Seal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Seal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Fair use

To its credit, the archdiocese of Philadelphia responded to a Pennsylvania appeals court’s overturning of the criminal conviction of Msgr. William Lynn last week with the statement: “We recognize that today’s news is especially difficult for survivors and their families. We profoundly regret their pain.”

Whether their pain will be alleviated by yesterday’s news that the archdiocese has helped post Lynn’s $250,000 bail may be doubted. (Update: Wherefore, the archdiocese has provided a self-exculpation.) But at least Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput didn’t follow the lead of the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue in acclaiming the man who managed sexual abuse cases for the archdiocese for many years and denouncing those who wanted to hold him accountable.

“The guilty parties that worked overtime to convict an innocent man—they include attorneys, judges, newspapers, professional “victims’ groups,” activists, TV talking heads—have been disgraced,” Donohue wrote. “Msgr. Lynn spent 18 months in prison because of dishonest people who harbor an anti-Catholic agenda. We expect he will soon be released. God bless him.”

To understand what innocence means in this context, It is important to understand the basis for the appeals court’s action. The statute under which Lynn was convicted applied to “a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age” — and the court disagreed with the prosecution’s theory, accepted by the trial judge, that Lynn had supervisory responsibility for the welfare of the child abused by Rev. Edward V. Avery. Yet it made sufficiently clear that the conviction would have stood had Lynn been charged under the statute as it was revised in 2007, extending responsibility explicitly to “a person that employs or supervises such a person”:

Constrained by our standard of review, we cannot dispute that the Commonwealth presented more than adequate evidence to sufficiently demonstrate that Appellant the prioritized the Archdiocese’s reputation over the safety of potential victims of sexually abusive priests and, by inference, that the same prioritization dominated Appellant’s handling of Avery…

Again, the Commonwealth provided ample evidence regarding Appellant’s pattern of intentionally mishandling other sexually abusive priests with the intent to shelter both the priests and the larger church from disrepute, thus giving rise to a permissible inference for the jury to draw that Appellant acted in conformity with that intent when dealing with Avery.

Let’s take an example of Lynn’s behavior brought forward at trial and cited by the appeals court. After complaints of abuse were leveled against him, Avery was sent to a hospital for treatment and evaluation, and the treatment team recommended that Avery receive an assignment where he would have nothing to do with children. Nevertheless, Lynn proposed that he be made an associate pastor at a church with a grade school — a proposal that was nixed by then-Archbishop Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

Lynn may deserve to get out of prison, but I’d hesitate to use the word “innocent” to describe him. Somewhere, some time, there needs to be some real accountability for those who — year after year, victim after victim — “prioritized” the reputation of the church and its misbehaving clergy over the safety of those who are actually innocent. And whether or not it comes via criminal prosecution, it’s got to come from the church itself.

As Jason Berry, the writer broke the first big abuse story three decades ago, puts it in a powerful new article on Global Post, “The challenge for Pope Francis is how to change structures of the church that provide a wall of security for bishops and cardinals who tolerated the rape of innocents and continue to use these church structures to protect themselves.”

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

9 Comments

  1. Reform that holds Bishops accountable is wishful thinking. RC priest /& Victim’s Advocate Thomas Patrick Doyle explains how things work in the unholy RC “church”:

    “Over two-thirds of the U.S. bishops have knowingly covered sexual abusers and in so doing have directly caused the ruination of the souls and often the bodies of countless more victims. The almighty Vatican, for all its carefully tooled statements of concern has not called a single bishop to accountability. A few have resigned but so what? They have committed crimes with impunity. Why Because they are bishops and in the magical thinking of the papacy, bishops are above hard-ball justice. Some bishops have even been sexual abusers themselves. None have been defrocked. I have seen consistent, hard evidence of a radical disconnect between the mandate of Christ in the Gospel in reference to such matters, and the actual actions of the bishops and the popes. In short, the popes (JP2 and Benedict XVI) and the bishops have not acted as Christians but rather as agnostic, self-serving businessmen.”

