Philly judge defends church official’s trial, landmark conviction for child endangerment

PHILADELPHIA — A judge is defending her decisions in the trial of the first Catholic Church official in the United States to be charged and convicted in the cover-up of the priest abuse scandal.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina concluded in a recent opinion that Monsignor William Lynn lied to perpetuate a church cover-up of child sexual abuse.

“The defendant learned that his predecessors handled clergy sex abuse in a way that prioritized shielding the church from scandal and … perpetuated the same system during his tenure,” she wrote in the 243-page decision, which summarized much of the trial testimony.

The document responds to trial decisions that Lynn is challenging on appeal. The appeal now goes to the state Superior Court. The Legal Intelligencer first reported Wednesday on the judge’s April 12 opinion.

Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy, was convicted of child endangerment and is serving a three- to six-year prison term.

Defense lawyers argued during and after the three-month trial that the judge unfairly let jurors hear about priest sexual-abuse complaints filed long before Lynn worked at the Philadelphia archdiocese. Lynn served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, acting, in the judge’s words, as the point person for abuse complaints and a “funnel” for information going up the church’s chain of command to the archbishop.

The judge said the earlier abuse complaints, some dating to the 1950s, showed how Lynn continued the cover-up begun by his predecessors. And she rejected arguments that they unduly influenced jurors, noting the jurors convicted Lynn on just one of three counts.

“The contents of the Secret Archives (of priest-abuse complaints) illustrated that the defendant’s predecessors handled issues of clergy sex abuse consistently with the priorities of the archbishop,” she wrote. “… Those who came before the defendant consistently sought to minimize any potential for scandal and to protect the reputation of the church and its clergy.”

Lynn’s lawyers have argued that the child endangerment charge should not apply to him because he did not supervise any child.

(Washington Post)