(RNS) This week’s court decision that freed a senior cleric in Philadelphia who had been jailed for shielding an abusive priest was a symbolic setback for victims’ advocates but one with a substantial, and discouraging, message for their cause: None of the churchmen implicated in cover-ups during the worst decades of abuse will likely ever face charges.

The June 2012 conviction of Monsignor William Lynn was seen as a landmark verdict because until then no one in the upper levels of the Catholic Church had ever faced a trial or been found guilty for shielding molesters.

Lynn, who oversaw clergy and fielded abuse complaints for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was sentenced to three to six years on one count of child endangerment. After serving 18 months in prison, Lynn was expected to be released from prison soon.

During the past few decades, a number of abusers have been convicted, and many defrocked. But public outrage was largely directed against the bishops and senior church officials like Lynn who, as the appeals court noted in its ruling on Thursday (Dec. 26), “prioritized the archdiocese’s reputation over the safety of potential victims of sexually abusive priests.”

But the appeals ruling also said that Lynn’s behavior, while outrageous to much of the Catholic faithful and the wider public, did not violate the child welfare law in place at the time of the abuse.

And therein lies the harsh reality of the clergy abuse scandal: Much like the financial scandals that rocked the nation after the recession of 2007, almost no one at the highest echelons of responsibility was ever brought to trial or even charged with a crime.

“Literally thousands of U.S. Catholic officials have done precisely what Monsignor Lynn did and were never even charged or exposed, much less convicted,” said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “And we believe that hundreds or thousands of chancery officials across the globe are doing — right now — exactly what Monsignor Lynn did for years.”

A chief reason that the American hierarchy escaped prosecution was simple: The offenses that came to light largely took place years earlier, and if the statute of limitations on those crimes had not run out, many of the bishops and cardinals responsible for protecting the abusers had themselves expired.

Another cruel paradox is that the revelations often led to tougher laws and reforms that extended the statute of limitations on reporting abuse, but it was too late to snare the churchmen responsible for the offenses that prompted those changes.

The Lynn case was a microcosm of the conundrum: Pennsylvania’s child welfare law was amended in 2007 in the wake of abuse reports to explicitly include supervisors like Lynn. But that was after Lynn had retired, and it was not retroactive.

Moreover, Lynn was always something of a consolation prize. Lynn’s boss, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who headed the archdiocese from 1988-2003, was found by a grand jury to have orchestrated policies that ignored victims and shielded hundreds of abusive clergy from punishment. But the laws at the time were too weak to bring Bevilacqua up on charges, and he died in January 2012 before the start of Lynn’s trial, where he was expected to be a star witness.

In a similar fashion, disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston also escaped charges despite his role in a series of cover-ups. After months as the target of public anger, then-Pope John Paul II gave Law a post in Rome, where he has lived quietly and out of the spotlight.

Even Cardinal Roger Mahony, who was just 49 when he was named archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985, was never charged with a crime despite thousands of pages of internal documents released in recent years that detailed how he shuffled priests around to protect them. Mahony is 77 and retired in 2011.

So, what now? In Philadelphia, District Attorney Seth Williams said he would probably appeal the Lynn ruling. Some church observers say that whatever happens, the Lynn case put church officials across the country on notice that they have to report crimes. “Law enforcement officials, if they have the courage, can often find creative ways to charge and convict corrupt clerics,” Clohessy said.

Clohessy and others noted that three months after Lynn’s conviction, Bishop Robert W. Finn of Missouri was sentenced to two years of court-supervised probation for failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest who was later convicted on federal child pornography charges. The crime in that instance took place in 2010 and was a rare example of a case authorities could readily prosecute.

Victims’ advocates are also encouraged that the Catholic scandal continues to prompt reforms in abuse laws and prevention policies and that those who were abused are more likely than ever to come forward with their stories.

But increasingly, the focus of hope is shifting to the Vatican, where advocates say Pope Francis needs to ensure that a new commission on child abuse establishes the kind of church penalties for bishops that they never faced in the secular sphere. Finn, victims’ advocates note, remains in office, and archbishops in Minnesota and New Jersey have not been removed despite new revelations about their roles in protecting abusive priests.

“It’s good that Finn and Lynn were convicted, but the value of those two cases was always symbolic — they showed a kind of accountability that was never going to be as broad as it should be,” said Terence McKiernan, head of BishopAccountability.org, a watchdog group.

Nicholas Cafardi, a canon and civil lawyer at the Duquesne Law School in Pittsburgh and former head of the Catholic bishops’ national review board on clergy abuse, said Francis must broaden the mandate of the commission to include his brother bishops.

“We have to insist that there be repercussions for any bishop who would re-assign or cover-up for a sexually abusive priest,” Cafardi wrote in an email. “The church will never have closure on this issue unless the larger problem of hierarchical complicity is dealt with.”



  1. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

    Sister to Pope: Tackle the Scandal

    Philadelphia Daily News
    December 24, 2013

    POPE FRANCIS has been in the news recently due to his removal of more than a dozen cardinals from the Congregation of Bishops and his appointment of others.

