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Pa. Court Reverses Monsignor William Lynn's Conviction

By Steve Tawa and Ileana Diaz

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - In a major ruling in the local priest abuse case, an appeals court has dismissed the criminal case against a high-ranking church official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It says he was wrongly convicted for his handling of abuse complaints.

Monsignor William Lynn has been behind bars since June of 2012, serving three to six years in prison at Waymart, in northeastern Pennsylvania.

"The superior court has ordered him to be released forthwith," his defense lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom said.

Bergstrom notes that the unanimous decision from Pennsylvania Superior Court reverses the child-endangerment conviction, saying the statute did not apply to him:

"And that he didn't commit that crime, and as a matter of law, couldn't commit that crime. Superior court's opinion vindicates that position."

Bergstrom contended the state's child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not supervisors like Lynn.

An alleged victim's attorney says today's decision is based on technical legal language.

"It really does not exonerate Monsignor Lynn, at all. The court is not saying that he didn't do these acts. The court is not saying that what he did was right or wrong. All the court is saying is the statute is so narrowly defined that it does not encompass the acts that are alleged to have been committed by Monsignor Lynn," Attorney Paul Lauricella said.

But Bergstrom says the law states a parent, guardian or other person supervising the child must knowingly endanger that child.

"There must be some direct control over that child, and in this case there wasn't. I mean Monsignor Lynn never knew this child," he said.

In the court paperwork, judges explained that Monsignor Lynn did not have control over reassigning priests, and this played a factor in their decision.

Lynn served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Bergstrom says the Monsignor would like to fulfill an assignment with the church, but that will be up to the Archbishop.

DA Seth Williams issued the following statement:

"I am disappointed and strongly disagree with the court's decision. While we are deciding what our next course of action will be, we most likely will be appealing this decision."

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued the following statement:

"When Monsignor Lynn's sentence was announced last summer, the Archdiocese reemphasized that it has changed dramatically since the events over ten years ago that were at the center of the trial and reaffirmed that dramatic steps have been taken to ensure that all young people in our care find a safe and nurturing environment. It also expressed a hope that the nature of the sentence imposed on Monsignor Lynn would be objectively reviewed. That has happened.

The decision by the Superior Court to overturn this conviction does not and will not alter the Church's commitment to assist and support the survivors of sexual abuse on their journey toward healing or our dedicated efforts to ensure that all young people in our care are safe.

Our path forward is to remain vigilant in our efforts now and in the years to come. This path includes providing resources and support to survivors, our commitment to immediately report any allegation of sexual abuse involving a minor to law enforcement, and restoring the trust of the faithful and all those who look to the Church as a beacon of God's promise and love. The reputation of the Church can only be rebuilt through transparency, honesty and a fulfillment of our responsibility to the young people in our care and the victims and survivors who need our support.

We recognize that today's news is especially difficult for survivors and their families. We profoundly regret their pain."

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