Msgr. William Lynn's Conviction Reversed, but Why?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on December 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has reversed Monsignor William Lynn's conviction. Lynn was the first Catholic priest in the United States to be sent to prison for covering up sex abuse claims.

But on Thursday, an appeals court reversed the conviction, finding that the state's child endangerment statute did not apply to him.

Child Endangerment Conviction

Monsignor William Lynn served as the secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004 and was in charge of handling child sex abuse complaints. In June 2012, he was found guilty of felony child endangerment for covering up sex abuse claims brought against Catholic priests by sending the accused to other parishes, reports Philadelphia's KYW-TV.

During his trial, Lynn admitted that he fielded a complaint in the 1990s that one priest, Edward Avery, had sexually abused an altar boy. Instead of removing Avery from the ministry, Lynn recommended he be sent to a rehabilitation hospital. Several years later, Lynn reassigned Avery to work at a parish where he again sexually assaulted an altar boy.

Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in prison, becoming the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision.

Conviction Overturned

On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court unanimously overturned the conviction, finding the state's child-endangerment law at the time of Lynn's conviction applied to parents and caregivers -- but did not extend to institutional supervisors.

Lynn was not classified under the law as someone who had direct control or supervision over the children who were abused, which is needed for child endangerment charges. Therefore, the court ruled Lynn should not have been prosecuted for allegedly putting children in harm's way, reports KYW-TV.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said the state "most likely will be appealing" the decision. One of Lynn's attorneys told the Philadelphia Daily News he hopes Lynn will be released from prison in the next few days.

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