Philadelphia’s District Attorney Seth Williams is urging the state’s highest court to consider an appeal of Msgr. William Lynn’s case, arguing that an appeals court decision ordering a new trial was “embarrassingly unjustified” and that the reasoning “simply makes no sense.”
Williams has been on a losing streak in state appeals courts, and the latest filing to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court represents the last chance he has to keep the conviction of Lynn, who was the first Catholic Church official nationwide to be convicted for covering up sexual abuse by clergy.
In December, a three-judge appellate court ordered a new trial for Lynn because of what the majority said was bad evidence presented at trial. In particular, the judges found most of the prosecutors’ 21 examples of the Philadelphia Archdiocese covering up child sex abuse had nothing to do with Lynn. In fact, some of the evidence dated back to the 1940s, decades before Lynn became a church official in charge of priest assignments. Some of the other priests prosecutors cited were not under the direct supervision of Lynn. The court found that he was being unfairly blamed for systemic corruption.
That couldn’t be farther form the truth, Williams wrote in the new filing.
“In no instance did he take any steps to require a relocated sexual predator to be kept separated from children,” Williams and staff in his office wrote.
On June 22, 2012, a jury found Lynn guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of children and he was sentenced to three to six years behind bars. But then appeals court decisions began to call the core evidence of the case into question.
Prosecutors say Lynn concealed Fr. Edward Avery’s past of sexually abusing children to avoid negative publicity to the church. Lynn knew Avery sexually assaulted young boys, including a 10-year-old, but Lynn did nothing about it, prosecutors say. Even more than that, Lynn was accused of being an advocate for predators by lying to those who raised alarms and coddling the priests from public scrutiny.
“Lynn’s handling of Avery’s case was no oversight, but was in accord with his established practice for dealing with sexual predator priests,” Williams wrote in the filing.
During the trial, Williams said his office proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Lynn “knowingly put children in danger.” But was Lynn, as his attorney argues, being cast as a scapegoat for the church’s bigger problem of covering up child sex abuse?
Williams doesn’t think so.
“The pedophiles Lynn supervised certainty committed their own crimes, but that was not the point,” Williams wrote to the state’s high court. “This criminal scheme was designed to be invisible; it was the contested evidence that made it visible.”
The Superior Court threw out Lynn’s conviction once before under the theory that state law was wasn’t applied properly, though the conviction was quickly re-instated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
This time, however, Lynn’s attorney Thomas Bergstrom said he expects the state’s top court to uphold the Superior Court’s ruling. And therefore, a new trial for Lynn should be soon be ordered, Bergstrom hopes.
“The whole idea is to try to keep this guy in jail,” said Bergstrom of Lynn. “I don’t think the DA’s petition meets the Supreme Court’s requirements in terms of taking an petition for allowance of an appeal.”
The specter of a trial is disturbing to David Clohessy, spokesman for the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
“Catholic officials, who clearly acted selfishly, and recklessly and callously and deceitfully are exploiting every conceivable legal maneuver to evade responsibility for horrific crimes.”
Catholic Church officials did not return a call seeking for comment.
In the filing, Williams said several times that a new trial for Lynn could have a far-reaching chilling effect on other sex abuse victims.
“Victims may now more than ever fear to come forward because, given the result in the case of one of the very masterminds of such a plot, there is simply no point,” Williams wrote.
Lynn has served more than two years in jail, and his parole eligibility is approaching soon, Bergstrom said.
The next move will be when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides whether to accept Williams’ petition.