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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William J. Lynn

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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William J. Lynn

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Com. v. Lynn, 2013 PA Super 328, 83 A.3d 434 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013)

26 December 2013

Instrument(s) Cited:
Endangering the Welfare of Children Statute (EWOC), 18 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes   §4303 (amended 2007): Prior to 2007 the statute read: “A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offence if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support”; in 2007 the statute was amended to cover “A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age, or a person that employs or supervises such a person…”

Crimes Code of Pennsylvania on Accomplice Liability:  “A person is guilty of an offence if it is committed by his own conduct or by the conduct of another person for which he is legally accountable, or both” (18 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes §306(a)); a person is “legally accountable for the conduct of another person” committing a criminal offence when “he is an accomplice of such other person in the commission of the offence” (18 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes §306(b)).

Case Summary:

The defendant, Msgr. William J. Lynn, was the Secretary of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. His responsibilities included investigating and handling clergy sexual abuse complaints. Lynn was made aware of the serious history of sexual misconduct of Father Edward V. Avery (“Priest”) who was serving under his supervision. R.F., a former altar boy, told Lynn that he was sexually abused by the Priest as a child but had never received any relief or response from Lynn’s predecessor. In response to the allegations, Lynn recommended that the Priest receive hospitalisation and counselling, but never informed the hospital of the allegations of abuse. After discharge from the hospital the doctor said that the Priest should have no future contact with children. However, several years later, still under the supervision of Lynn, the Priest began molesting another boy, D.G., who he met in the course of his work.

Lynn was tried under the pre-amended EWOC and convicted in 2012 of endangering the welfare of children, and conspiracy to commit endangering the welfare of children, arising from his supervision of the Priest and other priests. The conviction was based on his conduct in placing a priest with a known history of sexually abusing children in an environment where there was a significant risk that the priest would reoffend.

Lynn appealed his conviction, asking for the conviction to be overturned.

Issue and resolution:
Child sexual abuse; whether a supervisor of a priest is subject to criminal liability for the priest’s sexual misconduct with a child when the supervisor had no direct supervisory role over the child, but the supervisor believed that the priest had previously been “guilty of sexual misconduct with minors.”

The criminal conviction was overturned because the Court found that the pre-amended EWOC does not apply to Lynn in his role as supervisor of the Priest. The Court held that:
1. The pre-amended EWOC required proof that Lynn was a direct supervisor of an endangered child victim;
2. Evidence did not support a finding that Lynn supervised the child victim in his role as secretary for clergy; and
3. Evidence did not support a conviction of Lynn under EWOC as an accomplice.

As a result, Lynn’s conviction was reversed.

Court reasoning:
The Court considered whether Lynn was in the role of one “supervising the welfare of a child” as listed in the pre-amended EWOC. At trial the prosecutor had argued that Lynn’s inadequate supervision of the Priest, by placing the Priest in an environment where Lynn knew there was a significant risk that the Priest would sexually abuse children, was the conduct that violated the pre-amended EWOC. The prosecutor had argued that the statute’s phrase “person supervising the welfare of a child” applies not just to persons who directly supervise a child, but also to persons in control of sexually abusive priests. Lynn’s responsibility over the Priest, the prosecutor had argued, meant he was responsible for protecting the children of the Archdiocese from potential future harm by the Priest.

On appeal the Court ruled that the pre-amended statute did not cover the conduct of a supervisor of a person supervising the welfare of a child. The Court determined that the addition of the words “or a person that employs or supervises such a person” to the statute meant that such people were not included in the statute before the amendment. The Court cited an earlier case where a supervisor was not found guilty under the statute because that court considered actual supervision of children to be required. As Lynn did not have any direct supervisory role over D.G. or any other child put at risk by the Priest’s presence at the church, Lynn was not in the role of one “supervising the welfare of a child”, and therefore could not be held liable for the actions of the Priest.

The Court also considered whether Lynn could be found guilty of endangering the welfare of children as the Priest’s accomplice. The Court looked to the Crimes Code, which requires that in order to be an accomplice, a person must intend to aid or promote the conduct of the crime, and there must be evidence that he participated in the crime. The trial court had concluded that Lynn’s conduct met these two requirements. It found that the first requirement was satisfied by evidence that Lynn intended to protect the reputation of the Archdiocese and prevent scandal, as well as protect the reputation of the Priest.

On appeal the Court said it was clear that Lynn did prioritise the Archdiocese’s reputation over the safety of potential victims of sexually abusive priests. However, this did not demonstrate intent to promote or facilitate endangering the welfare of children. The Priest could therefore not be liable as an accomplice.

In May 2014, the Philadephia Supreme Court, the state’s highest court, agreed to review the prosecution of Lynn.

For more information on the issue of child sexual abuse and religious institutions, including a selection of case law, please see CRIN’s campaign ‘End sexual violence in religious institutions‘.

Link to Full Judgment:

This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.