PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Catholic church official’s 14-year legal odyssey over his handling of sex-abuse complaints won’t end anytime soon after a Philadelphia judge said Friday he would be retried on child endangerment charges.
Monsignor William Lynn had served nearly three years of a three- to six-year sentence when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed his conviction because of trial errors. That was the second time Lynn’s conviction had been thrown out after a sweeping 2012 trial that unearthed decades of hidden complaints from locked vaults at the archdiocese.
Lynn, 66, appeared weary but unfazed after the ruling Friday. He will be back in court next week for the judge to decide how many church-abuse victims can testify at the retrial. His lawyers could also appeal and try again to have the case dismissed.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams — who revived the case after his predecessor reluctantly concluded no church leaders could be charged in 2005 — is in his last year of office and under federal indictment. Eight people are running to succeed him.
“They can’t dismiss the case. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars were spent investigating the archdiocese and prosecuting Lynn, so what’s the next prosecutor going to do?” asked defense lawyer Jeffrey Lindy, who represented Lynn for a decade, but is no longer involved in the case. “They’re not going to say, ‘OK, we proved our point, let’s go away.'”
Lynn could also seek a plea with a time-served sentence, although he has not been interested in plea negotiations in the past.
Lynn is accused of endangering a single altar boy, a city policeman’s son who testified that he was abused in about 1998 by a priest transferred to his parish. Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy, had reviewed 50 years’ worth of secret files to prepare a list of problem priests. He labeled the one in question, William Avery, a suspected predator. Lynn told jurors he made the list to try to address the problem, only to have Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua have it destroyed. Bevilacqua, excoriated in two grand jury reports, was never charged.
Lynn’s lawyers call him a scapegoat for the archdiocese.
After years of twists and turns in his case, the defense recently accused prosecutors of hiding exculpatory evidence that some investigators felt the altar boy, who battled years of heroin abuse, was not credible. He testified that he was molested by two priests and a Catholic school teacher — and all three, including Avery, were convicted.
An independent psychiatrist in 2015 concluded his accounts were so inconsistent it was impossible to know if he had ever been sexually abused, according to a defense motion. The evaluation came as part of the young man’s lawsuit against the archdiocese, which was settled after the criminal trials for an undisclosed sum.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Gwendolyn Bright refused to dismiss the case over that issue, but invited an appeal before she sets a trial date. The defense will weigh the option..
Williams, who is accused of taking more than $100,000 in gifts in exchange for official favors, remains in office.
If the case is retried, Bright wants fewer than a dozen church-abuse victims to testify. The first trial featured 23 such witnesses, providing weeks of testimony the appeals court later called unfair to Lynn.