Priest Released After Court Overturns Child Endangerment Charge

Dec 30, 2013
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In a Philadelphia courtroom today, a judge agreed to release a Catholic Church official who's serving prison time for his handling of sexual abuse claims. Last week, a Pennsylvania appeals court overturned Monsignor William Lynn's 2012 conviction. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: At trial, prosecutors said Monsignor William Lynn kept hundreds of abuse complaints secret rather than notify police. They said he re-assigned accused priests without warning the new parishes, and they argued that put more children at risk of abuse. A jury found Lynn guilty of child endangerment. Winning this case was a big deal for the Philadelphia district attorney's office. Assistant DA, Hugh Burns, spoke outside the courthouse today.

HUGH BURNS JR.: This case established that people inside the hierarchy, people in authority who tried to cover this thing up could be investigated and prosecuted.

BRADY: The Pennsylvania Appeals Court ruled that Monsignor Lynn was tried under a law that did not apply to him because the alleged crimes took place before the law was passed. Lynn held his post with the church until 2004. And a new law was passed after that, so the justices reversed his conviction. Lynn has served 18 months of a three-to-six-year sentence.

Now, he's being released on a quarter-million dollars bail as prosecutors vow to appeal the case to Pennsylvania's supreme court. Monsignor Lynn's defense attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, says he's not convinced the court will hear the case because Lynn's situation is so unique.

THOMAS BERGSTROM: Because it's an old - it's the old statute. The new statute is in effect. Any case that's going to be brought going forward will not be brought under the old statute. So I don't understand why the Supreme Court would be the least bit interested in this case. But who knows?

BRADY: Bergstrom says it could take a week before Monsignor Lynn will be released from a Pennsylvania prison. His supporters will have to raise bail money. Lynn also must agree to give up his passport and submit to electronic monitoring while prosecutors file their appeal.

Prosecutors had asked that Lynn be denied bail, pointing out the Catholic Church is a worldwide organization and there could be supporters who would help him flee the U.S. Lynn's attorney called that argument bizarre, saying Lynn has no desire to run, he just wants out of prison. Prosecutors expect to file their appeal soon. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.