Philadelphia, For Immediate Release (1/1/14)
The latest development in the Philadelphia priest sex abuse scandal is shocking. Last week, the Pennsylvania Superior Court enflamed the media frenzy over the area’s priest abuse case by essentially freeing Monsignor Lynn.
In the summer of 2012, Lynn was found guilty of the crime of Endangering the Welfare of a Minor. The crux of the District Attorney’s case was that he was responsible for dealing with priest sexual abuse allegations. At trial, the District Attorney showed that Lynn moved a reasonably known pedophile priest into situations in which the priest had access to children, and as a result, the priest sexually abused a child. After he was found guilty by a jury, Lynn was sentenced to serve time in a Pennsylvania prison while he appealed his case.
The Legal Issue in Lynn’s Appeal
The main point of Lynn’s appeal was that he was not guilty under the older version of the criminal statute of Endangering the Welfare of a Child (i.e., child endangerment). Lynn was charged for acts which occurred prior to 2007, which is why the older version of the statute applied to his case and not the current version of the statute. Prior to 2007, when Lynn’s acts occurred, Pennsylvania’s child endangerment statute read as follows:
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. (emphasis added)
Pennsylvania’s legislature made a critical change to this statute, effective January 2007. That change modified the statute to read as follows:
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 a person, commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support. (emphasis added)
The difference is literally a matter of a few, but critical words: “supervising the welfare of a child” (pre-2007 version) versus “a person that employs or supervises such a person [who supervises the welfare of a child]” (post-2007 version).
Lynn argued that under the old version of the statute, he never actually supervised the welfare of a child and therefore could not be guilty under the statute. Unfortunately, the PA Superior Court agreed.
A Brief Explanation of the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s Legal Analysis
The Pennsylvania Superior Court adopted its own view of the statutory language and ignored the trial judge’s reading of the statute. The trial court took the position that Lynn had a general duty to supervise the welfare of children of the diocese. The Superior Court disagreed with that assessment and essentially ignored the plain language of the statute, which applies to someone responsible for “supervising the welfare of a child.” Instead, relying on a 1998 criminal case with an entirely different set of facts, the Court held that the older version of the statute applies only to those who directly supervised the child involved in the case, the endangered child.
Basically, the Court found that the legislature’s addition of the critical language “or a person that employs or supervises such a person” in the post-2007 amendment clearly showed that it intended the prior version of the statute to apply only to those who actually supervised children. Since the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office did not produce any evidence that Lynn actually supervised a child, the Court held he could not be guilty under the statute. Therefore, his conviction was overturned.
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