Supreme Court Of Pennsylvania Affirms Conviction Of Monsignor William Lynn For Endangering Welfare Of Child

On April 27, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a four to one opinion with Justice Castille abstaining from participation, reversed the Superior Court’s dismissal of the criminal charges against Monsignor Lynn, affirmed the conviction, and remanded the matter to the district court for appropriate disposition.  Monsignor Lynn was on bail, pending appeal, having served 18 months of his three- to six-year term.  The trial court subsequently revoked Monsignor Lynn’s bail.  

In its decision, the Supreme Court focused on whether Monsignor Lynn was responsible for the supervision of the welfare of a child.  The Superior Court had held that Monsignor Lynn could not have been responsible for the supervision of the welfare of a child as he did not have any direct duty to supervise the individual children at issue in the criminal matter.  The Supreme Court disagreed, determining that the phrase “supervision of the welfare of a child” was more expansive that the Superior Court found, and did not require a duty to directly supervise the children at issue.

The Supreme Court, citing a voluminous record that Monsignor Lynn was responsible for supervising the welfare of children through his role as Secretary of Clergy, including an acknowledgment of this responsibility by Monsignor Lynn himself, determined that the record supported Monsignor Lynn’s duty to supervise children.  In this direct circumstance, under the facts of this case, the Supreme Court determined that the Commonwealth had met its burden beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Supreme Court also affirmed the trial court’s interpretation of the Endangering the Welfare of Children statute in effect during the relevant time period.

Monsignor Lynn’s counsel argued that District Attorney Abraham first conducted the grand jury investigation into this matter, and determined that the statute did not apply to Monsignor Lynn’s conduct. Therefore her office issued a report explaining that the office was not charging any individuals.  Monsignor Lynn’s counsel argued that this was determinative of the issue.  The Supreme Court disagreed, indicating that a particular District Attorney’s reasoned decision does not bind the Court in interpreting the statute.

While this case is of strict interest because Monsignor Lynn was the first high-ranking Catholic official to be charged, prosecuted, and convicted in the United States, it will have little precedential value, as The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s legislature has amended the

Endangering the Welfare of a Child statute to make it clear that those who supervise employees who are responsible for the welfare of children can also be held responsible under the statute.