PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The landmark conviction of a Roman Catholic church official imprisoned over his handling of priest sexual abuse complaints was overturned Tuesday for the second time.
The state Superior Court ruling awarded a new trial to Monsignor William Lynn, who has been on a legal roller coaster since his 2012 trial on child endangerment charges.
The appeals court said the trial judge erred in allowing weeks of testimony from 21 other accusers to show how the Archdiocese of Philadelphia handled sex-abuse complaints that dated to 1948. The three-judge panel wrote that the judge went too far in permitting the “other-acts evidence.”
That evidence “covered a myriad of circumstances that provided only minimal insight into (Lynn’s) state of mind,” the panel wrote.
Lynn, 64, was convicted of endangering a policeman’s son who said he was sexually assaulted as a boy by two priests and a teacher, including a previously accused priest who was transferred to his parish. Lynn was the first church official ever charged over his handling of abuse complaints.
“It’s certainly taken a toll, but he’s holding up,” said defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom, who hopes to get him released from prison quickly. “It’s a roller coaster, and he’s been on it. Hopefully, we can end it now.”
Lynn, the secretary for clergy in Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, has intermittently served about two years of his three- to six-year prison term. He has been back in prison since April, after the conviction overturned in 2013 on different grounds was reinstated by the state Supreme Court.
Philadelphia prosecutors, who could again seek reinstatement, said they were reviewing the latest decision in Lynn’s case, which they said involved a “crime of violence.”
The archdiocese this year settled a lawsuit filed by the victim, who said he has been in drug treatment repeatedly since childhood.
Lynn had control of scores of priest-abuse complaints kept locked in secret church archives at the archdiocese. Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, at Lynn’s sentencing, said she thought he perhaps hoped to address the situation by compiling a list of known and suspected predator priests, but he instead stayed silent when Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had the list destroyed.
“This ruling (Tuesday) rubs salt into already deep and still fresh wounds of Philadelphia Catholic and victims,” said David G. Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
In the case of the policeman’s son, defrocked priest Edward Avery pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges. The Rev. Charles Engelhardt and teacher Bernard Shero maintained their innocence but were convicted at trial. Engelhardt has since died in prison.