"Murdering the Souls of Children"
From the Wall Street Journal:
PHILADELPHIA—A former senior Roman Catholic Church official accused of failing to protect children from alleged molestation by priests was convicted of one count of child endangerment and acquitted of two other charges.
Amid the priest sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church over the past decade, Monsignor William Lynn is the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to be convicted of criminal charges. He served as secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, a job that included handling allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
The monsignor was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of children and with conspiracy with another priest to endanger the welfare of children. Msgr. Lynn wasn't accused of sexual abuse. He now faces a possible 3½ to 7 years in prison.
The jury wasn't able to reach a verdict in the case of another priest who was overseen by Msgr. Lynn and also on trial, James Brennan. He faced charges of attempted rape and endangering the welfare of a child, in connection with allegations that he abused a teenage boy at his apartment in suburban Philadelphia in 1996. He has pleaded not guilty.
The trial opened a window on how one of the nation's largest Catholic dioceses grappled with the scandal as it shook the broader church in the U.S. and elsewhere. The case has underscored both the success and the shortcomings of the church's handling of abuse allegations.
The Philadelphia district attorney's office credited the diocese with referring some of the allegations at issue in the trial to prosecutors, under strengthened reporting policies the diocese adopted in the past decade.
But a grand-jury report last year blasted the diocese for allowing 37 priests to remain in active ministry despite having "credible" abuse allegations lodged against them. The diocese later placed a majority of the priests on leave as it investigated the allegations, and recently deemed some of them unsuitable for ministry. Msgr. Lynn also was placed on leave from his post as a parish pastor after he was charged last year.
Jurors heard nearly 10 weeks of testimony from more than 60 witnesses, including Msgr. Lynn and alleged abuse victims, and saw hundreds of confidential church documents.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Msgr. Lynn, 61 years old, learned in the 1990s of allegations that Father Brennan and another priest had engaged in inappropriate conduct with minors but failed to keep them out of assignments involving contact with children or to inform parishioners of the allegations. The two priests later sexually abused two boys in separate incidents, prosecutors contend.
The other priest, Edward Avery, pleaded guilty before the trial to charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, and was sentenced to 2½ years to five years in prison. Mr. Avery, who has since been defrocked, was accused of engaging in oral sex with a 10-year-old altar boy at a Philadelphia parish in the late 1990s.
Father Brennan didn't testify during the trial but jurors were read his testimony from a 2008 church canonical trial in which he denied sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy. In his testimony, he did say he allowed the boy to view pornography on the priest's computer and that they slept overnight in the same bed. Father Brennan's attorney questioned the accuser's credibility and motives.
Defense attorneys for Msgr. Lynn argued that the charges against him were baseless because he didn't have authority to remove or transfer accused priests in most cases. Prosecutors countered that his failure to restrict the priests' behavior led directly to the alleged abuse of the boys.
Msgr. Lynn testified last month that he did his best to investigate allegations and recommend restrictions on the duties of accused priests. He acknowledged he never called police but that only his superior, the archbishop of Philadelphia, had the authority to remove or transfer priests. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who was the archbishop during most of Msgr. Lynn's tenure as secretary for clergy, wasn't charged. He died in January.
Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington told jurors that the monsignor was the "point man" for carrying out a plan by the Philadelphia diocese to keep in ministry priests accused of sexually abusing children, and to keep the public in the dark about the allegations.
"He and everyone else that protected those pedophile priests were murdering the souls of children," he said in closing arguments.
Msgr. Lynn's attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, told jurors in his closing argument that Msgr. Lynn attempted to improve the diocese's handling of sex-abuse allegations, and did more than his predecessors. "This man, who never touched a child but yet who documented the evil other men did, [prosecutors] want you to convict him for their sins," he said.