Friday, June 29, 2012

Conviction of Lynn puts Catholic hierarchy on notice

MORE THAN 10 painful years after the clerical sexual abuse scandal broke open wide with the child molestation conviction of a Boston priest, a U.S. Catholic church official who protected predator priests has finally been held accountable.

By doing nothing when he knew about pedophile priests while he was secretary of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Rev. Monsignor William Lynn allowed the abuse to continue.

That was basically the message sent by a Philadelphia jury last Friday when, after a 10-week trial, they found Lynn guilty of one felony count of endangering the welfare of children.

The 61-year-old monsignor served as secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under former Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

During the trial, jurors learned that Lynn had assembled a “secret file” of known or suspected pedophile priests that, in 1994, Bevliacqua — a canon and a civil attorney — ordered to be shredded. Prosecutors got to see the list after a copy of it was found this year in an archdiocesan safe.

It helped confirm what many had claimed — that church officials knew of abusive priests, but allowed them to stay in circulation, even reassigning some to parishes where they had continued access to children. 

The premise for church officials keeping abusive priests closeted, presumably, was to help the church save face and money from potential lawsuits.

But what must have been hardest for jurors to hear was the wrenching testimony of more than 12 adults who said they were sexually abused by priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when they were children or adolescents.

ONE OF THEM was the victim of former Haverford resident Edward Avery, a priest who was defrocked in 2006 because church officials found allegations of sexual abuse against him credible. 

He was to be Lynn’s co-defendant but he pleaded guilty to abusing an altar boy in 1999 just four days before the trial started March 26. He is serving two and a half to five years in prison.

Nevertheless, Avery’s guilty plea helped bring to justice Lynn who, as evidence in the trial showed, was aware of Avery’s pedophilia. The jury was deadlocked over a verdict for Lynn’s other co-defendant, the Rev. James Brennan, who is now out of active ministry. He was accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy during a leave of absence from his ministry in 1996.

Lynn’s attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, maintained that Lynn was just following orders when he didn’t turn the known or suspected pedophile priests over to civil authorities and that he is a scapegoat for all the cases of unchecked clerical sexual abuse. There is a measure of truth to that assertion.

As a grand jury investigation launched by former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham revealed in 2005, 63 priests in the archdiocese allegedly abused children as far back as the 1940s. 

None could be prosecuted because of the expired statute of limitations which, in 2006, was expanded to age 50 for victims. 

That means priests abused children in the archdiocese without consequence under the watch of cardinals John Krol and John O’Hara and Archbishop Dennis Dougherty.

Needless to say, Philadelphia is not the only diocese in the United States and the rest of the world where abusive priests were allowed to fester.

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