Msgr. William J. Lynn walks to court in Philadelphia in June. (Matt Rourke / Associated…)
A Roman Catholic monsignor, William J. Lynn, was sentenced to three to six years in prison on Tuesday for covering up sexual abuses by a priest he supervised in Philadelphia.
“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said, according to media reports from the courtroom.
“I did not intend any harm,” Lynn said in court Tuesday. “My best was not good enough to stop that harm.”
A former secretary for clergy to the late Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, Lynn managed priests and investigated claims of misconduct from 1992 to 2004. With his conviction last month of child endangerment, Lynn became the first Roman Catholic church official to be convicted of a felony for covering up child sex-abuse claims against a priest.
That priest, Edward Avery, was later defrocked and is serving 2½ to 5 years in prison for sexually assaulting an altar boy in church.
In handing down the sentence, Samina said Lynn, 61, allowed “monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart.”
The punishment was short of the maximum term sought by prosecutors, but was more severe than the probation or county jail time sought by the defense. The defense has said it will appeal the conviction.
Reports of Catholic priests sexually abusing children have inspired a number of criminal and civil court cases. But the Lynn case reached into the upper echelons of the church to those who covered up for the abusers.
“Monsignor Lynn’s conviction in June of child endangerment sent a clear message to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church that their days of operating above and beyond the law are coming to an end,” the Pennsylvania Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse said in a statement released Tuesday.
“There is no sentence or penalty which will restore the lives of the thousands of children who have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy for decades while their superiors chose to protect their church rather than their children,” the group stated. “However, we believe the severity of today’s sentence is appropriate and sends an unmistakable signal that those who put themselves and their institutions before the safety of children run the risk of major consequences.”
In his testimony during the trial, Lynn maintained that he did his best to deal with priests suspected of molestation but that there were limits to what he could do, given the policies at the time. He said he arranged to remove Avery as a parish priest in 1992 after a medical student said he had been molested in the 1970s. Avery was treated at a church facility for alcohol problems.
Lynn said he put Avery on a list of pedophile priests prepared in 1994 and Avery was later returned to his priestly practice working as a chaplain at a hospital. Avery was living at a Philadelphia parish where an altar boy was assaulted in 1999. Avery pleaded guilty to that assault.