Philadelphia -- A Roman Catholic monsignor who became the first U.S. church official to be branded a felon for covering up sex abuse claims against priests was sentenced Tuesday to three to six years in prison.
Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, handled priest assignments and child sexual assault complaints from 1992 to 2004.
Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said Lynn enabled "monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart."
She added: "You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong."
A jury convicted Lynn last month of felony child endangerment for his oversight of now-defrocked priest Edward Avery, who is serving up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting an altar boy in church.
Lynn's lawyers sought probation, arguing that their client shouldn't serve more time than abusers. They have vowed an appeal of the landmark conviction.
The 61-year-old Lynn was acquitted of conspiracy and a second endangerment count involving a co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan. The jury deadlocked on a 1996 abuse charge against Brennan, and prosecutors said Monday that they would retry him.
In 1992, a doctor told Lynn's office that Avery had abused him years earlier. Lynn met with the doctor and sent Avery for treatment, but the church-run facility diagnosed him with an alcohol problem, not a sexual disorder. Avery was returned to ministry and sent to live at the parish where the altar boy was assaulted in 1999.
"I did not intend any harm to come to (Avery's victim)," Lynn said. "My best was not good enough to stop that harm."
Prosecutors who spent a decade investigating sex abuse complaints kept in secret files at the archdiocese argue that Lynn and unindicted co-conspirators in the church hierarchy kept children in danger.
Lynn's attorneys have long argued that the state's child endangerment statute, which was revised in 2007 to include those who supervise abusers, should not apply to Lynn since he left office in 2004.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a press release Tuesday morning that, while, victims are grateful that Lynn is going to jail for failing to report known abusive priests to legal authorities, "cover ups would be better deterred had he gotten the maximum penalty."
"Considering all the kids whose innocence was shattered (or, in some whose lives were lost to suicide), we believe that Msgr. Lynn deserved the harshest punishment. Still, this sentence sends a powerful message: cover-up child sex crimes and you'll go to jail. Not house arrest. Not community service. Not a fine. You'll be locked up," wrote Joelle Casteix, Western Regional SNAP Director.
"It says, loud and clear, that child sex crimes are taken extremely seriously, and will be punished as such."
Still, a day after the NCAA hammered Penn State for failure to take action to protect boys from Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach convicted of child sex abuse charges, Casteix cautioned against complacency.
"We hope that those who see, suspect or suffer child sex crimes in any institutional setting will find the strength to come forward and make a report to police, especially now, since the Lynn case shows that sometimes, justice, prevention and healing are possible."
Contributing: USA TODAY's Cathy Lynn Grossman