US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Breaking: The first church official held accountable for abuse cover up isn't accountable after all

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

When Msgr. William Lynn was convicted of child endangerment last year for his role in the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, it was seen as a major turning point in the effort to hold church leaders accountable for their past sins. Lynn, who served as the secretary for clergy in Philadelphia, was the first Catholic priest sent to jail not for abusing children, but for failing to investigate claims of abuse and for not removing accused priests from positions where they had access to children. He was sentenced to 3-6 years in prison, the first sign that those who did not act to protect children from known or suspected abusers could be held legally accountable for their actions.

Or so we thought. Today, the Associated Press reports that a three judge Superior Court panel overturned the decision and ordered the release of Lynn from prison. Did new evidence reveal that Lynn really wasn't involved in covering up abuse or failing to remove abusive priests from ministry? No, his lawyers just used a legal loophole to get the conviction thrown out.

The law that Lynn was convicted for violating only applies to parents and caregivers, not to supervisors--a fact that Lynn's lawyers had argued from the beginning but that the original trial judge rejected. The Superior Court agreed with the argument, but the Philadelphia district attorney has already said he will most likely appeal the decision.