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Monsignor Lynn's Conviction Is Overturned

A Pennsylvania appeals court has overturned the child-welfare conviction of Monsignor William J. Lynn, who was jailed over his role in supervising a priest who sexually abused minors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The court ordered that Lynn, who has served 18 months of a 3- to 6-year prison sentence, be released. [A PDF copy of the opinion can be downloaded under the listing for Dec. 26, Commonwealth v. Lynn.]

The ruling, written by Superior Court President Judge John T. Bender, turns on the question of whether Lynn was "supervising the welfare of a child" through his supervision of priests who worked more directly with children.

Prosecutors had contended that if the law applied only to direct supervision of children, it would have said so: "supervising a child" instead of "supervising the welfare of a child." The trial judge, Teresa Sarmina, had agreed with that. She pointed to prior Pennsylvania cases holding that any statute designed to protect children must be read broadly, and interpreted using "the common sense of the community."

The appeals court disagreed, and pointed to another precedent holding that when a statute's wording was ambiguous, the court should lean toward protecting the defendant.

The appeals court also rejected the accusation that Lynn was an accomplice of the abusive priest. To do so, evidence would have to show that the sexual abuse was a "natural and probable consequence" of decisions made in assigning the priest. The court said there was no evidence Lynn knew the priest would abuse a child, and that there was no psychiatric diagnosis in place to suggest a predisposition.

That the priest had sexually assaulted a minor a decade before a second incident was not sufficent evidence for Judge Bender, who wrote that "the notion that Avery was an ongoing, ever-present danger more than a decade after having sexually assaulted R.F. was tenuous at best.”

In 2007, Pennsylvania changed the child-welfare law to make it apply to a "person that employs or
supervises such a person" who supervises the welfare of children -- too late to apply to Lynn's actions. Did that change implicitly acknowledge that the earlier law didn't apply in Lynn's case? That's what the appeals court found. Or did it simply clarify what was already in the law? That is what prosecutors argued.

An appeal is likely.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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I believe that a fair trial and fair sentencing are now impossible to assure for any offences connected with minors. We see on comboxes all the time how intelligent people with higher degrees hurl accusations and interpretations with not the slightest concession to the constraints of logical argument. What then must be the level of prejudice and irrationality in the population at large? This makes me sympathetic to bishops who drag their feet on mandatory reporting,

I thought only defendent's can appeal, not prosecutors.    Not sure how the prosecution could think they could win on appeal, anyway, given this ruling.    If they do appeal, it may be a sign that they are more interested in garnering headlines than justice.

I read the appelate decision and it seems to me that the prosecution has a good case moving forward. As Paul mentions, the issue hinges, in part, on the interpretation of this statute:

“A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support.” 


The revised 2007 statute reads


 “A parent, guardian or other person supervising the  welfare of a child under 18 years of age, or a person that employs or supervises such a person, commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support"


The decision states that:


The Commonwealth contends the plain meaning of the pre-amended statute clearly encompassed the class of persons added by the 2007 amendment and, thus, the amendment was merely a clarification of, rather than a substantial change of, the pre-amended statute’s scope of liability. 


I think that they are on strong ground arguing that point. Plus, there is no question that in his handling of these issues, he erred on the side of the priest and reputation of the archdiocese! At trial, the Commonwealth also introduced "copious evidence of prior bad acts concerning Appellant’s handling of twenty other priests accused of molesting minors and similar transgressions. TCO, at 20 – 132. That evidence was offered to aid the jury in understanding Appellant’s “intentknowledge, motivation and absence of mistake when handling Avery’s case”


And as clear evidence of the above, one of the victims, RF e mailed Lynn stating, in part,


“I’m not asking for details[,] what I want to know is[,] is he rehabilitated or in a situation where he can’t harm others. Will the diocese vouch for the safety of its children. For my peace of mind I need to know.”


RF received no reply but Avery obtained a generous reccommendation to pursue doctoral studies. Lynn represented that Avery was honest and trustworthy and in touch with his spiritual life. And he pulled some strings to get the Cardinal representative to help out too. But, to a victim of Avery, nada, zip, zero.


I am totally convinced you are correct Joseph.  George's reply shows why:  the 2007 law is irrelevant as it is ex post facto. 

That is for a higher court to decide Bruce. The original judge was correct, I think, when she wrote that any statute designed to protect children must be read broadly, and interpreted using "the common sense of the community."

