Monsignor William Lynn sentenced to three to six years in prison for role in child abuse cover-up

District Attorney Seth Williams.
RIKARD LARMA/METRO

Monsignor William Lynn was today sentenced to three to six years in prison for felony child endangerment due to his role in the Catholic church child sex abuse coverup.

“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” Judge Teresa Sarmina said over the objections of Lynn’s defense, who claimed he did not know about the victim whose abuser’s identity he helped hide. The sentenced imposed falls just short of the maximum three and a half to seven years.

Sarmina said that when Lynn realized his effort to remove pedophile priests from active duty “wasn’t going anywhere,” he was confronted with the option to walk away from the ministry and notify law enforcement. Instead, she said, he did nothing but hide the abusers’ names. “It’s not that hard to be good when you don’t have to make those tough choices that challenge the morals at your core,” she said.

Sarmina said that, through letters from Lynn’s supporters and from those victimized by pedophile priests whose allegations Lynn ignored, two pictures emerged of the church official. One was a callous secretary for the clergy whose “hard heart” shielded “monsters in garb” and the other was a compassionate pastor of Saint Joseph’s Parish in Downingtown, where he moved after the 2005 release of the grand jury report and served until he was charged. Sarmina said that acts of devotion committed by the latter Lynn did not excuse the conduct of the former.

“It’s a shame the love and support that was so evident at Saint Joseph’s in Downingtown is not what he exercised as secretary of the clergy,” she said. “…Through the letters, I have particularly seen the person Monsignor Lynn was after he was secretary of the clergy. … Perhaps once he left the office of the clergy and the things of which he had once been a part, he thought he had a second chance to make up for what he failed to do.”

She said that the humiliation of the landmark public trial Lynn underwent was not equal to the turmoil suffered by victims at the hands of abusers. “Many letters speak of what Monsignor Lynn had to endure, but we must think of what those who met with Monsignor Lynn about abuse and were not heard had to endure,” Sarmina said, noting the “peaceful life” many of Lynn’s supporters wished he could return to is “out of reach for those who were abused and not heard.”

District Attorney Seth Williams said outside the courthouse that he was pleased with Sarmina’s decision. “I think it’s ingenious how she used letters of victims and letters of friends and family of Monsignor Lynn to explain her sentence,” he said.

Though Sarmina was careful to say that Lynn was being sentenced for his own actions, not those of the Catholic church at large, Williams said the trial’s outcome set a precedent. “I believe this sent a message not just here in Philadelphia, but beyond in America to these institutions that they have to take allegations of abuse seriously.”


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