By Natalie Pompilio
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Pennsylvania's highest court on Monday reinstated the conviction of the first U.S. Catholic church official sent to prison for mishandling sexual misconduct complaints against priests.
In August 2012, a Philadelphia jury found Monsignor William Lynn, 64, guilty of one count of child endangerment for failing to supervise a pedophile priest who eventually sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999.
That conviction was overturned by the state’s Superior Court in December 2013.
Monday’s ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholds the original August 2012 judgment.
The high court said Lynn “as a high ranking official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was specifically responsible for protecting children from sexually abusive priests.”
Lynn, a former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese who oversaw the work of 800 priests, was convicted of covering up sex abuse, often by transferring predatory priests to unsuspecting parishes.
But, in overturning the conviction, a three-judge panel later ruled that the abuse law applied only to those with direct responsibility for the care and welfare of children.
Lynn, one of the highest-ranking clergyman convicted in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal, has been under house arrest since December 2013.
His lead attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, said he will file a motion to continue that status while the defense team takes up issues not yet resolved by the court. Lynn may also appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“That’s an option, but I’m not sure if we’re going to take it,” Bergstrom said. “It’s a waking nightmare. It’s unending. We just have to keep fighting.”
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams released a statement on Monday saying his office was “gratified that the court supports our interpretation of the evidence.”
The prosecutor had argued that Lynn violated his duty to protect children from predator priests.
“Today’s announcement sends the clear message that if anyone — priest, layperson, citizen, police officer or elected official — knowingly puts children at risk of being sexually molested, they will be held accountable,” Williams said.
Lynn was accused of allowing the transfer of Father Edward Avery, whom he knew to be a pedophile after complaints surfaced in 1992. Avery was transferred to St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia even after the diocese’s own psychiatrists recommended Avery not be allowed contact with adolescents.
At St. Jerome's, Avery molested an altar boy, prosecutors said. Avery pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg; editing by Andrew Hay)