Catholic Monsignor William Lynn returns after a lunch break to Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center March 26, 2012 in Philadelphia during his trial on covering up pedophile abuses. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A Roman Catholic church official in the U.S. who has been in prison for more than a year for his handling of priest sex-abuse complaints had his conviction reversed and was ordered released Thursday.
Monsignor William Lynn has been the first U.S. church official ever charged or convicted for the handling of clergy-abuse complaints.
In dismissing the landmark criminal case, a three-judge Superior Court panel in Pennsylvania unanimously rejected prosecutors' arguments that Lynn supervised the welfare of any particular child.
"He's been in prison 18 months for a crime he didn't commit and couldn't commit under the law," said Lynn's attorney, Thomas Bergstrom. "It's incredible what happened to this man."
Lynn, 62, is serving a three- to six-year prison sentence after his child-endangerment conviction last year.
His lawyers will try to get him released as early as Thursday from state prison.
Prosecutors had argued at trial that Lynn reassigned predators to new parishes in Philadelphia while he was the archdiocese's secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004.
Lynn's conviction relates to the case of one priest, Edward Avery, found to have abused a child in 1998 after such a transfer.
Lynn's attorneys have long contended the state's child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not supervisors like Lynn.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he strongly disagreed with the decision.
"While we are deciding what our next course of action will be, we most likely will be appealing," he said.
Lynn's supporters believe he was made a scapegoat for the church's sins, including two cardinals who were never charged.
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