For the first time in American history, a Catholic church official has been convicted and sentenced to prison for complicity in covering up child abuse by priests by not reporting their crimes to the police and moving them from parish to parish.
Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Roman Catholic official in the United States to be convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision, was sentenced to three to six years in prison on Tuesday.
“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” said Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina as she imposed the sentence, which was just short of the maximum of three and a half to seven years…
Monsignor Lynn served as secretary for clergy for the 1.5 million-member archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, recommending priest assignments and investigating abuse complaints. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that he had shielded predatory priests, sometimes transferring them to unwary new parishes, and lied to the public to avoid bad publicity and lawsuits.
The conviction of Monsignor Lynn, now punctuated by a prison sentence, has reverberated among Catholic officials around the country, church experts said.
“I think this is going to send a very strong signal to every bishop and everybody who worked for a bishop that if they don’t do the right thing they may go to jail,” said Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. “They can’t just say the bishop made me do it, that’s not going to be an excuse that holds up in court.”
I wish that were true, but I doubt it is. Very few prosecutors are going to have the courage to charge local Catholic leaders. That’s why it took so long for this first one to happen.