PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Roman Catholic monsignor who became the first U.S. church official branded a felon for covering up sex abuse claims against priests was sentenced Tuesday to three to six years in prison by a judge who said he "enabled monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children."
Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, "helped many but also failed many in his 36-year church career," Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said.
Lynn, who handled priest assignments and child sexual assault complaints from 1992 to 2004, was convicted last month of felony child endangerment for his oversight of now-defrocked priest Edward Avery, who is serving a 2½- to five-year sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting an altar boy in church.
The monsignor said Tuesday: "I did not intend any harm to come to (Avery's victim). My best was not good enough to stop that harm."
Lynn's lawyers sought probation, arguing that few Pennsylvanians serve long prison terms for child endangerment and their client shouldn't serve more time than abusers. Defense attorneys, who have vowed an appeal of the landmark conviction, said the seven-year maximum term advocated by the commonwealth "would merely be cruel and unusual."
The judge said Lynn allowed "monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart."
"You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong," Sarmina said.
The 61-year-old Lynn was acquitted of conspiracy and a second endangerment count involving a co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan. The jury deadlocked on a 1996 abuse charge against Brennan, and prosecutors said Monday that they would retry him.
In 1992, a doctor told Lynn's office that Avery had abused him years earlier. Lynn met with the doctor and sent Avery for treatment — but the church-run facility diagnosed him with an alcohol problem, not a sexual disorder. Avery was returned to ministry and sent to live at the northeast Philadelphia parish where the altar boy was assaulted in 1999.
Prosecutors who spent a decade investigating sex abuse complaints kept in secret files at the archdiocese and issued two damning grand jury reports argue that Lynn and unindicted co-conspirators in the church hierarchy kept children in danger and the public in the dark.
Lynn's attorneys have long argued that the state's child endangerment statute, which was revised in 2007 to include those who supervise abusers, should not apply to Lynn since he left office in 2004.
Lynn was the first U.S. church official convicted for his handling of abuse claims in the sex scandal that's rocked the Catholic church for more than a decade. But he might not be the last.
Bishop Robert Finn and the Kansas City diocese face a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse. Both Finn and the diocese have pleaded not guilty and are set to go on trial next month.