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After a trial lasting three months, Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia has been found guilty on one count of child endangerment. He was acquitted of another charge of child endangerment and conspiring to protect a priest accused of abuse.
Monsignor William Lynn is the highest ranking church official to be charged and convicted of child endangerment for not reporting child abuse according to CNN. This is the first time in US criminal history that a church official has been charged in the cover up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
Lynn’s co-defendant was Reverend James Brennan who was charged with the attempted rape of a fourteen year old altar boy. Brennan left active duty in 2006 but admitted in 2008 that he had the boy sleep in his bed with him and watch pornography in 1996. The jury was unable to reach a verdict for Brennan.
Lynn and Brennan were supposed to have another co-defendant, Edward Avery, but Avery pled guilty to sexually assaulting a ten year old boy and has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Avery has also been defrocked from the Catholic Church.
This is a groundbreaking decision because it is the first time that someone has been convicted from the Catholic Church for covering up the sexual abuse crimes; it has set a precedent for other church officials to be charged for covering up these crimes. Terrence McKiernan, head of the advocacy website BishopAccountability.org said the conviction was a “watershed moment in the Catholic abuse crisis” because “[bishops and church officials] are no longer immune from judgment and punishment.”
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams also called the conviction “historic” because it would prevent people from not reporting sex abuse. Williams stated, “many people of many generations have unclean hands when it comes to this silence.”
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued a statement after the verdict that said, “the lessons of the last year have made our Church a more vigilant guardian of our people’s safety.” In 2002 the Church did create new, stricter policies in regards to sexual abuse, but they are supposed to be enforced by the bishops and other church officials.
According to a study commissioned by the US bishops, around 16,000 claims of sexual abuse have been made against the clergy since 1950.
Some have opposed the ruling or called the prosecution a ‘witch hunt.’ Bill Donahue of the Catholic League was one such individual and celebrated the acquittal of Lynn on the count of conspiracy. Donahue stated, “the witch hunt has come to an end, and those who have been clamoring for blood lost big time. They wanted the big prize – they wanted to nail a high-ranking clergyman on conspiracy.”
Lynn’s sentencing trial will be in August 13 and he could serve up to seven years for his third-degree felony. Lynn was remanded to custody after his verdict was read because the judge revoked his bail. Jeffrey Lindy, Lynn’s attorney, said this was, “an unspeakable miscarriage of justice: a sixty-one year old man with no prior record and long-established ties to the community.” Lindy is appealing to the courts for Lynn to be held under house arrest until his sentencing in August.