A former Catholic Church official convicted of endangering the welfare of children abused by other priests should not have been considered a supervisor of the children's welfare because he never had direct contact with them, his counsel argued before the state Superior Court in Philadelphia.
A three-judge panel composed of President Judge John T. Bender, Judge Christine L. Donohue and Senior Judge John L. Musmanno heard arguments in Commonwealth v. Lynn on Tuesday.
The lawyer representing Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese, is arguing that the law he was convicted under does not apply to the official given the facts of the case.
Thomas A. Bergstrom of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney argued that prosecutors did not make out a case that, under the pre-amendment version of Pennsylvania's endangering the welfare of a child statute (EWOC), Lynn had any contact with children.
"Proof that such adults were actually supervising a child requires evidence that the adult was involved with the child," Bergstrom said, citing the Superior Court's 1998 opinion in Commonwealth v. Brown.
According to Bergstrom, in Brown, the court said that by showing that the adult played with, bathed, ate with, baby-sat or otherwise interacted with the child, the prosecution can prove that the adult was supervising the child during the time he or she resided with the child.
Additionally, Bergstrom noted that in Brown, the court said it could "foresee circumstances when an adult is not involved with the child, and thus would not be a person supervising the welfare of a child under the endangering statute."
Lynn was responsible for reviewing allegations of sexual abuse involving priests as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy from 1992 until 2004. He was convicted in June 2012 of endangering the welfare of an abuse victim known as D.G. by his role in assigning D.G.'s abuser — defrocked priest Edward V. Avery, who later pleaded guilty to abusing D.G. — to the parish in which D.G. served as an altar server.
The Legal does not name confirmed or alleged sexual-abuse victims.
Musmanno questioned Bergstrom as to whether or not Lynn, in assigning Avery to a parish while allegedly knowing that sexual complaints had been filed against Avery, should be considered an accomplice to Avery's criminal activities.
"Would it be enough to permit it, to facilitate it … to aid and abet?" Musmanno asked.
Bergstrom responded that in order for there to be accomplice liability, the accomplice has to have the same mindset as the principal.
Hugh J. Burns Jr., chief of the appeals unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, argued that Lynn "established he had a duty to supervise pedophile priests" in order to protect children in the archdiocese, and that duty constituted supervising the welfare of children.
"The statute doesn't say 'supervising children,'" Burns said, "the statute says 'supervising the welfare of children.'"
The pre-amendment EWOC under which Lynn was charged and convicted stated a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits a crime if he or she knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support.
The statute was amended to apply to a person who employs or supervises people who supervise children, and changing the language meant that legislators wanted to make the law more clear, not make a wholesale change, Burns' brief said.
Donohue asked Burns if the Superior Court had ever looked at a situation where a supervisor of a supervisor had been at fault.
But Burns responded that the court had previously established that the factors that constitute supervisorship must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Burns also raised another issue, prior bad acts, consisting of evidence of about 21 priests whose files Lynn reviewed as part of his human resources role with the archdiocese.
Donohue asked Burns what those prior bad acts established with regard to Lynn.
Burns responded that they were probative of Lynn's experience in supervising priests who sexually abused minors; his knowledge of their tendency to recidivate and the harm they inflict on their victims; and the priorities he served and methods he used to conceal and facilitate their misconduct in a manner that endangered children.
"The defendant knew that priests were deceptive, that they'd groomed and gained the trust of their victims, and he knew the harm it would cause" the victims, Burns said.
Bender said that Burns was focusing on general harm and not that of Avery's case.
"Avery wasn't so clear," Bender said. "From what I read of Avery, his past wasn't that bad."
Burns disagreed, and said Lynn had the means to know about the possibility of recidivism on Avery's part and by putting Avery in a parish with a grade school, he neglected to consider the welfare of children.