23 June, 2012

An unjust conviction that will chill the heart of many a priest


Msgr. William Lynn
The eastern half of the continent is enjoying the first significant heat wave of the summer of 2012, but I venture to say that there are more than a few Catholic chancery staff members, past and present, who felt a cold shiver slice through them today in the wake of the  conviction of Msgr. William Lynn for covering-up cases of clergy abuse against children. Never before had a member of a diocesan administration been found guilty of a crime in failing to report predator priests to the civil authorities. Thanks to a Philadelphia jury, the risk of possible criminal charges being pursued against other mid-level chancery clerics that will chill quite a few of them deeper than the best air-conditioning could ever do.

I feel for them. They now face an uncertain future through no fault of their own. After a long and dedicated life as clerics during which they obediently served in a Diocesan Chancery Offices doing what their religious superiors asked of them, they are now becoming the scapegoats for their superior’s failings.

During the Philadelphia trial, it was entered into evidence that Msgr. Lynn had presented a list of accused priests to his Cardinal Archbishop, +Anthony Bevilacqua with the recommendation that they be removed from office. It was evidently not well received. Lynn was ordered to destroy all copies of the list. Given that every priest takes a sacred vow of obedience, promising to comply with the commands of his Bishop, he had no other option available to him other than to do as he was told.  Add to this that only a Bishop has the authority to remove or transfer a priest, and Msgr. Lynn’s impossible situation truly comes into focus.

In the case of Rev. Lynn, the prosecutors could not charge or convict the Bishop who  died shortly before the start of the case after battling senility in his final years, so the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office shot the messenger instead. Finding him responsible for failing to report predator priests is akin to demanding an executive secretary be held responsible for decisions made by the company’s executives. Tragically, Rev. Lynn, who had no more corporate or religious authority than such an assistant, he has been held criminally responsible for the offenses of his superiors and now faces an imminent term of imprisonment for the crimes of others.

It is an unjust fate for any faithful and obedient employee of any corporation, holy or profane to be held responsible for decisions made by people above his pay grade. The American legal system has demonstrated that it is more concerned with exacting retribution in lieu of justice... of extracting a proverbial pound of flesh without regard for whose blood is spilt in the process.

Convicting Rev. Lynn may have sated this thirst for vengeance for a short while, much to the delight of the many Madame Lafarge’s who chortle with each priest's head that falls from the guillotine’s blade as they knit their list of victims, but it will not  satisfy them for long. The blood lust enflamed by this conviction will soon encourage future demands that more heads should soon fall into the basket before them. They will not be satisfied until Diderot’s prediction of “the last king (or in this case, Bishop) is strangled with the entrails of the last priest" is realized.

25 comments:

  1. Anonymous24 June, 2012

    I strongly disagree with this comment. A priest's vow of obedience does not trump his legal obligation to report a crime, in this case, child endangerment.
    In the military, a soldier is not required to obey an unlawful order even though he has sworn obedience to those of higher rank.
    "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke

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  2. Anonymous: IF the law at the time in Philadelphia required mandatory reporting of child abuse, you might have a case. I faced a similar situation 20+ years ago. I went to the Police to report on a priest who I was told had sexually abused a teenager. Without the victim (who was unwilling to come forward and tell his story), the Police said that they could do nothing about it.

    Msgr. Lynn was facing the same situation. If he had gone to the Police, I doubt he would have been treated differently.

    Further, the nature of his conviction was that he willingly permitted priests to continue in ministry and subsequently abuse other kid... but he did not have the authority or power to do anything about it. That authority rests exclusively with the diocesan bishop.

    I believe that he was convicted simply because they could not charge the archbishop - who was suffering from senility and ended up dying shortly before the trial. Since they couldn't get the person responsible, they convicted his underling.

    I stand by my conclusion: Msgr. Lynn should not have been convicted. It is a miscarriage of justice.

    Fr. Tim

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    Replies
    1. Fr. Tim - If you were director of Priests Personnel at your diocese and the bishop asked you quietly move priests accused of abuse to another parish and say it was for health reasons would you do it. I think the answer is no, from what I've seen of your character on these postings. Msgr. Lynn knew what he was doing was wrong (or should have). He should have refused to comply.