It is obvious that this addition was a clarification, exactly as she argued, and not another addition of another class.

What you, and the appeal court, are arguing Bruce is that daycare facilities, schools, and hospitals in Pennsylvania (prior to 2007) were not obligated to esnure the safety of children under their institutional care. That is absurd on its face and flies in the face of any common sense and normal procedures. It is a standard requirement for any board of education hiring staff that has access to, in any way, children, be required to obtain police record checks specifically for people working with vulnerable populations. That means not only cleared for convictions but screened for any investigations as well.


Joseph O'Leary, Irish expatriate living in Japan, expert on U.S. culture.

Agree with comments here but would also suggest that we need to include two other factors in this case:

- the *suspect Bily Doe* witness allegations

- what is driving the DA

Ralph Ciprian has investigated and published on this case....contrary viewpoint.: 

If guess if you believe bishops worldwide  never, never, ever would cover up clerical abuse, it easy to post that Lynn got a bad deal in his conviction and his release is a bell rung for justice.

Scooter Libby stood trail instead of  Cheney and Lynn stood trial for Bevilacqua... that's what happens in 'big' cases..

George, the law is ex post on its face simply because it was enacted after the alledged activity. Your argument about other facilities is nonsensical because the prior law clearly applies to children in their care. Further, the legislative change must have added something, else you are holding that it was inserted for no particular reason other than to comment on the statute; that's a direct contradiction of legal interpretation where all the words are there for a particular reason. 

Grant, nice ad hominen attack

the law is ex post on its face simply because it was enacted after the alledged activity. Your argument about other facilities is nonsensical because the prior law clearly applies to children in their care.

So the letter of the law subverts the spirit of the law?

I agree with George D that the prosecution has a good case going forward.

"Prosecutors had contended that if the law applied only to direct supervision of children, it would have said so: "supervising a child" instead of "supervising the welfare of a child." The trial judge, Teresa Sarmina, had agreed with that. She pointed to prior Pennsylvania cases holding that any statute designed to protect children must be read broadly, and interpreted using "the common sense of the community." Paul Moses

One can reasonably argue that the 2007 addition simply clarified what was in the law. Can one infer an exclusion was meant for priests or others acting as supervisors, when the statute itself refers to "a person supervising the welfare of a child"? Were only some supervisors included?

What did legislative debate at the time of the original statute indicate was the intent?

And so justice apparently depends on such hairsplitting technicalities.


Thank you, Grant, for your patience over many years.

Grant: I think you have seriously under-estimated the scope of Fr. O'Leary's imagined expertise. He imagines himself to be an expert in more than American culture.

I would not be surprised if Msgr. Lynn has found 18 months in prison to be an eye-opening, if not harrowing, experience. It's no small thing. I would be interested to know what that experience was like, and what he will do with what he learned there, once he is released. 

Msgr Lynn has spent 18 months in prison. He is sure to never again give priority to priests over potential child victims. If he is cleared, it'll be because of an ambiguity in wording that is now no longer present in the text of the law, so freeing him does not set a precedent, and whatever the final outcome in Lynn's case, all secretaries of clergy in all US chanceries know that they really could end up in prison. 

I think that the point has been made, and that the law will now act as a deterrent against prioritizing the wrong way. I'm not keen to see Msgr Lynn later return to prison for more time. This is enough.

If only Bp Finn had been jailed for a few weeks, then bishops would also know that they could end up in prison as well, and my satisfaction would be complete. Instead, he is still bishop of Kansas City!

Father Ratigan - took hundreds of pictures of young girls, tried to commit suicide when found out, admitted to the charge. Sentence: 50 years in prison without parole. 

Bishop Finn - was warned several times about Father Ratigan, knew about some  "borderline pornographic" pictures, as he called them, yet failed to report him to authorities. Sentence: two years of probation. 

The discrepancy is enormous. It is unbalanced justice, heaviest for those without friends in high places, lightest for those who have relations.

Scandalously, Finn even now remains bishop of Kansas City!

Claire's comments appear to me to be right on target.

Unfortunately this could be regarded as a victory for the archdiocese of Philadelphia and/or Msgr. Lynn.  I don't know what the chances are for the appeal but I wish Seth William exceedingly well.  A few bishops need to go to jail to make clear that the jig is up and protecting the sexual assailants of children is no longer protected activity.  And Father O'Leary does protest very much.  Nothing new there.

