A Roman Catholic monsignor who became the first U.S. church official branded a felon for covering up sex abuse claims against priests was sentenced Tuesday to three to six years in prison by a judge who said he “enabled monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children.”
Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, “helped many but also failed many in his 36-year church career,” Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said.
Lynn, who handled priest assignments and child sexual assault complaints from 1992 to 2004, was convicted last month of felony child endangerment for his oversight of now-defrocked priest Edward Avery, who is serving a 2½- to five-year sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting an altar boy in church.
The monsignor said Tuesday: “I did not intend any harm to come to (Avery’s victim). My best was not good enough to stop that harm.”
Lynn’s lawyers sought probation, arguing that few Pennsylvanians serve long prison terms for child endangerment and their client shouldn’t serve more time than abusers. Defense attorneys, who have vowed an appeal of the landmark conviction, said the seven-year maximum term advocated by the commonwealth “would merely be cruel and unusual.”
The judge said Lynn allowed “monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart.”
“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” Sarmina said.
You knew full well what was right, but you chose wrong. Amen. That is a verdict that could be leveled in every single case in which a bishop or clerical administrator chose to value the interests of the pervert clergyman over justice, over common sense, and over the laity — mothers, fathers, and children who are to these people a bunch of nobodies, a supporting cast in the drama of clericalism. I’m just sorry that Lynn took the fall for the late Cardinal Bevilacqua, who in any case has gone before the ultimate Judge.
It’s plain from their conduct in these matters that bishops and their immediate underlings do not fear the justice of God, so I’m glad that they are now being made to fear the justice of the state. It is a tragedy that it had to come to this for the Church; the Church should have been the first to defrock these child molesters, and report them to the state, instead of covering up for them and leaving them free to molest more children. If ordered to protect a child molesting priest, Msgr. Lynn ought to have refused to cooperate with the policy. He did not. He is reaping the consequences. Sadly, he is also a scapegoat, but the Cardinal, having died, is beyond the reach of earthly justice.
The Lynn case supposedly galvanized the Synod of my own church, the Orthodox Church in America, to sack its primate for not taking sexual abuse seriously enough. The allegations leveled against Metropolitan Jonah by the Synod are deeply suspect, but insofar as the fate of Msgr Lynn compels all churches to stop this practice of going soft on sexually abusive clergy for fear that bishops or other senior church leaders will go to jail over their actions, I call that good.