A jury convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn of child endangerment Friday, finding that as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia secretary for clergy he ignored credible warning signs about a priest who later sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy.
The verdict, after a three-month trial, marked the first time since the clergy-sex-abuse scandal erupted a decade ago that a Catholic Church supervisor had been found criminally liable for child-sex crimes by a priest.
Williams and activists hailed Lynn’s conviction as an unprecedented victory for thousands of children who were abused by priests over decades.
“This monumental case in many ways will change the way business is done in many institutions – be they religious institutions, educational institutions, day camps – where people will not protect predators,” Williams said.
… “He’s upset. He’s crushed,” [Lynn’s lawyer] Lindy told reporters. “He didn’t want to do anything other than help kids.”
Please. He wanted to protect the Church, period. I’m glad he was convicted.
But I am not able to say with conviction that justice was done. I spoke to a lawyer friend last week, someone who is intimately familiar with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. N. told me that it’s widely known among the clergy and insiders that Lynn was the scapegoat for the late Cardinal Bevilacqua. “Just following orders” doesn’t exonerate Lynn, but the idea that the buck stopped with this one guy is wrong.
My lawyer friend also said (this conversation took place before the verdict was announced) that if Lynn were convicted, he would have a strong basis for an appeal. I don’t know the legal ins and outs here, but my friend does, and I trust his judgment.
He was not defending Lynn, per se, but talking about how hard it is to make charges like this stick, and about how Lynn was being made to take a bullet for Bevilacqua, a coward who chose to throw Lynn under the bus rather than take responsibility for his own policies. Bevilacqua died earlier this year.
I don’t know anything about the law here, but strictly as a political matter, I am pleased with this verdict. It sends a message that “just following orders” and meaning well is not an adequate defense in these cases. It’s only too bad that Cardinal Bevilacqua slipped the noose of justice. At least in this life.
In related news out of Pennsylvania, the jury tonight found the vile pervert Jerry Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 sex abuse counts. They don’t make jail cells cold and dank enough for that fiend. He’s never coming home, for sure.
If they can see all this from where they are today — and I hope they can — I wonder what Joe Paterno and Anthony Bevilacqua think about their legacies.
UPDATE: Rocco Palmo, writing from Philly:
While the local church’s response began by saying that the trial has made for “a difficult time for all Catholics,” the archdiocese gave no direct reaction to the substance of the jury’s conclusions. However, with the onetime Clergy chief seen among his confreres as the proverbial “sacrificial lamb” for the lapses of his superiors, one Philly priest said in the verdict’s wake that an ostensibly demoralized feeling among the presbyterate was “not even graphable.”
A decade ago, I attended a meeting of priests from the New York archdiocese, in the upstairs room of a restaurant. It was at the height of the sex-abuse scandal news, and they were scared that their then-superior, Cardinal Egan, was going to throw them to the wolves. One downcast priest told me that the cardinal’s policy was that if he, a priest, were accused of sexual abuse, then he was on his own in terms of finding a lawyer; the archdiocese would not stand with him. He told me he (and all the priests of the archdiocese) were completely vulnerable to any false accusation; no priest could afford a decent lawyer on that kind of salary.
Anyway, in the room that day, I saw priests whom I knew to be quite conservative, and I saw priests I knew to be quite liberal. The thing that united them that day was fear — a fear obvious on their faces — and the growing conviction that when it came right down to it, they were all cannon fodder the hierarchy would willingly sacrifice to protect itself.
A Philly friend told me the other day, “If Cardinal Bevilacqua had come out and made a public statement that Monsignor Lynn was following his [the cardinal’s] policies, and that if anybody was to be held responsible for them, it was him, we would be in a different place.” That didn’t happen.
UPDATE: Mike Ehling, in the comboxes:
I’m an ex-Catholic, and I have no desire to defend a paternalistic hierarchy, and Lynn is no one I would ever want to hire as a personnel director, but I have a very real concern that….
(1) Judge Sarmina was just wa-a-ay too pro-prosecution.
(2) Lynn was being held to the standards of 2012 for his actions from 1992 to 2004, at a time when “one-strike” policies were simply not that prevalent and rehabilitation was seen as more of an option.
(3) Lynn was not a “mandatory reporter” under Pennsylvania law (blame the Pennsylvania legislature for this if you like), so he had no legal obligation (whatever moral obligation you might assert) to report suspected instances of child abuse to the police.
(4) Lynn had (in my view) the right to give a suspected priest the benefit of the doubt and aim for treatment rather than prosecution. Note that I’m not saying Lynn should have done this, only that I don’t think that his having done so is so outrageous as to justify criminal (as opposed to civil monetary) liability.
The real problem, I think, is that clergy in general make lousy personnel directors. Clergy are trained in a “helping” profession, while personnel directors often find themselves in the “enforcement” role. My reading of this case is that Lynn was a well-meaning priest who was trying to do right but who was in wa-a-ay over his head. Moreover, note that Cardinal Bevilacqua was not just Lynn’s boss and an important member of the hierarchy but that he was also a civil lawyer, with a degree from St. John’s University Law School in Queens, New York, which gives added emphasis to directions he gave to Lynn.
Lynn’s been convicted for applying a treatment rather than a punitive approach to suspected priests. Agree or disagree as to treatment versus punishment, the issue is (or at least a decade or more ago was) sufficiently debatable that Lynn shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for poor judgment in a job as a personnel director that, like most priests, he was probably ill-equipped for.