Monsignor in landmark church abuse case goes back on trial

FILE  In this March 28, 2017, file photo, Monsignor William Lynn arrives for a preliminary hearing in his retrial of his child endangerment case at the Center for Criminal Justice, in Philadelphia. Monsignor Lynn is the first Roman Catholic church official ever charged with child endangerment over his handling of priest-abuse complaints. His 2012 conviction has twice been overturned, and his retrial is now set for March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE In this March 28, 2017, file photo, Monsignor William Lynn arrives for a preliminary hearing in his retrial of his child endangerment case at the Center for Criminal Justice, in Philadelphia. Monsignor Lynn is the first Roman Catholic church official ever charged with child endangerment over his handling of priest-abuse complaints. His 2012 conviction has twice been overturned, and his retrial is now set for March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Nearly two decades after the Roman Catholic priest-abuse scandal exploded in the U.S. in 2002, only one church official has ever gone to prison over it: Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese.

After an appeals court found his sweeping 2012 trial flawed and his conviction was twice overturned, Lynn, 69, is set to be retried Monday on a single child endangerment count. Prosecutors contend he endangered children by transferring a known predator priest, after a year of inpatient therapy, to their parish without warning in 1993.

The landmark case, now trimmed to its core, will look nothing like the gut-wrenching, four-month trial that unearthed the church’s “secret archives,” drew more than 20 haunted victims to the witness stand and led the judge to conclude that Lynn allowed “monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children.”

This time, a new judge plans to steer clear of the broader priest-abuse crisis that has cost the church an estimated $3 billion or more, and plunged dioceses around the world into bankruptcy and scandal.

“This is one defendant, one count of endangering the welfare of children, with one group of children,” Judge Gwendolyn Bright said at a final pretrial hearing Wednesday. “We’re not bringing in the so-called or alleged ‘sins of the Catholic Church.’”

It’s not even clear the jury will hear from a single victim this time. That’s because the only accuser whose allegation falls within the statute of limitations — a policeman’s son dubbed “Billy Doe” in court files — is an uncertain witness at best, whose credibility has long been challenged. Prosecutors do not plan to call him, although Bright said she may force their hand.

Instead, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington plans to argue that Lynn endangered children simply by "placing a bomb” in their parish, whether or not it went off.

Zach Hiner, the executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it was stunning that only Lynn and former Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn have faced charges over what some investigators call “the playbook” long used by dioceses around the country: hiding complaints in locked files, shuffling problem priests, paying victims confidential settlements and stonewalling police.