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PA court overturns priest's conviction in sex abuse cover-up

The Pennsylvania Superior Court [official website] on Thursday unanimously reversed [opinion, PDF] the conviction of a priest for his failure to protect children from a sexual predator and ordered he be released from prison. Monsignor William Lynn, the first senior US Roman Catholic Church official to be found guilty for covering up child sex abuse by a priest, was originally sentenced to three-to-six years in prison in 2012. Lynn was convicted for endangering the welfare of children (EWOC) pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 4304 [text], by reassigning a priest with a known history of sexual abuse to a Philadelphia parish, and failing to make the new parish aware of the priest's past. The priest, Edward Avery, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a young alter boy in the Philadelphia parish to which he was transferred. The Superior Court reversed Lynn's conviction, stating that the case was "unsupported by sufficient evidence," and rejecting arguments that Lynn was legally responsible for the abused boy's welfare. President Judge John T. Bender [official profile], writing for a three-judge panel, stated:

There was no evidence that Appellant had any specific knowledge that Avery was planning or preparing to molest children at St. Jerome's. Indeed, Avery was not even diagnosed with a mental impairment that suggested he had a predisposition to commit sexual offenses. As such, the notion that Avery was an ongoing, ever-present danger . . . was tenuous at best. Even more tenuous, then, was the conclusion that the natural and probable consequences of Appellant's negligent supervision of Avery were Avery's intentional acts of molestation against a victim unknown to Appellant. . . . We conclude, therefore, that the theories of accomplice liability applied by the trial court in this case were not supported by sufficient evidence.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said that he will likely appeal the Superior Court's decision.

Clergy abuse has become a contentious legal issue in recent years, as the Vatican has come under intense scrutiny related to allegations of sexual abuse of children by local church officials. In January the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles was ordered [JURIST report] to release its files on clergy sex abuse [JURIST news archive] by its employees with full disclosure on all subject matter, totaling nearly 30,000 pages of documents and more than 200 priests named in the allegations. Last August a judge for the US District Court for the District of Oregon ruled in favor of the Vatican by holding that priests are not employees [JURIST report] of the Holy See, the ecclesiastical, governmental and administrative capital of the Roman Catholic Church. Judge Michael Mosman ruled that the facts of the case do not establish an employer-employee relationship, despite his 2006 ruling allowing the lawsuit [JURIST report] to proceed on a strictly legal theory that a priest was a Vatican employee under Oregon law. In September 2011, Amnesty International [advocacy website] claimed [JURIST report] that clergy members' abuse of Irish children amounted to torture. The report, titled In Plain Sight [text, PDF] called special attention to "people in positions of power" who "ignore their responsibility to act." Also in September, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] against Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict XVI, for widespread sexual abuse and subsequent concealment of thousands of incidents. Since 2007, the Church has settled over 500 cases [JURIST news archive] of clergy abuse in the U.S. alone, totaling more than $900 million.

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