Judge sets bail at $250K for jailed Philly priest

| Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 10:48 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA — A Roman Catholic official whose novel conviction in the clergy sex abuse scandal was overturned by a Pennsylvania appeals court could be freed this week after a judge set his bail Monday at $250,000.

Monsignor William Lynn, currently an inmate at the state prison in Waymart, would have to submit to electronic monitoring and surrender his passport.

Lynn has been serving a three- to six-year sentence after being the first church official ever convicted over his handling of abuse claims against other priests.

A three-judge appellate panel threw out his conviction last week, saying Lynn was tried under a child-endangerment law that didn't apply to him. On Monday, the defense lawyers asked Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to release the 62-year-old priest while prosecutors appeal.

Lynn did not attend the hearing, in which prosecutors argued that he was a flight risk. Defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom called that contention “a fantasy.”

“There's not a chance in the world he's going to flee,” Bergstrom said.

Lynn is the former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese, a post he held from 1992-2004.

His lawyers have long argued that prosecutors wrongly applied a 2007 law to indict him retroactively. Sarmina and another judge both rejected the arguments. The defense then petitioned the state Supreme Court to review the issue before last year's trial, without success. Lynn was convicted of endangering one victim - although acquitted of conspiring with his abuser. He has so far served 18 months in prison.

On Monday, Sarmina said she wrestled with the decision to grant bail, ultimately acknowledging that her earlier ruling could have been in error.

“If the conviction is in question, is not the punishment in question?” she asked. “After all, I am fallible.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has vowed to restore Lynn's conviction.

His predecessor had investigated clergy abuse at the archdiocese for three years and taken lengthy, heated grand jury testimony from Lynn, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and other top clerics in Philadelphia before concluding in 2005 that laws then on the books did not cover their behavior.

The sordid crimes detailed to the grand jury also were too old to prosecute. The Pennsylvania Legislature, like others around the country, amended child sex-abuse laws in 2007. The changes gave victims more time to come forward and let prosecutors charge those who supervise predators and hide their crimes with child endangerment.

Bergstrom believes the state Supreme Court won't be interested in Lynn's case, because he should have been tried under the pre-2007 law.

“I think it's a fool's errand,” he said of Williams' promised appeal. “Cases going forward will be brought under the new statute. ... The old statute's history.”

But Assistant District Attorney Hugh J. Burns Jr., the appeals unit chief in Williams' office, bristled when asked if the case is moot.

“This case established that people inside the hierarchy, people in authority, who tried to cover it up could be investigated and prosecuted,” Burns said. “If this isn't (upheld), we're losing ground. We're taking a step back.”

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