    American Cardinals Burke and Rigali are in the former group, while Cardinal Wuerl, of Washington, D.C., is in the latter.
    In the news as well is a notice that the pope has decided that cardinals will begin hearing confessions regularly at churches around Rome.

    As important and interesting as such announcements may be to some, should they really be paramount in people’s minds?

    First things first:

    Will Pope Francis address the single-most critical issue facing the Catholic Church today, which is the continuing clerical sex-abuse scandal?

    Given the description of the pope’s papal commission on clerical child abuse, especially coming after a United Nations panel criticized the Vatican over its handling of abuse cases, with the Vatican saying that the responsibility for such cases rested with individual bishops, expectations on such a significant level have been decidedly mixed.

    Pope Francis’ words establishing this new commission in the church’s central bureaucracy would be commendable if at the same time he announced plans for disciplining and/or the removal from church offices of those bishops who, by the abuse of their episcopal authority, were complicit in the sexual abuse of thousands of children in the United States alone.

    Overseas, in the Netherlands, Dutch bishops have recently acknowledged the abuse of tens of thousands of children, according to a Reuters article.

    Perhaps Pope Francis has decided to go the distance with this commission, but if Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley’s statements are accurate, the pope’s creation of such a committee appears to be more along the lines of putting the cart before the horse than anything else.

    Any way one looks at it there is really no way to avoid an issue which, if not finally addressed in its totality, will result in even further public-relations fallout for the Catholic Church worldwide.

    Remember that diocesan bishops, their underlings, along with the provincials and superiors of religious congregations, created this horrific scandal by protecting known clerical sexual predators with essentially no regard for the Lord’s little ones, leaving these lambs unprotected before ravaging wolves.

    “The new commission is expected to tell church officials to collaborate with civil authorities and report cases of abuse,” O’Malley said.

    Is this a decision that calls for a papal commission? No, not to my thinking.

    The hierarchy has already exhausted its credibility and moral authority by its flawed response to this scandal over past decades, and neither will be regained by having the ecclesiastical body responsible for covering up that scandal charged with either its evaluation or correction.

    That has not worked well since 2002.

    Moreover, statements like those quoted above appear ludicrous given the nature of such heinous violations: crimes against the humanity of children.

    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    New Castle, Delaware

  2. Forget about expecting the Vatican to police itself. Its shameful cover-ups to date, and Francis’ uninspiring record with priest abusers in Argentina and in Rome to date, make clear outside governments must compel the hierarchy to enforce child protection laws, as they are already compelling the hierarchy to enforce banking and financial laws. Papal promises are nice, but not enforcible, as we have learned too many times.

    Paradoxically, Lynn’s trial reversal, and the current publicity and outrage it is generating, are helping the cause of curtailing priest abuse. They also keep the pressure on Pope Francis to address the issue of bishop accountability directly and transparently, after nine months mainly of avoiding it.

    See, ” Monsignor Lynn Proves Why President Obama Must Step Up “, at: ‏

  3. We can not count on Pope Francis to clean up this mess. He has now had several months to take some decisive actions to remove corrupt bishops who are covering up sex crimes against kids, yet still nothing has been done.
    And now this devastating court decision will allow more kids to be sexually abused and their crimes continue to be covered up by high ranking church officials.
    Lynn was convicted in a court of law by a jury, and yet he gets out of jail on a “technicality”, not because he didn’t do the crime. This decision now sends the strong message to those who enable and empower child predators to sexually abuse more kids, that, “Hey, we can keep covering up these crimes and get away with it”..

    The sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force these church officials to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting innocent kids. Until they spend time behind bars for their crimes of cover up, nothing will change and children will still be sexually abused within this archaic secret system.

    How on earth are children to be protected if our own laws don’t work to protect them? Hopefully the prosecutor will appeal this decision to overturn Lynn’s conviction.
    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511, snapjudy@gmail.com
    SNAP “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”

    • Judy, name a bishop who should be removed in your estimation. Include as well the details of your judgment wherein you prove that he should be removed
      even where civil authorities have not so proven.

      Msgr. Lynn was not released on a technicality.

      Prosecutors are bound by statutes of limitaions. Would you have a bishop rermove a cleric if it has not been proven that the cleric was guilty? There have been instances where accused clerics were found not guilty. The cause of justice is not served by assuming that an accuser is truthful.

      Don’t think I defend pedophiles. I suspect that my sentence for those proven guilty would be sterner than any sentence permitted in any state thus far.

      • Duane, My volunteer work with SNAP includes several territories. My knowledge comes from whistleblowere and victims. YES, the bishops are still covering up sex crimes against kids. They are not removing accused child predators from their duties, and are they telling parishioners about the allegations against such priests and/or employees. Their secrets are still in tact, because the statute of limitations prevents so many victims from having their day in court. And the bishops know this, so they keep quiet and wait it out.
        My work covers most of Ohio, Pittsburgh, Johnstown-Altoona, PA and all of West Virginia., and Missouri… here is just one example of cover up ..http://www.wkbn.com/news/local/advocates-allege-abuse-at-cardinal-mooney
        It is the statutes of limitations that needs to be removed in order for victims claims to be proven accurate or false in a court of law. The church officials have no business deciding if a priest is guilty or not, They are not the proper officials to be investigating child sex crimes, no matter how long ago it happened.

