Originally posted June 23, 2012
A monsignor who oversaw hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese was found guilty on Friday of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, making him the first senior U.S. Roman Catholic Church official to be convicted for covering up child sex abuse.
The jury acquitted Monsignor William Lynn on two other counts – conspiracy and another charge of child endangerment -after 10 weeks of testimony in a trial that raised questions about personal responsibility and institutional constraints within the church hierarchy.
Removing his black clerical jacket but leaving on his collar, a stoic Lynn, 61, was led out of the courtroom and into custody by deputy sheriffs as his family members wept.
“Every juror there wanted to do justice. … We wanted to do what was right,” jury foreman Isa Logan, 35, a bank customer service representative, told reporters outside the courtroom.
Sentencing for Lynn, who faces up to seven years in prison, was set for August 13 by Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.
“This is a monumental victory for the named and un-named victims,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. “This was about evil men who did evil things to children.”
When I say this is a first, I mean that literally. No other high-ranking Church official has ever been convicted of covering up child abuse. This sends a strong message to the Catholic Church that not only will the priests who prey on children face trial, but so will those who helped cover it up.
Granted, Lynn got acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiracy. I find that curious because in order for Lynn to have endangered children he would have had to know that the priests were accused of sexual abuse. Indeed, the evidence actually showed that:
The evidence showed that Lynn knew [Edward] Avery had abused a teen boy he met at a Montgomery County parish in the 1970s. In 1994, Lynn included Avery on a list of 13 priests he deemed “guilty of sexual misconduct with minors.”
But instead of being removed, Avery was treated at a church-owned hospital and reassigned to hospital chaplaincy. He was allowed to live in the rectory at St. Jerome, a sprawling parish with an elementary school.
Perhaps the reason for the acquittal on the conspiracy charge was the lack of evidence showing that Lynn intended for Avery to abuse another child.
Nevertheless, this verdict might encourage other jurisdictions to bring charges against Church officials rather than letting them slide.
Of course, Lynn’s attorneys argue that he is the scapegoat:
Lynn’s lawyers noted that he was acquitted on three of the original four charges against him. (The judge had ruled another conspiracy count unproven during the trial.)
And they held to their argument that he was being made a scapegoat for decisions and failings of his bosses, notably Bevilacqua, who ultimately approved or rejected Lynn’s recommendations involving priests’ assignments.
They pointed to a handwritten note found weeks before trial suggesting that the cardinal directed his top deputies to shred Lynn’s list of abusive priests.
While it is true that Lynn was not the only person involved, he is the only one currently alive. Bevilacqua died in January, and unless Lynn’s attorneys expect the state to charge a dead man, Lynn is the only one left.
What is truly sad about this is that we have to charge these people with crimes in order to get them to change. The same thing will likely happen at Penn State. Until the university has to start cutting checks and sees its yearly donations drop, I doubt they will do much to change their policies.
We should not have to do this. We should not have to threaten people with jail and prison to get them to protect children. And we certainly should not have to explain that to Catholic officials whose God-given jobs it is to protect their flock.