The highest-ranking US church official to be convicted of covering up child sex allegations, Monsignor William Lynn, has been sentenced to three to six years in prison.
Lynn, whose job it was to investigate reports of abuse in the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, was found guilty last month of one count of child endangerment.
Defence lawyers had pushed for Lynn to be spared prison, but Judge Teresa Sarmina on Tuesday imposed close to the maximum sentence of between three-and-a-half and seven years.
“It was three to six years,” an official at the court in Philadelphia told AFP news agency by telephone, confirming the tough sentence.
Lynn, 61, who took the witness stand for three days during his 10-week trial, was not charged with molesting children, but rather with covering up the crimes of priests who did.
He argued that he may have been out of his depth, but had never acted criminally.
Victims’ groups hailed the verdict as a major step forward as a court had acknowledged that someone in Lynn’s position had endangered a child.
The trial, the first in the US involving such a senior official in the Catholic Church, also centered on two more Philadelphia priests.
Reverend James Brennan, who was suspended from his duties as a priest, stood accused of attempting to rape a teenaged boy in the 1990s. The jury was hung over the charges dealing with Brennan, who will not face a new trial.
Defrocked priest Edward Avery pleaded guilty on the eve of trial. Avery was sentenced to between 2.5 and five years in prison.
During the trial the court heard graphic testimony describing sexual abuse in the Philadelphia archdiocese.
Lynn was found not guilty of endangering Brennan’s accuser and not guilty of conspiring to endanger that accuser. He was found guilty of endangering Avery’s victim, but not guilty of conspiracy with regard to that victim.
“The Lynn trial is of lasting significance because of its guilty verdict“
Lynn’s lawyer described him as a low level functionary who struggled within a rigid church hierarchy to act against abuse by documenting it and compiling the voluminous records that prosecutors used to build their case.
The defence said a prison sentence was unfair and that Lynn should not be punished in the same way as Avery, who had actually committed sexual abuse.
Prosecutors portrayed Lynn as a keeper of the secrets who was obliged to compile the records and thought they would never see the light of day.
Prosecutors allege that in failing to remove abusive priests from positions where they had contact with minors, Lynn put children in danger.
Prosecutors wrote in their pre-sentencing memo that Lynn showed “constant deceit” and “a striving to please his bosses no matter how sinister the business”.
Shockwaves from the trial are expected to keep reverberating.
“The Lynn trial is of lasting significance because of its guilty verdict, and because the record of the trial contains a dramatic analysis for a single archdiocese of the two crimes that constitute the ongoing sex abuse crisis: a) the sexual abuse of children by priests and b) the enabling and cover-up of the abuse,” wrote bishop-accountability.org, which tracks reported abuses.