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Monsignor in Pa. convicted for covering up abuse claims

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Monsignor William Lynn walks June 20, 2012, to the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia. Lynn is the first Roman Catholic church official in the U.S. ever charged with child endangerment, for allegedly keeping co-defendants former priest Edward V. Avery and the Rev. James J. Brennan, and other accused predators, in ministry. (Associated Press)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Monsignor William Lynn helped the Archdiocese of Philadelphia keep predator-priests in ministry, and the public in the dark, by telling parishes their priests were being removed for health reasons and then sending the men to unsuspecting churches, prosecutors argued in a landmark clergy-abuse trial.

A jury agreed, making Lynn the first U.S. church official branded a felon for covering up abuse claims.

The 61-year-old Lynn was convicted of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy Friday. He served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

“Many in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia hierarchy had dirty hands,” Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said. “They failed to realize that the church is its people.”

Williams said he did not have sufficient evidence last year to charge other officials, including Bevilacqua, who died in January at age 88.

Lynn had faced about 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of all three counts he faced — conspiracy and two counts of child endangerment. He was convicted of only a single endangerment count, which carries a possible 3½- to seven-year prison term.

The jury could not reach a verdict for Lynn’s co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, who was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1999.

Despite Lynn’s acquittal on the conspiracy charge, the trial exposed how deeply involved the late cardinal was in dealing with accused priests.

Bevilacqua had the final say on what to do with priests accused of abuse, transferred many of them to new parishes and dressed down anyone who complained, according to testimony. He also ordered the shredding of a 1994 list that Lynn prepared, warning that the archdiocese had three diagnosed pedophiles, a dozen confirmed predators and an additional 20 possible abusers in its midst.

Church lawyers turned over a surviving copy of the list days after Bevilacqua died.

Lynn didn’t react when the verdict was read, or acknowledge the siblings and other friends and relatives who accompanied him to court for much of the three-month trial. Several of them were wept.

The judge revoked Lynn’s bail and he was taken to jail, although his lawyers plan to ask on Monday that he be granted house arrest until sentencing. No date was set, but the judge scheduled an Aug. 13 presentencing hearing.

The defense pledged to appeal the conviction.

“He’s upset. He’s crushed. He’s in custody and he was the administrator who didn’t touch a child and had only limited authority,” defense lawyer Jeffrey M. Lindy said.

With the verdict, after 13 days of deliberations, jurors concluded that prosecutors failed to show that Lynn was part of a conspiracy to move predator priests around. The jury, however, did find that Lynn endangered the victim of defrocked priest Edward Avery, who pleaded guilty before trial to a 1999 sexual assault.

Lynn had deemed Avery “guilty” of an earlier complaint on the 1994 list, and helped steer him into an inpatient treatment program run by the archdiocese. But Lynn knew that Avery later was sent to live in a northeast Philadelphia parish, where the altar boy was assaulted.

The victim alleges that he was also assaulted by another priest and his Catholic school teacher. They are expected to be tried later this year.

After the verdict, the archdiocese apologized to clergy-abuse victims and said the church was on a “journey of reform and renewal that requires honesty and hope.”

“We are committed to providing support and assistance to parishioners as they and the church seek to more deeply understand sexual violence, and to create an environment that is safe and welcoming to all, including past victims,” read the church’s statement, which did not reference Lynn directly.

Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, called the verdict “a watershed moment” in the priest sex-abuse crisis.

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