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    2. Rationalist: I am familiar with hundreds of priests in dozens of dioceses and I do not know of even one that operates in the manner you think it does. NO PRIEST can move anyone!! Period. NO BISHOP would (or could) ask any chancery official to do something he doesn't have the authority to accomplish. Msgr. Lynn was not asked to move anyone. If fact, it was entered into evidence that he recommended IN WRITING to the Bishop that the priests should be removed from ministry - which resulted in the bishop ordering that his report be shredded! Lynn, probably because he was trying to cover his own backside locked one copy away in a safe and only took it out when the bishop had died. (Had it done so sooner, +Bel. would have ordered the one copy destroyed and then there would be no evidence at all that Lynn tried to do the right thing.)

      If they couldn't prosecute the Bishop because of his mental illness and subsequent death, they should have gone after the auxiliary Bishops who were part of his executive committee. Instead, they went after the secretary... literally! Lynn had a fancy title, but in reality he was no more than a clerk.

      They charged and convicted the wrong person.

      The other reason that I am offended by this decision is because Lynn was tried along side a priest who was actually accused of being an abuser. Even though his victim took the stand, the jury let him walk while convicting Lynn.

      Does that sound like justice to you? It sure as hell doesn't to me!

      Fr. Tim

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  3. Anonymous24 June, 2012

    I applaud you for doing the right thing, regardless of the outcome. It's unfortunate Msgr Lynn chose not to, instead following the direction of corrupt administrators to help cover up their wrongdoing. It's only when the rank and file clergy stand up to the hierarchy will this stop.
    I agree with you that the archbishop was the primary culprit but unfortunately, escaped punishment, at least in this world. That doesn't absolve Msgr Lynn of his culpability as an accessory.

    As ordinary citizens, we can only do our part and let the legal system take over from there. The system is certainly far from perfect, notice I don't call it a justice system, as justice rarely enters into it. Police have a lot of discretion to lay charges and prosecutors prefer cases in which there's a strong likelihood of conviction. But if none of us are willing to bear witness, there's zero chance anything will change.

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  4. The problem is not primarily about wayward clergy -- although this is a problem. Rather it is about a culture of cover up and denial; denial takes many forms -- including the specious claim that it was the lax morals of the sixties which produced the problem -- or even richer that now with the new conservatism we have no more bad apples and the church is now a safe place for children. There are always bad apples and thus the only cure for denial, is radical transparency. I believe that the new conservatism in the church tends to accomodate less rather than more transparency, as witnessed in the treatment of even the mildest forms of dissent from the party line on such issues as the mere discussion of the ordination of women. Notice also that the Vatican seems more perturbed by this and the recent leaks of documents than they are by clerical sexual abuse. This mind set continues to protect the church from the consequences of the cover up -- which led to many more victims than if the problem had been dealt with honestly, forthrightly and openly back in the nineties. Msr. Lynn was not only part and parcel of the culture which protected abusive clergy but was the chief actor next to the Archbishop and thus was guilty as charged. One of the consequeces of this verdict might well be that chancery officials will no longer participate in any cover up and will insist on transparency.

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    Replies
    1. Le Survenant: Two points: First, all you are really stating is that the culture within the Church 20+ years ago was dominated by a 'protect the faith/cover-up' paradigm. You are absolutely correct. But even if you are dealing with cases from that time, is it still not incumbent upon authorities to charge the correct person? Priests - even Msgr's - did not and do not possess the power to remove, suspend, or move priests. That authority rested ONLY with the Diocesan Bishop. If anyone should have faced charges, it was a Bishop, not a priest.

      Secondly, you state that a consequence of this verdict is that it will force transparency on chancery officials. This has been the stated policy in the wake of these scandals on both sides of the 49th. If Church practice currently does not reflect this policy in any Diocese after the public promises of the Bishops of both countries, then there should be criminal charges laid. This was not the case in the Philadelphia case which dealt with cases from 30+ years ago. Convicting Msgr. Lynn was not necessary to force this change.

      Fr. Tim

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    2. Fr. Tim

      There is a fatal flaw in your moral reasoning. What ever vow of obedience a priest takes to his bishop it does not give the priest a pass when he participates in grave sin. Failing to report these predator priests to the police was grave sin of ommission as well as a crime. Msgr. Lynn participated in a cover-up of multiple felonies. His vow to his bishop is irrelevant. He belongs in prison.

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  5. Yes these administrators are being the scapegoats for what their bishops told them to do but they are still complicit. It would be much better if they went after the bishops directly. That said when in any situation, when one is given an order that is wrong, one is duty bound to disobey it, even in a church. Quite a few years ago, I was inducted into the third degree of a Catholic fraternal organization and the one lesson that ceremony taught me was to always stand up for injustice no matter what. I'm no longer Catholic but I hope I could always live up to that principle. The question to as is what should a current Moderator of the Curia do when confronted with a situation like Fr. Lynn encountered where his bishop is asking him to shuffle abusing priests around a diocese.

