A Roman Catholic church official who has been jailed for more than a year for his handling of priest sex-abuse complaints had his conviction reversed and was ordered released Thursday.
In dismissing the landmark criminal case, a three-judge Superior Court panel unanimously rejected prosecutors' arguments that Monsignor William Lynn, the first U.S. church official ever charged or convicted for the handling of clergy-abuse complaints, supervised the welfare of any particular child.
"It pours salt info the wounds of me and every other survivor out there. Every other survivor," said Phil Gaughn, who alleges sex abuse at Lynn's hands.
Gaughn claims he was sexually abused by a priest at a Northeast Philadelphia church by a priest that Monsignor Lynn placed there. Gaughn has a pending civil suit against Lynn and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
"He's been in prison 18 months for a crime he didn't commit and couldn't commit under the law," said Lynn's attorney, Thomas Bergstrom. "It's incredible what happened to this man."
Lynn, 62, is serving a three- to six-year prison sentence after his child-endangerment conviction last year. His lawyers will try to get him released as early as Thursday from the state prison in Waymart.
Prosecutors had argued at trial that Lynn reassigned predators to new parishes in Philadelphia while he was the archdiocese's secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004.
Lynn's conviction stems from the case of one priest, Edward Avery, found to have abused a child in 1998 after such a transfer.
Lynn's attorneys have long contended the state's child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not supervisors like Lynn. Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina rejected their argument and allowed the case to move forward, but the Superior Court panel reversed her decision.
The reversal outraged victims groups, like the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"The ruling gives corrupt Catholic officials encouragement to continue deceiving police, stonewalling prosecutors, ignoring victims, destroying evidence, fabricating alibis, hiding crimes and protecting pedophiles," said David Clohessy, director of SNAP, in a news release.
Prosecutors could ask the full Superior Court to rehear the case.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he strongly disagreed with the decision.
"While we are deciding what our next course of action will be, we most likely will be appealing," he said.
Lynn's supporters believe he was made a scapegoat for the church's sins, including two cardinals who were never charged. After Lynn's trial, Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report a priest with child pornography.