Philly Monsignor Guilty Of Child Endangerment

The jury in the trial of Monsignor William Lynn has found him guilty of one count of child endangerment. Lynn is the first high-level Catholic official to be tried for endangering children and conspiracy to cover up sex abuse.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. After a nine-week trial and 13 days of deliberation, a jury has convicted a senior Catholic official of endangering a child. The jury found Monsignor William Lynn of the archdiocese of Philadelphia guilty of allowing an abusive priest to have access to children. Lynn was acquitted of conspiracy and one other endangerment charge. That second charge relates to Lynn's co-defendant, Reverend James Brennan, a priest accused of attempted rape. The jury could not reach a verdict in his case.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty tells us more.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, BYLINE: Monsignor William Lynn was secretary for clergy in the archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. As such, his job was to oversee priests and investigate sex abuse claims. Today, the jury found that Lynn knew that a priest had a history of abusing children and still put him in a place where he had access to children. Seth Williams is Philadelphia's district attorney.

SETH WILLIAMS: This trial was historic. Monsignor Lynn is the first member of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy convicted of endangering children that he did not personally assault.

HAGERTY: Lynn's attorney, Jeff Lindy, says the guilty verdict is a tragedy.

JEFF LINDY: He's upset. He's crushed. He's in custody, and he didn't want anything other than to help kids.

HAGERTY: Lindy says Lynn had no authority to remove priests. He says prosecutors should have tried Lynn's superiors. Instead, they made Lynn the fall guy.

LINDY: They had a body there, and the body was Monsignor Lynn, and he took the conviction.

HAGERTY: The guilty verdict related to the case of Father Edward Avery, a now defrocked priest. Prosecutors showed that Lynn knew of Avery's past in 1994 but placed him in a job as a hospital chaplain. In 1999, Avery sexually abused a 9-year-old boy, something he pleaded guilty to just before trial. Marci Hamilton is a professor at Cardozo Law School. She's been watching the case closely.

MARCI HAMILTON: Lynn had knowledge of Avery abusing children, and then he chose to let him go back into ministry with a position that had easy access to children. It's the same old story of shuffling priests around, but what's new here is that this member of the hierarchy is now criminally convicted.

HAGERTY: The prosecution presented mountains of evidence, nearly 2,000 documents and 50 witnesses at trial. Despite that, Lynn was found not guilty of endangering another child who accused Father James Brennan of trying to rape him. The jury could not reach a verdict about Brennan, which attorneys say may explain why they did not find Lynn guilty of endangerment in that case.

Finally, jurors found Lynn not guilty of conspiring to endanger a child. Fred Tecce, a former prosecutor, thinks the jurors may have felt that Lynn's superiors, including Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died earlier this year, were responsible for the overall cover-up and not Lynn. Tecce believes a conviction is important, but...

FRED TECCE: I think it would be a much bigger deal if it was a verdict that I think is going to stand on appeal.

HAGERTY: He and others say the case was shaky from the start because the child endangerment law as it was written then covered people in direct control of children, such as parents, teachers or babysitters, but probably not someone as distant as Lynn. Defense attorneys have said they will appeal. But for now, Marci Hamilton says the case sends a message to prosecutors and Catholic dioceses across the country.

HAMILTON: Our prosecutors now know that they can actually get convictions for endangering the welfare of children against the hierarchy, and I would expect to see more trials across the country.

HAGERTY: Of course, every state has its own statute of limitations, meaning that in lots of states, the allegations may be too old to bring to trial. Hamilton says many states are trying to change their laws to allow for older cases to be tried. Tecce says the verdict also sends a message to Catholic priests like Lynn, who are in a position of knowing about sex abuse and don't take action because they are just following orders.

TECCE: If you're in the middle management, you better raise your hand and speak up because you recognize that if Monsignor Lynn can get convicted for stuff like this, you aren't far behind if you don't do something.

HAGERTY: Monsignor Lynn was taken into custody right after the verdict. He will be sentenced in August. If his appeals fail, he faces three and a half years to seven years in prison. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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