Mark Proska:  You cannot appeal an acquittal jury verdict because of the constitutional protection against double jeopardy.  But, you can appeal the reversal of the verdict by an appeals court.  That is what I believe may have happened in this case.

There is a saying among lawyers that you never want to be in court against Major League Baseball or the Catholic Church - because both have really deep pockets to buy the best legal eagles and the protection of politicians.  

The Pennsylvannia state prosecutors haven't done themselves any political favors in taking on the Catholic Church in this Lynn case.  However, when you have the sainted Penn State football coach Joe Paterno "defrocked" over the Sandusky crimes, one can imagine that the prosecutors did have some public pressure not to appear - at least in public - to give the Philadelphia archdiocese a legal pass.

Who knows?  There may have been a back-room deal where the prosecutors would sabotage their case so that it would be overturned on appeal.  So the prosecutors got thepublic notoriety that they were finally holding the church to account while Lynn like a good acolyte spent some time in jail - most likely in protective custody to shield him from the general prison population [prisoners - many survivors of abuse - have been known to take justice into their own hands] - and now is the recepient of a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Sadly, children are still too much at risk for sexual predation. 


Thanks for the information regarding how the appeal process works.   Having lived in Philadelphia, I can assure you that Seth Williams did not in any way go against the political winds in choosing to prosecute Monsignor Lynn.   On the contrary, he will be sure to reap a political benefit (though I’m not accusing Williams here of prosecuting Lynn for political purposes).   I think it would be fair, however, for Lynn to now ask:    “Where do I go to get the last 18 months of my life back?”

Ms. Roach:

Anyone who reads the Superior Court's decision would have a hard time seeing this as any sort of victory for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It is a victory for Msgr. Lynn in the sense that he will get out of prison (no smal victory) -- but it is unequivocably not a victory in terms of rehabilating his image or the actions he took as a leader in the Archdiocese.  The decision lays out in sickening detail all the bad acts of Lynn and others in the Archdiocese.  The Superior Court after detailing the truly irresponsible bad (sinful?) acts of Lynn and others in supervising a known pedophile, says:

the Commonwealth presented more than adequate evidence to sufficiently demonstrate that Appellant prioritized the Archdiocese’s reputation over the safety of potential victims of sexually abusive priests...

the Commonwealth  provided ample evidence regarding Appellant’s pattern of intentionally mishandling other sexually abusive priests with the intent to shelter both the priests and the larger church from disrepute...

The disagreement with the trial court is simply whether the bad acts of Lynn and Archdiocese meet the all the elements of the now revised criminal statute at the time of the acts. 

Yes, in the case of ex post facto, the only thing that matters is the date

@ Mark Proska:  Yes and no.

I'm not as sanguine as you seem to be about Lynn having had to spend some time in jail - a small price to pay for the crime of supplying fresh child victims to his brother child-sexual predator priests.  

When I reviewed the evidence the prosecutors presented against Lynn it seemed pretty convincing to me that Lynn had knowingly reassigned priest predators to parishes providing fresh victims to them.  That seemingly fulfills the legal definitioin of child endangerment, at least to me.  

And, Lynn's prime defense was that he was only following orders - strangely and sadly reminiscent of Nuremberg, wouldn't you say?  Not the kind of thing you would ever expect to come from our Jesuit pope's mouth, now would yah?

I'd be more convinced of Lynn's metanoia if he would now devote the rest of his life ministering to the needs of survivors, helping to provide a just redress of grievances, adequate mental health care, and sensitive pastoral care.  

Or, maybe Lynn could be the religious superior at a monestary or empty rural seminary keeping track of and babysitting - I think the operative word in clerical circles is: ministering - to credibly accused priest predators?  

A safe place where US Catholic bishops could house all their priest sexual predators in one locus with maybe electrified fences, where the predators would be totatlly available to participate fully in multiple scientific studies of child sexual predators?  As Mother Abbess, portrayed by Peggy Wood, in The Sound of Music intoned:  

“Maria, these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live”.


Just saying, it would be a small way of giving some meaning to their pathetic lost priesthood.

"supplying fresh child victims to his fellow child-sexual predator priests"

Commonweal is happpy with this perception, but I wonder is it accurate? Do you see the monsignor as some sort of Marquis de Sade handing boys around in a sex-ring?