        As long as high ranking church officials can stay out of jail…they still think they are above the law, and nothing has changed.
        I hope this helps to explain the disappointment by thousands of victims in regard to this decision about Msgr Lynn. I have also now read that this Lynn decision may affect those Penn State Officials who covered up the sex crimes of Jerry Sandusky. http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/12/appellate_court_ruling_in_phil.html#incart_river

        This court decision will affect so many cases… and kids are not being protected. They are at the bottom of list for anyone in a high power position who wishes to keep his power..It is essential that the high ranking officials get prosecuted for enabling and empowering more kids to be sexually abused, because we all know that child predators need to be kept far away from kids forever.


      • He admitted he was guilty when he made statements he tried to do the lesser of two evils in order to protect the CHURCH. As a retired priest I would prefer him to accept the responsibility for his damage and serve the time without complaining.

        • Daniel Berry, NYC

          Interesting, isn’t it, this practice among Roma clerics (and, sadly, many–perhaps, most–of the laity) of equating “church” with the power guys who run it’s bureaucracy.

          Not surprising, though: like any other bureaucracy, the Vatican’s first rule is to preserve its status-quo. And like any bureaucracy in the corporate world, it will sacrifice anyone it has to in order to do that. Including children.

  4. Perhaps Nick Cafardi would be kind enough to ask Bishop David Zubik to review some of my allegations listed on my blog. I would guess it’s never too late to learn the truth. Maybe one or two former bishops of the Pittsburgh Diocese could answer for some of their crimes.

    It’s been going on for years in the Pittsburgh Diocese. There are simply enough corrupt politicians and enough Roman Coward Catholics that anything can be covered-up in PA.


    Please pass this information forward.

  5. btw.. your comment: “Prosecutors are bound by statutes of limitaions. Would you have a bishop rermove a cleric if it has not been proven that the cleric was guilty?”—

    — This is exactly why the statute of limitations should be removed, both civil and criminal.. It is the courts that determine if a cleric has been proven guilty or not..ok?

  6. Judy, first let me say I am not trying to speak on behalf of Duane, as he is very capable of doing this for himself. But in reading all the comments, I see a misinterpretation of his comments on your part, perhaps because you are so very focused, and have great passion about crimes against children, which based on previous discussion with Duane, we both appreciate.
    What I think Duane was saying, was that this article revealed the court ruled that the law child welfare law that was applied to these heinous acts was not applicable to the situation, as this scumbag was not responsible for the children’s welfare in the first place. No one, even the judge who ruled, disagreed what he did was wrong.
    Although I’m sure the statue of limitations is applicable in many cases, and it sounds like you have great knowledge of this due to your volunteer work, in this particular case, it had no bearing on this ruling.
    I think the only way, other than complete and thorough cooperation from the Pope and Vatican, is for the U.S. government to step in and use the RICOH Act to charge the Catholic Church as a criminal organization. This has been used successfully many times in the past to convict those at the top of criminal organizations who have set up safeguards to shield themselves from direct involvement. If nothing more, it could be used to leverage the Pope and Vatican to finally fully cooperate.
    There is a stain on the Catholic church that is not just a stain of what would be called a sin among the faithful, but rather a stain of injustice all moral humans understand.
    I am a anti-theist, and as such would like to see the worship of current gods go the way of the worship of other gods worshiped by man in the past. Although I think this situation goes a long way in achieving that goal, as it shows that morality and Christianity are not synonymous, I would like to see this situation brought to justice, even if it that furthered the goals of religion.

  7. What Roman Catholic apologists don’t tell you about their Child Protection / Safe Environment programs:

    Mother’s Watch, a Catholic Blog, examines the Child Safety Programs/Measures/Resources implemented by the Bishops in response to the Clergy Abuse Scandal in light of Catholic teaching. Their in-depth analysis entitled ‘HOW DARE YOU, BISHOPS!’ begs the question . . are these programs designed to protect children or the Bishops? You be the judge!

    “Safe Environment” for bishops?
    (start quote) In light of the homosexual priest scandals, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have new “guidelines” for implementation of “safe environment” programs.  These bishops even admit that their guidelines are not spiritually inspired by Church teaching, but by sexuality “experts,” the same sick experts that recommended sex education.  In an attempt to quell the publicity, bishops now say that they will “cooperate with civil authorities, educators, and community organizations.’     The bishops new “‘code of conduct’ establishes acceptable behavior that is legal”  (Emphasis ours).   Furthermore,  American bishops have meticulously avoided any condemning statements against sexual activity of all priests including homosexual priests with young men over 18!
    The bishops again demonize the child stating that: “It is important to remember that while child abuse is usually committed by an adult, children and young people may be offenders.”   This is a thin-ice statement which could refer to children abusing children, but more importantly, and most likely, could also mean that children could be accused as the seducers of sex with adults. (end quote)

    1) Citation: Source: Mother’s Watch Blog
    Link: http://www.motherswatch.net/content/view/10/6/

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