 weeks of testimony in a trial that opened a window into how one of the nation’s largest Catholic dioceses grappled with the sort of allegations that have shaken the church for more than a decade.
Victims’ groups heralded the decision as an opening to law-enforcement officials in other cities to look anew at whether other high-ranking church officials could be held criminally liable for looking the other way when priests under their charge were accused of abuse.
“We know that Philadelphia is not the only place where this has happened…other dioceses have had the same coverup and complicity by church officials,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a Chicago based group.
The verdict come as the Catholic Church braces for another clergy-abuse trial set for September in Missouri. Kansas City, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, the highest-ranking church official to be indicted on a charge of allegedly failing to protect children, is awaiting trial on a misdemeanor criminal charge that he failed to report a priest found with child pornography. Bishop Finn has pleaded not guilty.
Msgr. Lynn, who was acquitted of two other charges—another child endangerment count, and conspiracy with another priest to endanger the welfare of children—was taken into custody Friday afternoon and faces a possible 3½ to seven years in prison. Sentencing is set for Aug. 13.
The verdict has “certainly produced a great new crisis for Catholic authority,” said the Rev. Raymond Helmick, a Jesuit priest, and an instructor at Boston College. “This is the first time that someone responsible for the supervision has been held to that civil accountability.…That is a precedent that may go very far. I’m sure all kinds of people are itching to bring criminal cases against many, many authorities, and we’ll have to see how far it goes,” he said.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who brought the case, said that the Lynn conviction would “change the way business is done” in many institutions. “What happened here was unspeakable,” he said. “People knew there were predators, but were much more concerned with the institution than victims of sexual assault.”
[A] grand-jury report last year assailed the diocese for allowing 37 priests to remain in active ministry despite having “credible” abuse allegations lodged against them. The diocese later placed a majority of the priests on leave as it investigated the allegations, and recently deemed some of them unsuitable for ministry. Msgr. Lynn also was placed on leave from his post as a parish pastor after he was charged last year.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Msgr. Lynn learned in the 1990s of allegations that Father Brennan and another priest had engaged in inappropriate conduct with minors but failed to keep them out of assignments involving contact with children or to inform parishioners of the allegations. The two priests later sexually abused two boys in separate incidents, prosecutors contend.
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