In the first conviction of a high-level Catholic church official in the nationwide priest sexual-abuse scandal, a monsignor in the Philadelphia archdiocese was found guilty Friday of child endangerment for covering up allegations of abuse of children.
Monsignor William J. Lynn, who supervised priests for the archdiocese, was accused of reassigning pedophile priests in an attempt to protect the church’s reputation and avoid lawsuits. A jury acquitted him, however, of conspiracy and another endangerment charge.
Also on trial in the landmark case was the Rev. James J. Brennan, accused of rape and child endangerment. The jury of seven men and five women deadlocked on those charges, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial on those counts. Prosecutors could decide to retry Brennan.
By assigning pedophile priests to unsuspecting parishes, prosecutors said, Lynn exposed more children to potential abuse while putting the church’s interests ahead of protecting children. Prosecutors produced a list that Lynn compiled in 1994 naming 37 priests in the archdiocese who had been identified as pedophiles or were suspected of sexually abusing children.
Lynn faces up to seven years in prison on the endangerment conviction. He was denied bail and will remain in custody while awaiting a sentencing hearing Aug. 13.
Friday’s verdicts came on the 13th day of jury deliberations in the two-month trial in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas court.
The trial was noteworthy because Lynn was not accused of sexual misconduct, but of covering it up. More than a dozen witnesses testified that they were sexually abused by priests who had been allowed to serve in their parishes even after being suspected or accused of abuse.
Among Lynn’s responsibilities as secretary for clergy for the 1.5 million-member archdiocese from 1992 to 2004 was supervising more than 800 priests and investigating allegations of sexual abuse. He was accused of recommending that Brennan and another priest suspected of abusing children, Edward Avery, continue to serve in parishes in the nation’s sixth-largest archdiocese.
Brennan, 48, was accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Avery pleaded guilty before trial of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999 and is serving a 2 1/2- to five-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors said Lynn lied to parents about pedophile priests in an attempt to protect the archdiocese, and that he and other church officials were lax in responding to credible reports of abuse. In some instances, prosecutors said, Lynn suggested to accused priests that their young alleged victims had enticed them into sexual contact.
In testimony that lasted three days, Lynn told jurors that he compiled the list of pedophile priests in order to address allegations of sexual abuse. Before the trial, archdiocese lawyers gave prosecutors a handwritten church memo that suggested Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had ordered the list destroyed.
Before the trial, a judge ordered Bevilacqua to submit to questioning at a closed-door hearing in November. Jurors did not see his seven hours of testimony.
Lynn testified that only Bevilacqua, who died in January at age 88, had the authority to remove pedophile priests.
“I did my best with what I could do,” Lynn testified.