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    Replies
    1. Rationalist: The flaw in your argument is that no chancery official has the authority to 'shuffle' anyone! Even personnel committees recommendations to a Bishop does not impinge on his power to do exactly what he wants.

      If there are going to be charges... then charge and convict the right people! In this case, it would be the diocesan bishop, not his underlings. It would be like convicting a school department head for decisions taken by the principal!

      Fr. Tim

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    2. No, he has no authority, but he did comply in moving people around when he knew it was wrong. Using the principal comparison a department head who sent an abusing teacher to another department under the principal's order would be an accomplice to the cover-up. While not as serious as the principal, being an knowing accomplice to a crime is still a crime.

      I don't think you would have carried out this order and Msgr. Lynn should not have either. Now perhaps other director of Priests' Personnel will not follow similar orders either.

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    3. Rationalist: The only part he had in moving the priests was to type up the letter announcing the moves. He has no authority to stop anything. The Church is like the army in that respect: a lower rank cannot refuse an order from a higher rank. This is particularly the case when it comes to priest appointments.

      I thank you for believing that I would not have participated in such a cover-up. If I had been in Msgr. Lynn's position, I would have resigned from the chancery when my written report was ordered destroyed. When I was ordered to 'keep quiet', I didn't and went to the Police instead. All I accomplished was ruin any chance I had of serving in any parish that would be considered a 'plum' appointment because they wouldn't proceed with an investigation without the victim participating directly - something he wouldn't do for more than 20 years. (I couldn't care less about my 'punishment' as it has kept me far away from the Diocesan seat of power. It's been WELL WORTH the price!) I bet Lynn wishes now he would have done the same thing.

      Fr. Tim

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    4. I spent 5 years in the army reserve while in high school and university. One can, and must, refuse an unlawful order. I was given lots of stupid orders, but never an order that I felt was unlawful.

      You're probably a better priest and better person for where you are now than rector of St. Columbkille's.

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    5. Rationalist: I wasn't the rector. Only his assistant priest. It was aptly described by one of my predecessors as being the one priest in the diocese who lived on the bottom floor of a five holer outhouse!

      It was the worst three years of my priesthood. Loved the people of the parish, but couldn't stand the people I had to live with in the rectory. I was glad beyond measure when I was finally transferred out of there to be the assistant in Chapeau, Qc.

      Fr. Tim

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    6. Sorry, I meant if you had kept quiet, you might have been the rector. I assume that's the Pembroke plus appointment. You're better off where you are.

      I didn't know you went to Chapeau. When I worked at Deep River a group of us used to go over to Fred's restaurant for excellent meals. I hear it unfortunately burned.

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    7. Dear Fr. Tim,

      On your first point: Msgr. Lynn did not need to remove the priests, he simply needed to report what he knew to the relevant civil authorities in a transparent and open way. To not do so was a crime for which he was guilty. The fact that the Archbishop was guily of worse offenses does not make Msgr. Lynn innocent. As we all know 'Befehl ist Befehl' is not a legitimate defence when it comes to the endangerment of children. Some orders should never be obeyed and would not be by a person who had the moral standards that priests are called to live by.

      On your second point, there is no evidence that the Roman Catholic Church is becoming more transparent or accountable other than the stating of nice sounding policies. As you know in June 1992 the CCCB issued an excellent report 'From Pain to Hope' in which they committed themselves to abide by civil legislation in reporting any suspected instances of abuse to the relevent civil authorities. And then a few months later (1993) Bishop Windle of Pembroke wrote the Apostolic Nuncio in Ottawa to advise how the Holy See might handle the cover up of the accusations against the former Msgr. Bernard Prince. That is how much the stated policy affects the actual policy.

      There also seems to be another policy depending on how important the people are: that is allowing them to escape criminal responsibility be receiving employment in the Vatican. Eventually Prince was found to be expendable, but both Cardinals Law and Rigali are probably as more or equally guilty of 'child endagerment' as was Msgr. Lynn. But they are safely in Rome as citizens of a sovereign state, the Vatican, which would never permit their extradition to the United States.

