You see William Lynn for the first time, and what comes to mind is a kind of cherubic country friar – short, bespectacled and a little frumpy in his clerical garb.
Clearly, though that benign image is not the one that is held by the prosecutors at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, which went after Lynn fiercely during a trial in the spring and summer of 2012. He was convicted of endangering the welfare of a child as part of a wider grand jury report on child sex abuse.
Lynn, who is now 64, was clearly a big fish for the prosecutors – nailing a parish priest was one thing, and they did that. But nailing a monsignor who was in effect the chief of staff at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was something else completely.
Lynn ended up going to prison, sentenced to three to six years.
That, however, is not the end of the story.
He was convicted by a Philadelphia criminal court jury, but to this day nobody knows if that will stand up. The state Superior Court threw out his conviction, and ordered him to be discharged.
Not so fast, said the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, which has taken the case to the state Supreme Court.
The upshot is that Lynn could well have his freedom restricted for nearly the three years of his minimum term, or more, and then be found not guilty after all.
Part of that, about 18 months, was served in a state prison in Wayne County, and the other part, about 14 months and counting, is being served under house arrest.
That is not considered to be prison time.
“The appellate courts are not speed demons,” said Lynn’s attorney Thomas Bergstrom.
District Attorney Seth Williams was forceful in appealing the Superior Court ruling to the high court.
“Let’s be clear,” he said, “William Lynn is no patsy, he is no fall guy. He is a cold calculating man who [endangered] the welfare of countless children for decades by moving known predators throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”
House arrest for Lynn means the large tan brick rectory of the Church of St. William in the Lawncrest section of Northeast Philly, along Rising Sun Avenue.
Bergstrom said Lynn is in a good state of mind, and spends his time reading and writing, and visiting his lawyer, Bergstrom, from time to time.
“He wants it over with, but he’s all right,” Bergstrom said.
It’s clearly possible that the Supreme Court could rule tomorrow, or months from now, or who knows when.
If Lynn wins it would be a black eye for the District Attorney’s office, which would have to face the fact that they charged Lynn under the wrong statute, which is the central defense claim.
As for Lynn?
It would clear his name, said Bergstrom.
In the meantime, don’t think you’ve heard the last of the archdiocese sex abuse scandal – there are still 21 civil cases hanging out there, filed by alleged victims of sex abuse.