PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A prison that Pope Francis plans to visit during his U.S. trip houses a former church official jailed for his handling of priest sexual-abuse complaints.
Monsignor William Lynn is serving a minimum three-year sentence after a jury found he endangered children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Lynn, 64, is housed at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center while he appeals his conviction. It's unclear if he will still be there for the pope's Sept. 27 visit or whether he would be among the inmates picked to meet with him.
Defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said Lynn would no doubt welcome the experience.
Although his lawyers have called him a scapegoat for the Roman Catholic Church, the archdiocese has paid his legal bills since city prosecutors first opened their sweeping probe of priest sexual abuse in 2002, through a high-profile 2012 trial and appeals that continue today. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has visited Lynn at least once in prison, when Lynn was incarcerated in a state facility hours away.
"The archdiocese remains behind him. I think that says a lot," Bergstrom said Thursday. "He'd rather not be there ... but he's got a strong faith, and he's doing fine."
The pope plans to meet face-to-face with inmates and their families at the city's largest prison. It's unclear how many inmates will be chosen or whether their religious affiliations will be a factor. About 1,200 of the approximately 8,000 inmates identify as Catholic.
"We hope he brings ... a message of hope for the individuals incarcerated here," Philadelphia Prison Commissioner Louis Giorla said this week.
Francis, he said, "appreciates the dignity of all human beings. No one is so lowly that they can't be saved or change their lives."
Lynn, the secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, was the first U.S. church official charged for keeping accused priests on the job. However, a more senior cleric, Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, was later convicted of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected abuse and given two years of probation. The pope accepted his resignation this year.
Appellate courts in Pennsylvania have gone back and forth on whether Lynn should have been convicted under the child-endangerment law at the time. He was released after one appeals court threw out his conviction, but then he was sent back to prison this year. In all, he has spent 1 3/4 years in prison and a year on house arrest at a rectory.
Francis this year strongly condemned church officials who cover up for pedophile priests, saying they cause victims "even greater suffering."
The Philadelphia Inquirer, reporting on the pope's itinerary, first reported that Lynn is at the prison.
Associated Press writer Natalie Pompilio contributed to this report.