US Catholic Faith in Real Life

For church leaders who covered up sex abuse, it is time to face the music

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint |

Today begins the much anticipated trial of Msgr. William Lynn, a Philadelphia priest accused of child endangerment for his role in the cover up of child sex abuse allegations. The trial has major implications for the church, as it marks the first time a church official is facing criminal charges for failure to remove an accused priest from ministry.

Lynn, in his role as secretary for clergy for the Philadelphia archdiocese, was responsible for investigating abuse allegations and ensuring that appropriate action was taken against priests who posed a threat to children. A Philadelphia grand jury determined that he failed in that role and recommended he face charges along with the priests who actually committed the abuse.

Meanwhile Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is facing his own legal trouble for failure to report to authorities a priest who was in possession of child pornography. Finn avoided indictment in one county last fall by making a deal with the prosecutor but he may not be so lucky in the second county where he faces charges.

Finn is claiming he wasn't the diocese's designated reporter and thus didn't know he was required under Missouri law to report the information to the authorities. Finn is pointing the finger of blame at his vicar general, who also claims that he wasn't ever told it was his duty to report such cases. Prosecutors aren't buying their defense of "I thought he was going to do it," and Finn may face criminal misdemeanor charges.

It is hard to believe that it has taken this long for charges in the sex abuse scandal to make their way to the top. Victim advocacy groups have long been calling for the bishops and other high ranking clergy who swept abuse allegations under the rug to be held accountable, and if the criminal charges in Philadelphia or Kansas City-St. Joseph stick, it could set a precedent for a whole new wave of cases against church leaders.

In the meantime, if you haven't done so already, take our reader survey on how the church has handled sexual abuse cases over the past decade and let us know if you'd like to see stronger penalties for those who allowed the abuse to continue.