This past week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reinstated the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, who was the first US Catholic church official sent to prison for mishandling sexual misconduct complaints against priests.
In 2012 Lynn was found guilty by a Philadelphia jury on one count of child endangerment for failing to supervise a pedophile priest who eventually sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999. The Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned that conviction in 2013.
This ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reinstates the 2012 conviction. Writing for the 4-1 decision, Justice Max Baer said Superior Court erred when it reversed Lynn’s conviction because he did not directly supervise children. The high court also made it clear that Lynn, “as a high ranking official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was specifically responsible for protecting children from sexually abusive priests.”
As the former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Lynn oversaw the work of 800 priests. As the secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating sex-abuse complaints made against priests and recommending punishment to the archbishop. In 2005 a grand jury investigated 63 priests in the archdiocese suspected of sexual abuse, but it wasn’t until 2011 that charges were brought against Lynn. During the initial trial there was weeks of testimony from victims who were sexually assaulted by Philadelphia priests. Prosecutors showed that the church would transfer known predator priests to unsuspecting parishes and hide previous complaints in private files. Monsignor Lynn controlled those secret archives and was directly involved in the transfers of the pedophile priests.
I believe by upholding the conviction of Msgr. Lynn, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has made it clear that anyone who knowingly puts children at risk of being sexually molested shall be held accountable. For too long the Catholic Church has sheltered pedophile priests by hiding records, attacking victims credibility and quietly transferring sexual predators – allowing them to prey on even more children. The Vatican and Archdioceses around the world contain records of these sexually abusive priests, which the church still refuses to release.
Even after decades of scandals, lawsuits, and the prosecutions of sexually abusive priests, little has been done to prosecute any of the church hierarchy that has allowed these sexual predators to operate in their midst. Officials in the Church have effectively facilitated sexual predators through their policies of feigned ignorance, hiding priests, denials, and outright lies. Preventative measures will never work in this environment and the only way to break the cycle is to make clear that anyone in the church who knowingly shelters or protects a sexual predator will be held criminally accountable.