PHILADELPHIA — A Roman Catholic church official was convicted of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy Friday in a landmark clergy-abuse trial, making him the first U.S. church official branded a felon for covering up abuse claims.
Monsignor William Lynn helped the archdiocese keep predators in ministry, and the public in the dark, by telling parishes their priests were being removed for health reasons and then sending the men to unsuspecting churches, prosecutors said.
Lynn, 61, served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
"Many in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia hierarchy had dirty hands," Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said. "They failed to realize that the church is its people."
Williams said he did not have sufficient evidence to charge other officials, including Bevilacqua, who died in January at age 88.
Lynn had faced 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of all three counts he faced — conspiracy and two counts of child endangerment. He was convicted of only a single endangerment count, which carries a possible 3½- to seven-year prison term.
The jury could not reach a verdict for Lynn's co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, who was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1999.
Lynn didn't react when the verdict was read, or acknowledge the siblings and other friends and relatives who have accompanied him to court for much of the three-month trial. Several of them were weeping.
After the verdict, the archdiocese apologized to clergy-abuse victims and said the church was on a "journey of reform and renewal that requires honesty and hope."
Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, called the verdict "a watershed moment" in the priest sex-abuse crisis.
"Lynn was a smart, able manager who at any time could have called the police, warned parishes, or threatened to blow the whistle," McKiernan said. "He was not a helpless good guy."
More than 500 Roman Catholic priests have been convicted of abuse charges across the United States, according to his group's count. Lynn is the first church official to be convicted for his administrative actions.