Lawyers to ask house arrest for priest while awaiting sentencing

Catholic Monsignor William Lynn was convicted for failing to keep priests accused of sexual abuse away from minors.

Story highlights

  • Monsignor William Lynn is to be sentenced in August
  • Until then, his lawyers are expected to ask that he be placed under house arrest
  • Lynn faces up to seven years in prison
  • His lawyer has criticized the decision not to let Lynn remain free on bond until sentencing

A court hearing to determine whether a high-ranking cleric convicted of child endangerment will be placed under house arrest rather than jailed until his sentencing in August was delayed Monday until Tuesday.

Monsignor William Lynn was found guilty Friday of one count of child endangerment, the first time a U.S. church leader has been convicted of such a charge.

He was found not guilty on a second count of endangerment and on a charge of conspiring to protect a priest accused of abuse.

The jury was unable to bring a verdict against Lynn's co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, who was charged with the attempted rape of a 14-year-old altar boy and endangering the welfare of a child.

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Lynn was taken into custody after the verdict Friday, when the judge revoked his bail. His lawyer, Jeffrey Lindy, criticized the decision not to let his client remain free on bond prior to sentencing, calling it "an unspeakable miscarriage of justice (for) a 61-year-old man with no prior record and long-established ties to the community."

He is to be sentenced August 13 and could face up to seven years in prison for his conviction on a third-degree felony.

The trial marked the first time U.S. prosecutors have charged not just the priests who allegedly committed abuses but also church leaders for failing to stop them. Lynn is the highest-ranking cleric accused of imperiling children by helping cover up sexual abuse.

Calling the verdict "historic," Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams said the decision sends a message about the potential consequences of not reporting sexual abuse.

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"Many people of many generations have unclean hands when it comes to this silence," Williams said, adding that others could also be investigated.

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Terence McKiernan, who heads the advocacy website BishopAccountability.org, called the conviction "a watershed moment in the Catholic abuse crisis."

"Because of the Lynn verdict, bishops and church officials are now accountable," McKiernan said. "They are no longer immune from judgment and punishment."

And Marci Hamilton, a victims' rights attorney, said the jury's verdict on Friday -- as well as the decision by now-defrocked priest Edward Avery to plead guilty after admitting to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy -- suggests "the picture is now clear that the Philadelphia archdiocese permitted crimes against children."

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The archdiocese issued its own statement after the verdict, though it mentioned neither the trial nor Lynn or Brennan by name. It did, however, insist that "the lessons of the last year have made our Church a more vigilant guardian of our people's safety."

Lindy, the attorney for Lynn, said he felt the jury agreed there was no "far-flung conspiracy," though he conceded the prosecution "scored a victory" in securing the lone conviction.

"By finding him guilty, they're saying he helped endanger children," Lindy said. "It's the last thing he wanted to do. ... I don't think he's the evil person the district attorney is making him out to be."

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League, an advocacy group devoted to challenging defamation of or discrimination against Catholics, called the verdict a defeat for overzealous prosecutors and victims' advocates, who he said had singled out church leaders unfairly.

"The witch hunt has come to an end, and those who have been clamoring for blood lost big time," Donahue said in a statement. "They wanted the big prize -- they wanted to nail a high-ranking clergyman on conspiracy. ... Looks like their car ran out of gas in Philadelphia."

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More than 60 witnesses and alleged clergy abuse victims testified during Lynn and Brennan's criminal trial, which began March 26 and wrapped up May 31, with jury deliberations beginning the next day.

Lynn's defense team argued that their client repeatedly told higher-ups about the alleged abuse and, under strict orders from the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, had no authority to remove priests from the ministry.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington characterized Lynn's behavior as "disgraceful," "shameful" and "ridiculous," sarcastically calling him a "hero" who put young people in harm's way.

"He actually looked you in the eye and said he put victims first. How dare he?" the prosecutor asked jurors during his more than 2½-hour closing argument.

Lynn's conspiracy count related to an allegation that he schemed with Avery and other archdiocese officials to endanger children.

Avery had been due to be tried with Brennan and Lynn, but he pleaded guilty in March to a sexual assault that occurred during the 1998-99 school year.

The 69-year-old was sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison.

Brennan himself was removed from an active ministry role in 2006. Two years later, he admitted that he had allowed the youngster to view pornography and sleep in the same bed with him in 1996, church investigators testified.