    Source: Reflections from 25 Years of Experience At the Start of the New Year
    Thomas Doyle, J.C.D. / January 1, 2010

    • Duane Lamers

      Lynn may not be guilty of crime in the strictly legal sense, and the courts reversed the conviction because the law under which Lynn was convicted was not actually in place during the period of the alleged offenses. That does not mean, however, that Archbishop Chaput cannot remove him from ministry because he had participated in coverups, even though this might have been at the direction of the previous archbishop. Lynn should have known that the procedure was a coverup of grevious crime, and his own conscience should have told him to tell his bishop that he would not transfer guilty priests in order to avoid placing the Church in bad light.

  2. Mark . . by way of a postscript . .
    The cover-up mentality is woven into the warp and woof of Roman Catholicism and remains the corporate policy within the unhallowed halls of her organization! An inbred fierce and unquestioned institutional loyalty coupled with an irrational culture of secrecy will insure that the Roman Catholic MOTHER of all COVER UPS will continue unabated. The spectacle of breathtaking and unprecedented cover up continues to be the modus operandi of choice in what many perceive to be more agreeable to a criminal enterprise! Notwithstanding the commitment by the so-called “princes of the church” to transparency and accountability, it is abundantly clear to all that look on that the only thing transparent about the unholy Roman Catholic “church” is their obsession with secrecy!
    The *oaths of secrecy taken by RC priests, bishops and cardinals, required under RC Canon law that relegate these sordid matters to internal church affairs implemented with a view to avoiding scandal to the “church”, are still in force.

    *Source / Article: AN OVERVIEW OF THE SYSTEM OF SEXUAL ACTIVITY AND ABUSE WITHIN THE CLERICAL CULTURE OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE USA. / Link: http://www.richardsipe.com/reports/sipe_report_V.htm.

    • Duane Lamers

      JA, you’re wrong in suggesting things are going on as formerly. Abusers are being identified and removed from service and are often being laicized. Yes, things were bad. Yes, too, that not enough heads have rolled, although it’s a stretch for SNAP and others to want to set up a guillotine outside the papal apartments.

      • As Nicholas Cafardi, a canon and civil lawyer has pointed out . . BISHOP ACCOUNTABILITY is conspicuously missing from the “Charter” . .

        1) “But authority without accountability is tyranny,” writes Cafardi, who once headed the bishops’ National Review Board that was established to ensure compliance with their own reforms.  
        When the bishops gathered under intense public pressure in Dallas in June 2002, they seemed determined to take dramatic steps, and to a degree they did. Their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People developed a “one-strike” policy to remove priests credibly accused of a single act of abuse, and jump-started efforts to have the Vatican streamline the process for defrocking abusive clerics.  
        Yet after all was said and done in Dallas, the bishops exempted themselves from any real sanctions. That self-absolution was considered outrageous at the time, and the passing years have not eased the anger.”   
        Citation:   1) Source: National Catholic Reporter / Article: Analysis: Bishops’ accountability still missing from abuse scandal / David Gibson Religion News Service | Jun. 8, 2012 / Link: http://ncronline.org/news/analysis-bishops-account… Source: National Catholic Reporter 
        Link: http://ncronline.org/news/analysis-bishops-account…

      • Duane . . Recommended Reading for you . .
        Mother’s Watch, a Catholic Blog, examines the Child Safety Programs/Measures/Resources implemented by the Bishops in response to the Clergy Abuse Scandal in light of Catholic teaching. Their in-depth analysis entitled ‘HOW DARE YOU, BISHOPS!’ begs the question . . are these programs designed to protect children or the Bishops? You be the judge!

