Friday, June 22, 2012


For many, this is justice. For many others, it is a tragedy.

And for those of us who call Philadelphia our church and home, it is now part of our history.

After a 12-week trial and 13 days of deliberations, shortly after 2pm today, a city jury announced that it found Msgr William Lynn -- the beleaguered archdiocese's clergy personnel chief from 1992 to 2004 -- guilty on a single count of endangering the welfare of a minor.

The charge having stemmed from a grand jury's indictment that Lynn (above) covered up the history of another priest who, on the eve of the landmark trial, pled guilty to having abused a 10 year-old boy in the late 1990s, the conviction marks the first time a church official in the English-speaking world has been criminally punished for his handling of an allegation.

In the Catholic world's lone parallel to today's ruling, a now-retired French bishop, Pierre Pican, was convicted in 2001 for failing to report a predator priest to the authorities, and was given a suspended sentence. Later this year, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph is slated to stand trial on a local charge of failing to report a priest whose alleged possession of child pornography was found to have been known by officials in the Missouri diocese for months before civil authorities were alerted.

Acquitted on a conspiracy count and a second child-endangerment charge, the 61 year-old Lynn was seen to be weeping as he was immediately remanded into custody pending an August sentencing. According to wire reports, the single guilty count is likely to bring a jail term of three and a half to seven years; the defendant is said to have turned down a plea bargain prior to the trial's late-March start.

Having built its case on thousands of damning files subpoenaed from the archdiocese's secret archive, the prosecution's case against the monsignor presented Lynn as the linchpin figure in an enduring pattern of reassigning known abusers to parishes where they were able to continue having ample access to children. By contrast, the defense relied on the testimony of the former secretary and his aides to assert that the policy was carried out on the orders of the then-archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, whose late January death at 88 came a day after he was ruled competent to testify at the trial.

Much as an appeal is possible, late word from Room 304 in the city's Criminal Justice Center relayed that a defense motion for Lynn's sentencing to house arrest would be considered at a later date.

Contrary to most expectations, meanwhile, the jury's stalemate elsewhere led to a mistrial on the charges against the monsignor's co-defendant -- the suspended priest James Brennan, who last year's second grand-jury probing the Philadelphia church's response to allegations accused of abuse and a conspiracy to conceal it, likewise dating to the late 1990s.

At a post-verdict press conference -- the year-long gag orders on all parties to the case
having been lifted at the judgment -- District Attorney Seth Williams said that no determination had yet been reached on a retrial of the Brennan case.

Regarding Lynn's conviction, though, the DA -- a Catholic -- said "this day was a long time coming."

"There is no verdict that could fix the harm done to the victims of adult predators within the church," Williams said. " There is no apology that could heal the wounds these children suffered. There are no words to truly express how sorry we should all be for what happened to them. All there is is an opportunity to ensure something like this never happens again."

Likewise released from the court's ban on public comment at the verdict's announcement, in an unsigned statement, Philadelphia Chancery expressed "a heartfelt apology to all victims of clergy sexual abuse," pledging that "now and in the future, the church will continue to take vigorous steps to ensure safe church environments for all the faithful in Philadelphia."

"The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is on a journey of reform and renewal that requires honesty and hope," the statement said.

While the local church's response began by saying that the trial has made for "a difficult time for all Catholics," the archdiocese gave no direct reaction to the substance of the jury's conclusions. However, with the onetime Clergy chief seen among his confreres as the proverbial "sacrificial lamb" for the lapses of his superiors, one Philly priest said in the verdict's wake that an ostensibly demoralized feeling among the presbyterate was "not even graphable."

Marking the "beginning of the end" of a dramatic, 16-month inferno that's made for the most brutal period an American diocese has endured over the last half-century, if not longer, the verdict comes a day after the once-vaunted archdiocese announced a staggering 20 percent slashing of its roughly 200-member central staff, including the complete elimination of a Youth and Young Adult ministry that was once a global model, and the closing of the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Standard & Times -- one of the American church's most storied publications, its roots dating to the 1860s.

Reduced to a monthly schedule amid an earlier round of budget tightening last year (when, as has only been recently disclosed, the archdiocese ran a $12 million operating loss), what would be the final edition of the Standard -- born from an 1895 merger of two local Catholic papers -- rolled out at the beginning of June.

With the cuts, the 1.2 million-member Philadelphia church becomes, by far,
American Catholicism's largest outpost without a print publication of its own. In announcing the drastic cuts, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. -- named last summer with a mandate for a thoroughgoing renewal in the grand jury's wake -- said that the moves were necessary to avoid a projected deficit of $17 million were the apparatus maintained in its current form over the next fiscal year, which begins July 1st.

The Chancery cuts are the latest part of a draconian cycle of shared sacrifice undertaken over the last year. Earlier this month brought the closing of 27 parish schools in the archdiocese amid decades of declining enrollment, while in his first major sign of a new era, late last year the new archbishop moved to sell the 13,000 square-foot residence on nine acres where his predecessors lived since the 1930s; a new owner for the property has yet to be found. In addition, in a Tuesday letter to his priests obtained by Whispers, Chaput announced the imminent closure of St Joseph's By-the-Sea -- the beloved Jersey Shore house for the archdiocese's clergy -- and its placement on the market.

Placed on administrative leave shortly after his indictment, Lynn has canonically remained as pastor of St Joseph parish in suburban Downingtown -- one of the Philadelphia church's largest communities -- where he was sent in 2004 on his departure from the Clergy Office.

Two more criminal trials launched by the 2011 grand jury are slated to take place in September. The Philadelphia church then faces eight civil abuse suits filed in the wake of the investigation.