In somewhat of a surprising decision, the Superior Court Pennsylvania in an opinion issued Thursday, December 26, 2013 reversed the conviction of William J. Lynn for Endangering the Welfare of Children. Lynn was arrested on or about February 10, 2011 and charged with Endangering the Welfare of Children and other offenses as part of an investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The trial in this case commenced on or about February 21, 2012 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas before a Judge and Jury and concluded on or about June 22, 2012 at which time the defendant was found guilty of two counts of Endangering the Welfare of Children. Sentencing occurred on or about July 24, 2012 at which time the defendant was sentenced to 3-6 years incarceration. A timely appeal was filed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
In order to understand this decision, it is extremely important to note that the Endangering the Welfare of a Child Statute, 18 P.a. C.S.§ 4304 under which the defendant, Lynn was convicted, was later amended in 2007. In other words, the defendant was convicted under the pre-amendment statute which read:
“a parent, guardian, or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection, or support”
The 2007 amendment added language to read: A Parent, Guardian, or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age, or a person that employs or supervises such person, commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection, or support”
The defendant, Lynn, served as secretary for the Clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from June 1992 until June 2004. During this time, part of his responsibilities included handling Clergy sexual abuse issues. He did not have authority to transfer, remove, or restrict the nature of a Priest Ministry. Those powers rested solely on the Archbishop. His duties essentially were to communicate information concerning Clergy sex abuse regarding Priests and their victims up the chain of command within the Archdioceses. He was also one of a limited number of Church officials with access to the Archdiocese’s secret archives which is a repository of information regarding major infractions committed by a priest within the Archdiocese. Subsequent to his conviction the defendant appealed asserting that the Commonwealth’s evidence was insufficient to support his conviction under the pre-amended statute because it failed to show that he, the defendant, was a parent, guardian, or other person supervising the welfare of a child. The decision suggested that whereas the evidence may have been sufficient to convict under the amended statute, it was insufficient to convict under the previous statute and also insufficient to convict on the basis of accomplice liability. As a result thereof, the charges against defendant Lynn were discharged. For a full reading of this decision refer to Commonwealth of Pennsylvania , Appellee v. William J. Lynn, Appellant in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania 2171 EDA 2012.