Speaking of Maria, have you read The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk

I must say I'm starting to feel very sorry for Msgr. Lynn whether he gets out of jail or not.  He is far from the only case of a "good little boy" who has been psychologically stunted because he was not allowed to grow up  and who has scrupulously done his "father's" bidding even as a middle aged "man".  The irony of ironies is that the resulting damage has been not only to himself but, indirectly, to many other children.

Yes, if Pennsylvania jails are anything like Louisiana ones, his jail time should have given him a different perspective on  male rape, not to mention the fact that many, many of the males in jail were themselves  objects of sexual predation as children.  Did he get to know any of their stories?  Are "old boys", as the French call them,  capable of learning from such experience?  There aren't even any other priests who can say to him, "Yes, I understand all you've been through".  He's in for a very isolated life no matter what the outcome, and he might not even grow from the experience.  Holy Spirit help him!

Bill deH. -- Seth Williams was shuffled around as a child.  Maybe he knows from his own experience something about what it's like to be a victim.  Maybe that's what motivates him to do something about predation.  Interesting man.

"Male rape" -- how many children were actually raped as a result of Msgr Lynn's negligence?


I googled, and so far the answer to my question seems to be: zero.

JOL - you really need to get back on your meds....some bedtime reading:

Make sure you click on every document and report.


Guess you just don't know how to google:


I don't feel sorry for  Lynn, I feel sorry for the kids his cover-ups put in harm's way.

I just read the report on Fr. Sicoli in the AG's report.  Sickening.  I'm not feeling very sorry for Msgr. Flynn any more.  What intrigues me most is why :Cardinal Bevilaqua gave Sicoli the kinds of parishes he wanted.  The report makes one wonder if Sicoli was blackmailing the Cardinal.  Not only did Fr. Sicoli get assigned to parishes with schools, he got himself assigned to parishes with only one priest, which essentially prevented any oversight of him.  Flynn belongs in jail.

OK, I must admit that prison seems like such a horrible place that I do feel sorry for almost anyone who has to go there, but still ...

I'm becoming very suspicious of the American justice system,so I am always a little encouraged when a defendant is found not guilty. In recent years, I've been feeling as if we're putting people in prison when we just don't like what they do, and we're not going to let the law get in our way.  We're  listening in on everybody's phone calls just in the hopes of catching them doing something bad, and sometimes, like at Guantanamo, we're not even going to bother wih a trial before we put them in jail,  because we just know they're bad, why prove it.

So when a defendant that everyone loves to hate is acquitted, I feel like the sytem works at least a little. 

Like Rita, I wonder what Msgr Lynn's  takeaway from his time in prision is.  If he is called to it, he could become involved in prison ministry in the future, that would be a good and useful thing to come from this experience.

Bill de Haas, your links do not seem to answer the question. What is the answer, if you think mine is incorrect? Do youD

Since Ann Olivier believes that "Male rape" in prison would be condign punishment for Msgr Lynn's negligence, I asked how many incidents of rape he could have prevented. I looked up many items on Bill's link, and found no incident of actual rape of a minor subsequence to Msgr Lynn's handling of such cases. Many of the clerics involved seem to be guilty only of incidents of molestation dating back decades, to 1966 for example. If Bill knows the answer to my question, perhsrp

Fr. O'Leary -- You're here to defend your opinion using insults as your primary weapon.  Get lost.

It was not I who talked of Msgr Lynn (not Flynn btw) as guilty of failing to prevent "male rape"; Bill sent a package of material, but neither of you seem to know, in reality, whether there was even one incident of male rape that Lynn could have prevented and didn't. What not cite at least one incident, instead of huffing and puffing?

If the worst that men had to fear in US prisons were "rapists" of the caliber of Fr Sicoli (now Exhibit A as the "male rape" countenanced by Lynn), I think they'd be very relieved. 

Typical remarks from Catholic League's Bill Donohue:

"This is a monumental win for justice, and a tremendous setback for anti-Catholic bigots. Their goal is to 'get a bishop,' and if that doesn’t work, then they settle for the next in line. They are fundamentally dishonest, and now they have been disabled."

Here's the latest.

What I did not realize is that the 3 judge appeals panel ruled unanimously in Lynn's favor.

Agree that Donohue's remarks here are not helpful.

Donohue is a blowhard who has been successfully demonized. But lots of others make unsettling points:

Of course you will not get these details from SNAP and their supporters.

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