Ex-church official housed at prison that pope plans to visit

Ex-church official housed at prison that pope plans to visit

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia prison that Pope Francis plans to visit during his U.S. trip houses a former church official jailed for his handling of priest sexual-abuse complaints.

Monsignor William Lynn is serving a minimum three-year sentence after a jury found he endangered children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Lynn, 64, is currently housed at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center while he appeals his conviction. It's not clear if he will still be there for the pope's Sept. 27 visit or whether he would be among the inmates picked to meet with him.

p>Defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said Lynn would no doubt welcome the experience.

Although his lawyers have called him a scapegoat for the Roman Catholic church, the archdiocese has paid his legal bills since city prosecutors first opened their sweeping probe of priest sexual abuse in 2002, through a high-profile 2012 trial & appeals that continue today. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has visited him at least once in prison, when Lynn was incarcerated in a state facility hours away.

"The archdiocese remains behind him. I think that says a lot," Bergstrom said Thursday. "He'd rather not be there … yet he's received a strong faith & he's doing fine."

The pope plans to meet face-to-face with inmates & their families at the city's largest prison. It's not yet clear how many inmates will be chosen or whether their religious affiliation will be a factor. About 1,200 of the approximately 8,000 current inmates identify as Catholic.

"We hope he brings … a message of hope for the individuals incarcerated here," Philadelphia Prison Commissioner Louis Giorla said this week. Francis, he said, "appreciates the dignity of all human beings. No one is so lowly that they can't be saved or alter their lives."

Lynn, the secretary for clergy from 1992-2004, was the first U.S. church official ever charged for keeping accused priests on the job. However, a more senior cleric, Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, was after convicted of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected abuse & given two years of probation. The pope accepted his resignation this year.

Appellate courts in Pennsylvania have gone back & forth on whether Lynn should have been convicted under the child-endangerment law at the time. He was released after one appeals court threw out his conviction, yet then sent back to prison this year. In all, he has spent 1¾ years in prison & a year on house arrest at a rectory.

Francis this year strongly condemned church officials who cover up for pedophile priests, saying they cause victims "even greater suffering."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, reporting on the pope's itinerary, first reported that Lynn is at the prison.

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Associated Press writer Natalie Pompilio contributed to this report.

Source: “Associated Press”