Philadelphia Monsignor William J. Lynn, the first and highest-ranking Roman Catholic official to be convicted in the priest sex abuse scandal, has been sentenced to 3 to 6 years in state prison. The monsignor’s trial and conviction surely send a strong message that Roman Catholic Church officials’ failure to protect children from sexual abuse by priests and the Church’s efforts to cover up these crimes will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted.
Lynn had been found guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of children in a sex abuse case on June 22. The monsignor’s sentence was just under the maximum possible, of three and a half to seven years. Last week, his lawyers had asked the judge to spare him a prison sentence, requesting probation and work release or house arrest and arguing that imprisoning him “would serve no purpose at all.” Lynn had “never harbored any intent to harm a child,” the lawyers wrote.
Lynn was the aide to the powerful Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, who died in January. The Philadelphia Archdiocese is the sixth largest in the US with 1.5 millon members; Lynn was the secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 and therefore responsible for some 800 priests and their assignments to parishes. He was also in charge of investigating sexual abuse. Prosecutors charged that Lynn had knowingly reassigned predatory priests to parishes, covered up credible accusations, never notified law enforcement and not taken sufficient measures to keep potential molesters away from children.
In his trial, the monsignor’s lawyers argued that he had, contrary to testimony given by survivors who spoke of lifelong suffering and trauma, tried to protect children; that he had been following the instructions of Bevilacqua; that his powers had been limited. Prosecutors countered that “following orders” was no defense and that Lynn had occupied a central role in addressing complaints against priests. They also said that the monsignor continued to deny any responsibility and showed an “apparent lack of remorse for anyone but himself.”
Lynn’s lawyers will appeal his sentence by arguing that, at the time of the abuse, the child endangerment laws did not apply to supervisors and that judges were in error in “allowing testimony about Monsignor Lynn’s handling of priests who were accused of sexual abuse outside the statute of limitations.”
As someone who has seen the effects of such abuse on friends and loved ones, I think it is important to quote what prosecutors said in their sentencing recommendation for Lynn last week. The monsignor indeed “was no aberration.” Just as officials at Penn State University including late coach Joe Paterno sought to cover up the sexual abuse of children by assistant Jerry Sandusky to protect Penn State’s football program, Lynn’s acts were “part of a continuous, systematic practice of retaining abusive priests in ministry, with continued access to minors, while taking pains to avoid scandal or liability for the archdiocese.”
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