Msgr. Lynn is Sentenced, But Was Justice Satisfied? UPDATED

The first official of the Church to be found guilty of failing to protect children from sexual abuse has been sentenced to 3 to 6 years in prison. Monsignor William Lynn of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia oversaw the assignment of priests and addressed (or, more accurately, failed to address) accusations of abuse from from 1992 to 2004.

From Reuters:

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said Lynn enabled “monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart.”

She added: “You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong.”

A jury convicted him last month of felony child endangerment for his oversight of now-defrocked priest Edward Avery, who is serving a 2 1/2 to five-year sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting an altar boy in church.

Lynn’s lawyers sought probation, arguing that few Pennsylvanians serve long prison terms for child endangerment and their client shouldn’t serve more time than abusers. Defense attorneys, who have vowed an appeal of the landmark conviction, said the seven-year maximum term advocated by the commonwealth “would merely be cruel and unusual.”

The problem with the verdict and the sentence is that it was the result of a show trial initiated by a grandstanding prosecutor and presided over by a biased judge. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina simply lied in court when she said: “Anybody that doesn’t think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet.” She made it a trial about the Church, and not about Lynn and the actual abusers.

Catholic clergy abused at or below the levels of the general male population, and very few cases have arisen in the past decade, so for a judge to characterize the Church as somehow uniquely prone to abuse, and to imply in the face of all evidence that the problem persists at the same level to the present day, is wildly inappropriate. It also ignores that this primarily a gay male issue, with the vast majority of victims being post-pubescent males (ephebophilia, not pedophilia).

Our eagerness to see people punished for the disgusting sexual abuse scandal doesn’t mean we get to short-circuit the judicial process, and it doesn’t mean a judge gets to keep her thumb on one side of the scales of justice. The abuse crisis has struck at the very heart of our church not because there is “widespread sexual abuse in Catholic Church,” but because our leaders failed to address the issue.

Many Catholics may well choose to remain silent on the Lynn verdict because we want to see the end of this story, and jail time for a Church leader–any Church leader–when so many have gone unpunished seems to satisfy the demands of justice. To this extent, Msgr. Lynn was always going to be a kind of scapegoat, standing as proxy for the sins of many. But the sexual abuse story is far more complex than that, and one man’s crimes must always remain his crimes alone: not those of all the Catholic leadership (clergy and lay) who failed. Lynn’s prison term is close to the maximum allowed, which is unusual in child endangerment cases, particularly given the charges against him.

The nature of the trial, the public nature of the subject of clergy sexual abuse, the charges, the venue, and the judge made one thing certain: William Lynn was not merely on trial for things he failed to do. He was on trial for the entire leadership of the Church. For that reason alone, true justice–which must, above all, be fair, equal, and blind–was always going to be elusive.

UPDATE: As always, Rocco Palmo is essential reading for this story.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    It’s worth mentioning that in the John Jay’s comprehensive assessment of causality, commissioned by the USCCB, the study determined that “neither the all-male celibate priesthood nor homosexuality” were causes of priestly sexual abuse.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    The Jay study is certainly the most thorough study of the subject, but they chose a rather narrow, modern definition of homosexuality. Even the term “ephebophilia” is rather artificial, attempting to create a new area of sexuality that accounts for 1) youth who are fully, or nearly fully, sexually developed but 2) under the legal age of consent in most cultures. The idealization of sexually mature–yet still young–people is common among both heterosexuals and homosexuals, but it’s distinct from the sexual objectification and abuse of children. The priests who preyed upon teenage males were gay men preying upon targets of opportunity, much like a heterosexual male teacher who abuses a female high school student. Attempting to say this is not “really” homosexuality seems to me to just be playing language games.

  • Thinkling

    >>She made it a trial about the Church, and not about Lynn and the actual abusers.

    I would up the ante and say she made it a trial about what she thought the Church was, and not what it really is. Cue someone venerable.

    I especially liked your last paragraph. Perhaps Msgr Lynn will be justly convicted for crimes alleged against him. But until a successful appeal and then retrial, that has not yet happened.

  • Rick DeLano

    I think the verdict was just.

    The penalty, arguably, was not.

    As for the disaster which has befallen us, it is exactly the result of a homosexual infiltration of the priesthood, and a (still-enduring) utter cowardice in frankly acknowledging and dealing with this fact.

    When the homosexuals and homosexualists are defrocked, then it will be morning.

    Homosexual activity is a sin which cries out to heaven. It is a devastating perversion, one which has brought unprecedented devastation upon the priesthood and the perception of the Church in the eyes of the world.

    May Hod have mercy on the disgraceful, cowardly, worldly, simpering prelates who lacked the courage to believe God in His condemnation of this perversion.

  • JeannieGuzman

    I disagree. The trial was about Lynn, and what he knew, what he covered up, and how he put his career advancement over the safety of children and teens. This is abominable behavior for one who claims to do the work of the Gospel! The only thing that he accomplished was making sure that SCANDAL didn’t come to the Roman Catholic Church and the Priesthood!

  • JeannieGuzman

    There are far too many homosexual and bisexual bishops for your suggestion to ever happen. As soon as one priest is defrocked for being a homosexual, he will start doing some finger-pointing, which could be VERY embarrassing for high-ranking members of the Vatican and the Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. There weren’t homosexual priests in the Old Testament, because their priests HAD to marry! The Church would rather go down in flames than make any changes in the priesthood to bring in married men!

  • JeannieGuzman

    If the trial were “About the Roman Catholic Church,” the judge would have sentenced Lynn for a million lifetimes, without ANY possibility of parole!

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Please go troll somewhere else. I’ll leave these comments up for now, but you’re done here.

  • Rick DeLano

    I wonder if there were any possible absurdity greater, than the suggestion that the celibate priesthood which converted the world were somehow the problem in the car of a homosexual priesthood which has perverted the Faith.


    No, I don’t think there is any possibly greater absurdity imaginable.

  • D_Kripke

    Hello Thomas,

    “The problem with the verdict and the sentence is that it was the result of a show trial initiated by a grandstanding prosecutor and presided over by a biased judge.”

    But this is exactly what I’ve read about Raphael Golb’s trial, of which you wrote:

    “His appeal is under consideration. Most verdicts are appealed, so I don’t see how that’s relevant….”

    By the way, did you see this commentary about your article on the Scrolls?

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Nope. Hadn’t seen it, don’t care. Didn’t even read past the sneering intro. Anonymous trolls don’t really merit much attention. And please try to keep your comments and links on topic, or I’ll just add you to the spam filter.