The retrial of Monsignor William Lynn was delayed on March 16, 2020, due to the recent coronavirus outbreak. Lynn is the only Roman Catholic Church official in the United States to go to prison for charges in the Catholic Church sex scandals.
Lynn’s trial was scheduled in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas but was continued until January 2021. This delay is an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Pending Charges Against Lynn
An appeals court found his 2012 trial flawed and his conviction was overturned twice. Lynn, 69, is facing a single count of child endangerment. In 1993, Lynn served as the secretary of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. During this post, Lynn transferred a predatorial priest to another parish without adequate warning. Prosecutors believe he placed the wellbeing of children in danger by doing so.
The 2012 trial lasted three months. The considerable length of the trial was a result of prosecutors calling 20 victims of sex abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Lynn spent 33 months in prison related to the charges.
The central victim, only known as Billy Doe, was not slated to testify. However, Doe was the star witness of the 2012 trial, despite criticism of his credibility. It was not known if Lynn would retake the stand.
Coronavirus’ Current Impact on Trial Courts
By their very nature, jury trials are a “close-quarters” operation. Large groups of people gathering closely in a single courtroom do not align with the principles of social distancing.
Although social distancing measures have forced a pause on many current cases, attorneys claim the impact of the pandemic will be long-lasting. These impacts may include case backlogs and other legal ramifications, including the right to a speedy trial under the U.S. Constitution.
Courts may have to resort to new measures, including building restrictions and digital formats to meet the current needs of the legal system. Several states, including Arizona, Florida, Texas, New York and Washington State, have suspended jury trials.
What This Could Mean for Sexual Abuse Victims
Individuals with pending cases against the abusive clergy members are likely going to see a pause in trial courts until the pandemic is curbed or courts determine new protocols. At the moment, it is unknown when circumstances will normalize. Some states, such as New York, are considering extensions to their “look back” windows to give victims time to file after social distancing measures are lifted.
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Mathis, J. (2016, January 22). Newsweek Questions Credibility of “Star Witness” in Church Sex Abuse Scandal. Philadelphia Magazine.
Miller, A. (2020, March 17). Trump said gatherings should be limited to 10 people, but the CDC said 50. Here’s what those numbers mean, and what you should do. Business Insider.