        EXCERPT:
        “Safe Environment” for bishops?
        (start quote) In light of the homosexual priest scandals, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have new “guidelines” for implementation of “safe environment” programs.  These bishops even admit that their guidelines are not spiritually inspired by Church teaching, but by sexuality “experts,” the same sick experts that recommended sex education.  In an attempt to quell the publicity, bishops now say that they will “cooperate with civil authorities, educators, and community organizations.’     The bishops new “‘code of conduct’ establishes acceptable behavior that is legal”  (Emphasis ours).   Furthermore,  American bishops have meticulously avoided any condemning statements against sexual activity of all priests including homosexual priests with young men over 18!
        The bishops again demonize the child stating that: “It is important to remember that while child abuse is usually committed by an adult, children and young people may be offenders.”   This is a thin-ice statement which could refer to children abusing children, but more importantly, and most likely, could also mean that children could be accused as the seducers of sex with adults. (end quote)

        1) Citation: Source: Mother’s Watch Blog
        Link: http://www.motherswatch.net/content/view/10/6/

      • Duane . . MORE Recommended Reading from MOTHERS’ WATCH:

        ‘Safe Environment Programs: Your Excellency’s Elixir’:
        Young parents are dumbfounded when they learn the extent of perversion being foisted on innocent young children by bishops. These same bishops maliciously harbored, protected, and thereby facilitated the homosexual sodomites who have physically, spiritually, mentally and socially destroyed untold numbers of young boys.  These men, who call themselves bishops, are blackened by the sins of what they have done and what they have failed to do. What do bishops have to gain by further enlarging child sex abuse prevention programs instead of removing sodomites from the priesthood?  The least known purpose of such programs is that they are dangerously anti-child and anti-parent.   From such information false statistics will be created.  Such  “reported suspected abuse” is an attempt to fabricate false statistics that would make the parents and families appear abusive, thereby directing attention away from bishops and priests. (end quote)

        1) Citation: Source: Mother’s Watch Blog / Link: http://www.motherswatch.net/content/view/7/17/
        Safe Environment Programs: Your Excellency’s Elixir

  3. This is very sad and discouraging for victims to accept, plus the fact that the Archdiocese church officials helped to pay Lynn’s bail to get out of jail.
    Thankfully District Attorney Seth Williams is going to appeal this devastating court decision to have Lynn’s conviction overturned. It takes a courageous prosecutor to not give up on victims and to not give up on protecting kids The superior court panel ruling sends the strong message to all high ranking church officials, that, “Hey, we can keep covering up these crimes and get away with it”..

    And the problem is they continue to do so. The sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force these church officials to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting innocent kids. Until they spend time behind bars for their crimes of cover up, nothing will change and children are still be sexually abused within this archaic secret system.

    We urge anyone to who may have knowledge to help this case to speak up and contact police, prosecutors, lawyers, journalists, therapists or support groups, etc. Silence only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.
    At this point, we can not count on Pope Francis to take any decisive actions to remove corrupt bishops who enable innocent children to be sexually abused. He has had plenty of time to do so.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511, snapjudy@gmail.com
    SNAP “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”

  4. And don’t forget Mark . . BISHOP ACCOUNTABILITY is conspicuously missing from the June 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ” . . the Bishops made sure of that!

    1) “When the bishops gathered under intense public pressure in Dallas in June 2002, they seemed determined to take dramatic steps, and to a degree they did. Their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People developed a “one-strike” policy to remove priests credibly accused of a single act of abuse, and jump-started efforts to have the Vatican streamline the process for defrocking abusive clerics.
    Yet after all was said and done in Dallas, the bishops exempted themselves from any real sanctions. That self-absolution was considered outrageous at the time, and the passing years have not eased the anger.”

    Citation: 1) Source: National Catholic Reporter / Article: Analysis: Bishops’ accountability still missing from abuse scandal / David Gibson Religion News Service | Jun. 8, 2012 / Link: http://ncronline.org/news/analysis-bishops-account… Source: National Catholic Reporter
    Link: http://ncronline.org/news/analysis-bishops-accountability-still-missing-abuse-scandal

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