Tuesday, July 24, 2012

For Bill Lynn, "Hard Time" -- Clergy Chief Gets 3-To-6 for Philly Cover-Up

The first church official in the English-speaking world to be held criminally liable for his handling of sex-abuse cases, this morning a Philadelphia judge sentenced the former archdiocesan head of clergy personnel, Msgr William Lynn, to a prison term of three to six years.

After a landmark trial sparked by a 2011 grand-jury report that served to implode the "Last Empire" of the American church, the 61 year-old cleric was convicted in June on a single count of endangering the welfare of a child in a 1999 case involving a since-laicized priest who had been kept in ministry and continued abusing despite archdiocesan officials' judgment that he had long been "guilty" of previous assaults on minors.

The now-former cleric, Edward Avery, pled guilty to abuse and conspiracy charges on the eve of the trial's March opening, and was sentenced to two and a half to five years behind bars.

Lynn's sentence falls just shy of the maximum three and a half to seven-year jail term for the charge sought by prosecutors. The monsignor's attorneys have vowed to appeal the conviction, and a high-court review could come as early as this fall.

Given the unprecedented criminal action against an Anglophone church administrator for his response to allegations, the Lynn proceedings and their fallout have been heavily watched around the Catholic world and become an immensely symbolic moment for victim-survivors of sex-abuse in the church and their advocates.

In a statement before handing down the sentence, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina rapped Lynn for having enabled "monsters in clerical garb... to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart."

"You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn," the judge said, "but you chose wrong."

While even Lynn's defense conceded that the leadership of the Philadelphia church -- a place once perceived in church circles as a "model" bastion of ironclad Catholic fidelity -- conducted a sweeping, systemic cover-up of allegations and reassigning of accused clerics that spanned generations, the monsignor and his lawyers asserted that, as Secretary for Clergy from 1992-2004, the defendant was a third-tier functionary who sought to do the good he could within the parameters of a policy established by the auxiliary bishops who served in turn as vicar-general and, ultimately, the then-archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, whose death in January came one day after he was ruled fit to testify at the trial. (A videotaped deposition of the cardinal by lawyers from both sides, recorded at his seminary apartment weeks before his death at 88, was not shown during the proceedings.)

The monsignor was acquitted of a conspiracy charge and a second child-endangerment count at the close of the three-month trial. As the jury failed to reach any judgment on Lynn's codefendant, the suspended priest James Brennan -- charged with abuse dating to the late 1990s -- Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced yesterday that Brennan will be retried, most likely in 2013.

Two additional criminal trials stemming from the grand jury -- for a religious priest and lay teacher both indicted for abuse -- are slated to begin in September. Eight civil lawsuits against the archdiocese and its prior leaders are expected to proceed once the criminal cases are concluded.

Having become a popular suburban pastor after his 12-year tenure in the Chancery, Lynn's sentencing comes after weeks of charged post-verdict arguments, during which the prosecution convinced Sarmina that the convicted cleric should not be granted house arrest in the event that he sought to flee to the Vatican.

Kept in protective solitary confinement at Philadelphia's main prison since the verdict, the onetime Clergy chief is now to be moved into the general population at a state correctional facility outside the city.

As the 1.2 million-member Philadelphia church begins to emerge from the most turbulent period any American Catholic outpost has experienced in the last half-century -- a cataclysmic 18-month cycle that, beyond legal matters, has witnessed last month's closing of a staggering 27 schools and a 20 percent slashing of what had been a 250-person central staff, revelations of more than a decade of sizable operating deficits, the arrest and guilty plea of its chief financial officer on charges of stealing over $900,000 in diocesan funds, a revolutionary shift of leadership, the placement on the block of the long-inviolate chief symbols of its clericalist culture, the beginning of an extensive parish consolidation effort, and the removal of nearly 30 priests from ministry over allegations of various misconduct -- the Capuchin sent to lead its rebuilding from the ashes mused last weekend that "we in the archdiocese have had a difficult time with our pastors, haven't we?"

Springing off from Sunday's First Reading in his homily at his weekly evening Mass for young adults in the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Archbishop Charles Chaput acknowledged that "we've been scandalized by the actions of some of our priests, and people have been upset at bishops for not doing a better job of protecting the sheep of the flock and of leading the church in these difficult times. And so those of us who serve the church as your bishops have to look at ourselves and take the criticism that you offer and the criticism of the Scriptures very seriously, and then to recommit ourselves to be good shepherds after the fashion of Jesus Christ."

"The Lord challenges us to be faithful," Chaput said, "and he warns us:
'Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord.'

"May the Lord guide us so that we won't experience the 'Woe.'"

In a statement released shortly after today's ruling, the national office of the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests said that, while it was disappointed that Lynn did not receive the maximum jail-time, "this sentence sends a powerful message: cover-up child sex crimes and you’ll go to jail. Not house arrest. Not community service. Not a fine. You’ll be locked up."

For his part, Williams -- who inherited the three-year second grand jury on becoming DA in 2010 -- told reporters in an appearance outside the city's Criminal Justice Center that, much as Lynn's jailing was "unprecedented in American jurisprudence... no matter what the sentence was it wouldn't really be enough for the victims of child sexual abuse."

In a late-day statement, meanwhile, the Philadelphia Curia -- which issued a "heartfelt apology" to victims on last month's verdict -- said that "fair-minded people will question the severity of the heavy, three to six year sentence imposed on Msgr. Lynn today," voicing its "hope that when this punishment is objectively reviewed, it will be adjusted."

"The public humiliation of the church has emphasized the vital lesson that we must be constantly vigilant in our charge to protect the children in our parishes and schools," the response added. "Since the events some ten years ago that were at the center of this trial, the archdiocese has changed."

Hearings related to Lynn's appeal are set to begin within weeks.