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Roman Catholic Church official convicted of endangerment in priest-abuse trial

UPDATED AT 3:43 p.m. ET: PHILADELPHIA -- A Roman Catholic church official was convicted Friday of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy in a groundbreaking clergy-abuse trial, becoming the first U.S. church official convicted of a crime for how he handled abuse claims.

Monsignor William Lynn helped the archdiocese keep predators in ministry, and the public in the dark, by telling parishes their priest was being removed for health reasons and then sending the men to unsuspecting churches, prosecutors said.

Lynn, 61, had faced about 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of all three counts he faced — conspiracy and two counts of child endangerment. He was convicted on one of the endangerment counts and acquitted of the other two counts, leaving him with the possibility of up to seven years in prison.

The jury began deliberating earlier this month after hearing 10 weeks of testimony in a trial that re-focused attention on the broader sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, costing billions in settlements, driving prominent U.S. dioceses into bankruptcy and testing the faith of Roman Catholics.

In this case, Lynn's job was supervising 800 priests, including investigating sex abuse claims, from 1992 to 2004, in the nation's sixth largest archdiocese, with 1.5 million members.

Lynn was on trial with Rev. James Brennan. Brennan, 49, was charged with the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996, along with child endangerment.

In Brennan's case, the jury remained deadlocked on one count of attempted rape and another count of endangering the welfare of a child, reported.

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Brennan did not testify during the trial, while Lynn spent three days on the witness stand saying that he did what he could to stop molestation by clergy but that he was only doing his job when he reassigned suspected clergy.

On cross-examination, Lynn acknowledged that he had not helped the 10-year-old altar boy raped by the Rev. Edward Avery in 1999, seven years after Lynn met with another Avery accuser.

“And I'm sorry about that,” Lynn said.

Avery is in prison after admitting the crime.

One of the key exhibits was a gray folder found in a locked safe at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The folder contains a list of 35 suspected predator-priests -- and was compiled by Lynn in 1994. At least one priest on the list was a parish pastor until this year.

Lynn, the former secretary for clergy, testified that he created the list from secret church files containing hundreds of child sex-abuse complaints. He said he hoped Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and other superiors would address the growing crisis. Bevilacqua died in January.

It's unclear who put the surviving copy of Lynn's list in the safe. Lynn denied doing so, or owning the safe. The gray file was found when the safe was smashed open in 2006, two years after Lynn left his archdiocese job. An in-house lawyer said he put the gray folder in his files in 2006 without realizing the list -- sought by a grand jury in 2004 -- was inside.

A new team of lawyers for the archdiocese turned it over to prosecutors in early February, days after Bevilacqua died. Lynn's trial started March 26.

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The jury heard from more than a dozen alleged victims, including a nun, a former priest and a series of troubled adults.

Lynn said he did more than his colleagues to help victims and advance the church's response to both accusers and the accused priests, who were often sent for evaluation or treatment before transfers to new, unsuspecting parishes. Lynn said that only Bevilacqua had the power to remove priests from ministry.

But prosecutors say Lynn could have quit or called police. Instead, he stayed in the job for 12 years -- and acknowledged he never once contacted authorities.

This article by includes reporting from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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