A Catholic church official who become the first in the US to be found guilty of covering up clerical child sex abuse will seek release from prison while he appeals the conviction, his lawyers said Saturday.
Just over a week ago, a jury in Philadelphia found Monsignor William Lynn guilty of child endangerment relating to the handling of known predatory priests who were allowed to continue ministering to youths.
The 61-year-old has been held in custody pending a sentence hearing at which he could be jailed for up to seven years.
But on Saturday the Associated Press reported that Lynn’s lawyers will push for him to be released under condition of house arrest. They plan to argue at a hearing on Thursday that Lynn has a good chance of getting his conviction overturned on appeal.
Lynn’s attorneys are expected to claim that the endangerment law does not apply to their client because he never “supervised” individual children.
If successful, the ploy would come as a crushing blow to victim advocates and survivors of abuse who held the conviction up as a breakthrough in attempts to bring to justice those accused of shielding pedophiles in the Catholic church.
Although Lynn was acquitted of two other charges, including conspiracy, the guilty verdict raised hopes that prosecutors would re-investigate other instances in which officials have been accused of turning a blind eye to abuse.
Lynn’s conviction came after a near-three month trial during which more than a dozen victims testified about the abuse they suffered at the hands of priests.
A former seminarian said he was raped throughout high school at a priest’s mountain house.
Meanwhile a nun testified that she and two female relatives were sexually abused by a priest described by a church official as “one of the sickest people I ever knew.”
Another victim of clerical sex abuse told the court: “I can’t explain the pain, because I’m still trying to figure it out today, but I have an emptiness where my soul should be.”
Now an adult, the witness told of how his mother sent him to a priest for counseling as an eighth-grader because he’d been sexually attacked by a family friend. The priest proceeded to rape him, he told the jury.
On leave from the church since his arrest last year, Lynn served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
The court heard that the late Archbishop of Philadelphia had the final say on what to do with priests accused of abuse.
In many cases he simply sent suspected or known pedophiles to new churches and dressed down anyone who complained, according to testimony.
He also ordered the shredding of a 1994 list that warned him that the archdiocese had three diagnosed pedophiles, a dozen confirmed predators and at least 20 more possible abusers in its midst.
Defense lawyers say Lynn tried to document the complaints, get priests into treatment and alert the cardinal to the growing crisis.
But prosecutors countered that Lynn did not act strongly enough to keep abusers away from children. Moreover no attempts were made to hand over suspected pedophiles in the clergy to the authorities.