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Jury reaches mixed verdict in Philly priest sex abuse trial

By 69 News, (follow: @69news), news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 22 2012 01:20:03 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 22 2012 04:18:16 PM CDT

A Roman Catholic church official has been convicted of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy.

PHILADELPHIA -

A Roman Catholic church official has been convicted of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy in a groundbreaking clergy abuse trial in Philadelphia.

Monsignor William Lynn is the first U.S. church official convicted of a crime for how he handled sex abuse accusations.

Lynn has been on leave from the church since his arrest last year. The criminal case stems from his long stint as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Defense lawyers said he tried to document the claims, get priests into treatment and alert his bishop to problem priests. Lynn says the cardinal was the ultimate authority on what happened to the priests.

Prosecutors argued that he could have called police or quit the job if efforts to help victims were being stymied.

The jury was unable to bring a verdict against co-defendant Rev. James Brennan, who was charged with attempted rape of a 14-year-old altar boy and endangering the welfare of a child.

The trial marked the first time that U.S. prosecutors charged not just priests who allegedly committed abuses, but also church leaders for failing to stop them.

Removed from the active ministry in 2006, he admitted two years later that he had allowed the youngster to view pornography and sleep in the same bed with him in 1996, according to church investigators' testimony.

Defrocked priest Edward Avery had been due to go on trial with Brennan and Lynn, but he pleaded guilty in March after admitting he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy during the 1998-1999 school year.

The 69-year-old was sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison.

On Wednesday, the jury reported that it was unable to reach a verdict on four of five charges in the high-profile case. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ordered jurors to keep deliberating, according to a source with direct knowledge of the case.

Lynn's conspiracy count relates to an allegation that he schemed with Avery and other archdiocese officials to endanger children.

More than 60 witnesses and alleged clergy abuse victims testified during Lynn and Brennan's criminal trial, which began on March 26 and wrapped up May 31, with jury deliberations beginning the next day.

Lynn's defense team argued their client repeatedly told higher-ups about the alleged abuse and, under strict orders from late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, had no authority to remove priests from the ministry.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington characterized Lynn's behavior as "disgraceful," "shameful" and "ridiculous," sarcastically calling him a "hero" who put young people in harm's way.

"He actually looked you in the eye and said he put victims first. How dare he?" the prosecutor asked jurors during his more than 2½-hour closing argument.