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Awaiting new trial, Msgr. William Lynn to be paroled Oct. 16

As he awaits a possible retrial, Msgr. William J. Lynn will be paroled Oct. 16 after three years in prison for his now-overturned conviction in the Catholic clergy sex abuse case.

William J. Lynn faces a hearing on his release on Tuesday.
William J. Lynn faces a hearing on his release on Tuesday.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

As he awaits a possible retrial, Msgr. William J. Lynn will be paroled Oct. 16 after three years in prison for his now-overturned conviction in the Catholic clergy sex abuse case.

In a motion filed Wednesday for Lynn's immediate release on bail, defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom wrote that Lynn, 65, learned last week from the state Board of Probation and Parole that he will be paroled effective Oct. 16.

Bergstrom wrote that Lynn should be released on his original bail of $250,000, adding that the parole board's decision "was a recognition that he was not a danger to the community."

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright set a hearing on the motion for Tuesday.

Lynn's bail motion followed Tuesday's ruling by Pennsylvania's Supreme Court rebuffing the district attorney's appeal of December's new-trial order by Superior Court.

Lynn, the first Catholic Church official convicted of child endangerment for a supervisory role over priests accused of sexually abusing children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, has been serving a three- to six-year term in the state prison at Waymart in northeastern Pennsylvania.

State inmates generally become eligible for parole after serving their minimum sentence.

Cameron Kline, spokesman for District Attorney Seth Williams, declined to comment Wednesday. On Tuesday, Kline said prosecutors were reviewing the high court's decision and would not comment "until after that process has been completed."

David Clohessy of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement Wednesday that word of Lynn's pending release "will no doubt feel like yet another blow to hundreds of wounded Philly-area abuse victims and thousands of betrayed Philly-area Catholics."

Clohessy urged those who may have knowledge about Lynn's handling of the assignments of accused priests to contact prosecutors and urged the District Attorney's Office to follow through with a retrial.

"No matter how uphill it might seem," Clohessy said, "we hope prosecutors seek a new trial. Vigorously pursuing those who act recklessly, callously, and deceitfully with kids' safety is one sure way to make sure kids are safer and more recklessness, callousness and deceit is deterred."

The decision on whether to retry Lynn could be a difficult one. The prosecution of Lynn and others in the clergy sex abuse scandal has been a major initiative since Williams took office in 2010, and Lynn, who as archdiocesan secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 was responsible for investigating and recommending action against abusive priests, was the most significant of five people charged in 2011.

From a practical standpoint, however, Lynn has already served half of a sentence that was considered tough when it was imposed in July 2012 by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. At the same time, a first round of appeals in Lynn's case established that church officials may be held criminally liable for the acts of the priests they oversee.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court's upholding of last December's Superior Court ruling means that prosecutors would not be permitted to use in Lynn's retrial the voluminous trove of archdiocesan documents detailing how the church historically covered up allegations of sexual abuse of children.

Lynn was not accused of molesting children. Instead, prosecutors alleged that as secretary for clergy, Lynn enabled pedophile priests to be assigned to new parishes, where they preyed on more children.

To establish that Lynn was part of the archdiocese's governing culture, prosecutors at the 2012 trial introduced historical information on the church's handling of clergy sex abuse, including about two dozen case histories, some dating to the 1940s.

In ordering a new trial in December, Superior Court ruled that the historical cases tainted the jury's ability to reach a fair verdict. It was this ruling that the District Attorney's Office asked the Supreme Court to review and reverse.

The historical evidence in question, sometimes called "other bad acts evidence," was permitted by Sarmina in the 2012 trial to give jurors the background to help them understand the context and culture in which Lynn made decisions.

Lynn's lawyers, however, called the evidence prejudicial, and said it inflamed the jury and impelled a guilty verdict.