November 18, 2014 / 9:15 PM / 5 years ago

Pennsylvania justices hear case of Catholic official in abuse case

HARRISBURG Pa. (Reuters) - Pennsylvania’s top court on Tuesday heard arguments in the case of Monsignor William Lynn, weighing whether the highest-ranking clergyman convicted in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal should be returned to prison.

Lynn was convicted in 2012 of covering up child sex abuse by priests in Philadelphia, but a three-judge panel later ruled that the abuse law applied only to those with direct responsibility for the care and welfare of children.

Lynn, 63, was a former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese who oversaw the work of 800 priests.

He was found guilty of covering up sex abuse, often by transferring predatory priests to unsuspecting parishes.

Prosecutors want his conviction reinstated and Lynn returned to prison. He had served 18 months of a three- to six-year sentence before his conviction was overturned last year.

Hugh Burns, arguing for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, said there was sufficient authority in the law and various court rulings to convict Lynn.

“It was his most important duty to protect children from these priests,” Burns said.

In one incident, Lynn was accused of allowing the transfer of Father Edward Avery, whom he knew to be a pedophile, to St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia even after the diocese’s own psychiatrists recommended Avery not be allowed contact with adolescents.

At St. Jerome’s, Avery molested an altar boy, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.

Lynn’s attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, argued that the abuse law could not be used to convict a bureaucrat such as Lynn, who was not directly responsible for the welfare of children and would not know that abuse was taking place.

One justice asked the attorney if a school principal who heard a teacher was abusing children but did nothing should be held responsible.

The attorney said such a principal would not be responsible unless he was sure a child was being abused and did nothing.

A ruling could take months, a court spokeswoman said. Lynn is out of prison, on home confinement with electronic monitoring.

Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Mohammad Zargham

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