PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The city's top prosecutor vowed on Tuesday to retry a former church official imprisoned for nearly three years over his handling of abuse complaints, even though the monsignor's conviction has twice been overturned.
Monsignor William Lynn was the first U.S. Roman Catholic Church official ever charged or convicted of helping to shield child molesters within its ranks.
A judge on Tuesday agreed to release Lynn from prison days after the state Supreme Court threw out the conviction, concluding the 2012 trial judge allowed too many priest-abuse victims not directly tied to the case to testify. Prosecutors had called the witnesses to show a pattern of behavior at the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Lynn was charged with endangering a boy by transferring a suspected predator-priest to his parish in the late 1990s.
His lawyer questioned District Attorney Seth Williams' intent to retry the case. Lynn, now 65, has served all but three months of his three-year sentence.
"I think we all know where Lynn stood in this (church) hierarchy. We all know that Lynn never touched a kid," lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said after a hearing Tuesday in which Lynn was ordered released on his original $250,000 bond. "Whether he's a scapegoat or not ... we're prepared to try a fair trial any day."
Williams said there is "substantial evidence" against Lynn.
"My office takes the charges of institutional sexual abuse extremely seriously," Williams said in a statement. "I will continue to use every available legal option at my disposal to prosecute pedophile priests and those who shield them."
Lynn has been in and out of prison during his appeals. He was due to be paroled in October, but relatives instead picked him up Tuesday from a state prison in northeastern Pennsylvania. Lynn, who will live with them in the Reading area, is due back in court Thursday to get a trial date. Despite two recent bouts with pneumonia, his spirits remain strong, Bergstrom said.
The accuser in Lynn's case, a former altar boy who said he was raped by two priests and his fifth-grade teacher, has since settled a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese.
At Lynn's initial trial, 21 other priest-abuse victims testified over several weeks, describing horrific sexual abuse by Philadelphia priests that stretched back for decades, long before Lynn's tenure as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Lynn knew about those cases because he read through their complaints, which were kept in a locked, secret file room. He also made a list of 35 priests accused of sex abuse.
The late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had the list destroyed, according to a memo introduced at trial. A copy nonetheless survived.
The trial judge called Lynn "a monster in clerical garb who destroyed the souls of children." But defense lawyers and other critics questioned why prosecutors charged a middle man in the church bureaucracy and failed to arrest the cardinals for whom he worked.
An advocacy group for clergy-abuse victims said Tuesday that his case put employers on notice that they must report child sexual-abuse complaints.
"Finally, a Catholic enabler — a church official who put kids in harms' way — has been punished. And he may be punished further," said Karen Polesir, Philadelphia-area director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "That should make many employers think again when they're tempted to hide known or suspected child sex crimes."
Bergstrom, though, said that if Lynn is convicted again, he could only be sentenced to complete the three months he has left to serve.