Op-Ed: The impact of the court decision to reverse Lynn’s conviction

Photo: Northeast Times/Maria Pouchnikova

Photo: Northeast Times/Maria Pouchnikova

By Ralph Cipriano (City Paper) – The overturning of a criminal conviction is a rare event, with the odds of it occurring at less than 5 percent. Reversals in the criminal courts are “like diamonds,” as one local defense lawyer put it.

So it was a shocker on Dec. 26 when a panel of three state Superior Court judges unanimously ruled that the landmark conviction of Monsignor William J. Lynn should be reversed and he should be “discharged forthwith” from prison.

There may be more surprises when the alleged victim in the Lynn case takes the stand next June, when his civil case against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is scheduled to go to trial.

Lynn, former secretary for clergy for the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, was the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for the sexual sins of the clergy — not for touching a child, but for failing to rein in the predator priests he supervised.

Though it reversed his 2012 conviction, the Superior Court judges noted there was evidence that he “prioritized the archdiocese’s reputation over the safety of potential victims.”

So, what will be the impact of the Lynn reversal?

In the short term, Lynn, the scapegoat for the sins of the local archdiocese, is going to be released from prison on $250,000 bail after serving 18 months of a 3- to 6-year sentence.  For the monsignor, it’s a legal victory with a bitter aftertaste. The Superior Court confirmed what a grand jury and a former district attorney had decided back in 2005, before District Attorney Seth Williams took office and reversed course: That under the law, Lynn should have never been charged with the crime that sent him to jail, namely endangering the welfare of a child. The state’s 1972 child endangerment law originally applied only to adults who had direct contact with children, such as parents, guardians or teachers. Lynn never met the alleged victim in his case; the law has since been amended to include supervisors such as Lynn.

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