A Philadelphia monsignor tasked with investigating abuse claims has become the highest-ranking US church official to be convicted of covering up child sex allegations.
Monsignor William Lynn, who was secretary of the archdiocese from 1994 to 2001, was found guilty on Friday of one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
The jury acquitted Lynn, who oversaw hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, on counts of conspiracy and another charge of child endangerment.
Sentencing for Lynn, who faces up to seven years in prison, was set for August 13 by Judge M Teresa Sarmina.
“This is a monumental victory for the named and unnamed victims,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.
“This was about evil men who did evil things to children.”
Lynn’s lawyers said they planned to appeal the case.
Removing his black clerical jacket but leaving on his collar, a stoic Lynn, 61, was led out of the courtroom and into custody by deputy sheriffs as his family members wept.
While the district attorney’s office argued that Lynn should immediately be jailed, the judge said she would consider house arrest if the defence asked for it.
‘Shield and protect’
The jury deliberated 13 days before reaching the mixed decision in the trial of Lynn, who, prosecutors charged, covered up child sex abuse allegations, often by transferring priests to unsuspecting parishes.
Barbara Dorris, outreach director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the verdict put the church on notice that it can no longer “shield and protect” abusive priests and expect to get away with it.
“This is a strong message, and we’re grateful for that message that kids’ safety has to come first,” she said.
The case against Lynn was part of a broader indictment against clergy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
One of the priests, Reverend James Brennan, was tried along with Lynn and faced charges of attempted rape and child endangerment.
A third priest who was scheduled to go on trial with Lynn and Brennan pleaded guilty at the last minute to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy at church in 1999.
The trial re-focused attention on a sweeping sex abuse scandal that has rocked the church, costing billions in settlements, driving prominent US dioceses into bankruptcy and testing the faith of Roman Catholics.
Lynn’s job was supervising 800 priests, including investigating sex abuse claims from 1992 to 2004, in the nation’s sixth largest archdiocese, with 1.5 million members.
The defence said Lynn tried to address cases of pedophile priests, compiling a list in 1994 of 35 accused predators and writing memos to suggest treatment and suspensions.