Court overturns monsignor's landmark abuse conviction
Reversal in cover-up case based on new interpretation of law
Picture: New York Times
- Erik Eckholm and Steven Yaccino for New York Times
- United States
- December 27, 2013
A Pennsylvania appeals court on Thursday overturned the criminal conviction of a Roman Catholic official who was accused of covering up sexual abuses by priests he supervised. The court rejected the legal basis for a prosecution that was viewed as a milestone in holding senior church officials accountable for keeping abuse reports secret in past decades and transferring predatory priests to unwary new parishes.
The official, Msgr. William J. Lynn of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, has spent 18 months in prison, but was not released and now must apply for bail.
He was the first senior church official in the United States to be criminally indicted not for abusing children himself, but for lax oversight of priests with histories of committing sexual abuse.
His conviction in June 2012 on one count of child endangerment, and sentence of three to six years in prison, was lauded by victim advocates as an overdue assignment of responsibility to senior church officials. But it was portrayed by Monsignor Lynn’s supporters as overly harsh for a man who made misjudgments but was following the orders of an archbishop, who has since died.
Thomas A. Bergstrom, a lawyer for Monsignor Lynn, called the ruling “a strong opinion by a unanimous court,” He said of the monsignor: “He shouldn’t have been convicted. He shouldn’t have been sentenced.”
The reversal of Monsignor Lynn’s conviction turned on disputed interpretations of Pennsylvania’s former child welfare law and does not have legal implications for other states. Prosecution of supervising officials for their handling of priests accused of abuse in past decades remains a rarity; grand juries in Boston and Los Angeles are known to have explored the issues but have not issued indictments, apparently because of legal constraints.
Source: New York Times