A jury consisting of seven men and five women convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn of one count of child endangerment. That count was for allowing Edward Avery, then a parish priest, live and celebrate mass at St. Jerome’s Parish in Northeast Philadelphia where Avery sexually assaulted a 10 year old altar boy. The prosecution contended that Lynn knew Avery posed a risk to children and allowed Avery to be assigned to a parish with an elementary school despite that risk. Avery was defrocked in 2006 but had already sexually assaulted the boy in 1999. Avery pled guilty to that assault in March.
Prosecutors contended that Lynn’s job became more about protecting the Catholic Church rather than protecting children. To prove this conspiracy, prosecutors introduced evidence of nearly two dozen other priests who weren’t charged or represented in the case. Prosecutors argued Lynn’s decisions reflected a long-standing pattern by church officials to cover up sexual misconduct by priests. However, the weeks of testimony only seemed to put the church itself on trial rather than focus on Lynn’s actions; after all, that was the point of the trial.
The jurors weren’t convinced of a larger plot by Lynn nor the church. They acquitted Lynn of conspiring with Avery and others to hide the misconduct of some priests. Isa Logan who served as jury foreman stated, “This was not about the Catholic Church – this was about what people did.” The judge wasn’t convinced of a larger plot either, she ruled another conspiracy count unproven during the trial.
In a statement after the verdict, the archdiocese said it was on “a journey of renewal” and reform. “The lessons of the last year have made our church a more vigilant guardian of our people’s safety.”
Victim advocate groups (i.e., Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP and BishopAccountability.org) praised the verdict and its potential impact. “Because of the Lynn verdict, bishops and church officials are now accountable – they are no longer immune from judgement and punishment,” said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org.
Lynn faced up to 7 years in prison and was actually sentenced to 3-6 years in prison.
The same jury deadlocked on Fr. James Bennan who will be retried for attempting to rape a 14 year old altar boy. Fr. Brennan goes back to court on August 14 to set a new trial date.