A Pennsylvania appeals court on Thursday overturned the conviction of a high-ranking U.S. Catholic church official convicted last year of covering up a child sex abuse scandal.
Monsignor William Lynn was convicted in June 2012, of endangering the welfare of a child by reassigning a priest with a history of sexual abuse to a Philadelphia parish that was unaware of his past.
That priest, Edward Avery, later pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in the Philadelphia parish.
Lynn, who was not accused of personally molesting children, was sentenced to a three-to-six-year prison term.
A Superior Court of Pennsylvania appeals panel reversed his conviction on Thursday and ordered Lynn discharged from prison.
In its ruling, the court said "the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that (Lynn) acted with the 'intent of promoting or facilitating'" the offense.
Lynn's attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, said the court ruling demonstrated Lynn should never have been prosecuted. He said he expects Lynn to be released within days.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement he strongly disagreed with the decision and that prosecutors would "most likely" appeal.
Lynn's attorneys argued on appeal that the law he was prosecuted under was not in place at the time of the crimes.
The child endangerment statute in effect when Lynn was secretary of clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, from 1994 to 2004, applied to "a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age."
The law was amended in 2007 to include those who oversee the people supervising the child, such as Lynn.
"Once again, another high-ranking Catholic official who repeatedly endangered kids and enabled predators is escaping punishment," an advocacy group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said in a statement following the latest ruling.
"If kids are to be safer, we need to hold employers more responsible, not less responsible, for putting innocent children in harm's way, the group said.
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