Philadelphia Archdiocese prolongs its own suffering

Msgr. William Lynn: Conviction overturned.
Msgr. William Lynn: Conviction overturned.
Posted: January 09, 2014

Monsignor William Lynn descended five stories Monday from the courtroom to freedom, only to be met by a scrum of cameras and foul-mouthed hecklers. But he is also 80 pounds lighter from 18 months of exercise and prison grub, so perhaps incarceration wasn't all bad.

The day after Christmas, a three-judge appeals panel overturned the former archdiocese secretary's conviction of child endangerment in protecting pedophile and defrocked priest Edward Avery. The laws then on the books, the court ruled, applied only to direct supervisors of children, not people supervising those supervisors.

While overturning the conviction, the judges noted that the monsignor was all about shielding his seniors. Like many successful bureaucrats, Lynn managed up.

Lynn's "first priority in dealing with sexually abusive priests appeared to be the protection of the reputation of the archdiocese," the judges wrote. "His second priority appeared to be protection of the reputation of the offending priest."

The sex-abuse scandal has cost the Philadelphia Archdiocese an estimated $12 million in legal defense. It does not appear to be over, at least to District Attorney Seth Williams, who took his second-term oath the day of Lynn's bail hearing. He said his office most likely would appeal the court's ruling.

Williams characterized the decision as "disappointing and puzzling." He excoriated the church's decision to post Lynn's $25,000 bail: "It is disgusting that they would pay to free this man."

In turn, Lynn's attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, called Williams "out of line" for "denigrating the court and denigrating the archdiocese." Bergstrom says he plans to file a complaint against the district attorney with the state Bar Association and Disciplinary Board of the state Supreme Court.

So, now it's about the lawyers.

Forgotten in this mess are the abused, the children.

The District Attorney's Office under Lynne Abraham launched a 2005 grand jury investigation into the archdiocese's treatment of child-abuse allegations - or, more precisely, its decided lack thereof - and decided not to charge Lynn. The child-endangerment statute, according to the report and cited in the judge's ruling, was "too narrow to support a successful prosecution of the decision-makers who were running the archdiocese." In 2007, the definition was broadened and would have extended to Lynn, but the law, as we know, is a beast.

Williams proceeded and charged Lynn. The New York Times called him "the avenging altar boy."

But only up to a point. Lynn kept his collar. He lost his weight. Everyone remarked how good he looks. The archdiocese found him a home in the rectory of St. William in the Northeast, though it's unclear if Lynn will return to active ministry.

"All of the church's wounds are self-inflicted, a festering tumor growing from within," Abraham told me. A second 2011 grand jury report resulted in the suspension of 26 priests suspected of sex abuse or misconduct with minors, more than half of whom have since been removed.

Last month, the archdiocese suspended a priest who had been allowed to work for almost a year after multiple accusers alleged he had abused them. The church refused to release details. This came the day after the archdiocese released the fate of seven suspended priests facing abuse charges.

"The archdiocese is and remains firmly committed to protecting children and young people," said a church spokesman in December. "It has taken various steps since 2011 to strengthen and reinforce those efforts."

In other words, since the second damaging grand jury report because one did not prove to be enough.

That self-inflicted wound still appears to be festering.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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