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  6. Anonymous25 June, 2012

    I am conflicted by this particular case. While I agree with Tim that the legal requirement of mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse cases to police was not likely in place (for churches) 20 years ago, it is hard to condone any senior clergy turning a blind eye towards such abuse.

    Such inaction on the part of senior clergy denied proper redress for the actual victims, and it placed other youth at risk of sexual abuse. Any reasonable person could have foreseen such outcomes - regardless of the "legal" requirements extant at the time. Justice cried out for a proactive response from the hierarchy. Instead, we have been treated to systematic and deliberate attempts to cover up these abuse cases through out the world by a complacent hierarchy.

    Le Survenant makes compelling arguments for the prosecution of Rev. Lynn. It is unfortunate that no actual Bishop or Cardinal has been directly prosecuted for these cover ups. I am not sure that the RCC is truly going to make serious changes unless, and until, we see our first Bishop or Cardinal doing hard time.

    Pity that prosecutors have been unable to touch some of the most egregious actors, who remain sheltered away in Vatican City.

    Cheers...Martin

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    1. Don Ridell25 June, 2012

      There you go again Martin- saying (until we see OUR first Bishop or Cardinal etc) You have no Bishop or Cardinal, your master is not called that.

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    2. But it was the bishops and cardinals who were ultimately responsible for the cover-up. Until they are held responsible, current bishops and cardinals may still try to play with the law trying to keep a lid on scandal "for the good of the church".

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  7. Martin,

    I too wish they had charged bishops as they are who are ultimately responsible. That said the legal requirement for reporting is much less important than the moral requirement for reporting. If the moral requirement exists now (as I hope all would agree) then it was a moral requirement back then when Msgr. Lynn acted upon the orders of his bishop.

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  8. Anonymous25 June, 2012

    Hi Don,

    LOL! When it suits the Church’s purposes, it triumphantly includes me (and apostates like me) in their tally of Catholics in Ontario and Canada.

    The Church cannot count me a Catholic when it is convenient, and then declare me an apostate and subject me to the penalties under Canon 1336, and then insist I have no Bishop or Cardinal. It is a logical contradiction. Perhaps one of the Canon lawyers among us can clarify this?

    Tell you what:

    a) Stop counting me as a Catholic;
    b) Drop the apostate label and the applicable penalties against me under Canon 1336;

    ...and in return I will happily refer to complicit and enabling Bishops and Cardinals in the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal as “YOUR Bishops and Cardinals”.

    Your sly insinuations as to my real "master" are nothing but an ad hominem attack. Are the "orthodox" of the Church incapable of an honest and straightforward argument?

    Cheers…Martin

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  9. "Convicting Rev. Lynn may have sated this thirst for vengeance for a short while" I don't see this as a thirst for vengeance as a thirst for Justice and if prison terms have any preventative effect then any one, in a religious organization or a secular one, will think twice about following an order that seeks to hide sexual offenders for the good of that origination. Just following orders is not a defense when one knowingly breaks the law.

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  10. Anonymous25 June, 2012

    Hi Tim,

    You write: "Rationalist: The flaw in your argument is that no chancery official has the authority to 'shuffle' anyone! Even personnel committees recommendations to a Bishop does not impinge on his power to do exactly what he wants."

    This may be true, but Rev. Lynn had other options to oppose the Bishop's immoral actions/inactions. For instance, Rev. Lynn could have reported the matter to the police.

    What I believe Rationalist and Survenant are saying is that Lynn was in a senior position, he was complicit in the cover up, and had a higher duty than obedience to his Bishop.

    Cheers...Martin

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  11. After a lot of reading on this case from various sources I ,too, thought and said that they got 'the wrong man'. Now I have the opposite opinion. Msgr Lynn was aware that persons were being appointed who could and ,probably did, do damage to individuals.That he had no authority is correct in that he could not rescind those appointments.But...he went along with moving these people on.He should have objected and refused to move the pen that caused the grief.He could have resigned his position and moved on.I see where he may serve house arrest which makes sense...now that the jury has spoken.

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  12. I am torn on this issue. It becomes difficult because we are inclined to judge these matters based on the current culture and reporting legislation, while forgetting that this has changed substantially as of late. Recognizing that at a professional level, his hands were tied as he was powerless to make any decisions or take any action without the approval of his superiors. Legally he probably ought to have reported it although without cooperation of the victims, is likely would have had no result. I agree sadly this man will take the punishment for his superiors. One can only hope that there will be lessons learned from this and that his superiors are enjoying the warm spot they've earned in the afterlife.

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