On January 2nd, a priest who was partly responsible for the sexual abuse of a 10 year old child, walked out of prison after his conviction was overturned.  Monsignor William J. Lynn, a former official of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was convicted in 2012 of Endangering the Welfare of a Child (EWOC).  Monsignor Lynn is one of the first members of clergy to face criminal charges for failing to adequately supervise a priest with a known history of child sexual abuse.   In addition to the devastation perpetrated upon an innocent child, the great tragedy of this case was best articulated by the appellate judge who wrote,

….the Commonwealth presented more than adequate evidence to sufficiently demonstrate that Appellant [Lynn] prioritized the Archdiocese’s reputation over the safety of potential victims of sexually abusing priests…

In the 1990’s, Monsignor William Lynn was in charge of addressing clergy abuse issues within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  In 1992, Monsignor Lynn allowed a priest with known sexual abuse history to move into a parish rectory.  A parish that included a grade school.

In early 1999, Edward Avery repeatedly sexually abused a ten year old boy who attended the parish grade school and had assisted Avery in serving mass.

Monsignor William J. Lynn - photo courtesy of Associated Press

Monsignor William J. Lynn – photo courtesy of Associated Press

In 2011, Monsignor William Lynn was charged with and convicted of the felony offense of Endangering the Welfare of a Child (EWOC) stemming from the 1999 offenses.  He was sentenced to a prison term of three to six years.  He appealed.

Prior to 2007, the EWOC law stated, A parent, guardian, or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection, or support. 

The simplest way to summarize the 43 page appellate court ruling is that it prevents a person who does not have “actual supervision” over an abused child from being convicted under EWOC involving offenses prior to 2007.   (Fortunately, the law was amended in 2007 to include a much broader scope of supervision.)

In the past years, most of us have become growingly aware of how common it is for pastors and others within faith communities to allow known or suspected sex offenders to have access to children.  Sometimes this is fueled by ignorance, and other times it is fueled by a desire to place institutional “needs” over the value of a child’s soul.  This court ruling will undoubtedly result in the protection of such despicable behavior from ever confronting justice.

Let’s hope that this decision will be reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Don’t despair just yet!  On a more optimistic note, this ruling should not block the vast majority of prosecutions against clergy and others who place children in the paths of known sexual offenders.   For example, it should not prevent:

  • EWOC cases against those who have “actual supervision” over children (this is certainly an issue that must still be argued successfully in many church abuse cases);
  • EWOC cases in Pennsylvania occurring after 2007; or
  • EWOC cases outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from this ruling has nothing to do with who is or who is not an “actual supervisor”.  It has everything to do with the urgent need for the Church (Yes, I mean both Catholic and Protestant) to expend itself in placing the value and safety of children above all else, including institutional reputation.

If we fail to embrace this fundamental Gospel lesson, not only will there be more prosecutions (as there should be), but the beautiful lives of those made in the image of God will continue to be devastated and discarded.   Jesus demands that we learn this lesson and begin living it out.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

  1. This is such an important truth. When we are silent in the face of evil, we are complicit, and God will hold us to account.
    As a survivor of adult clergy sexual abuse, I ask us to remember that children are not the only victims. The vast majority of victims of clergy sexual abuse are adult or teen women. This is true even when the victim seems to “consent” to the abuse. The enormous power differential between clergy and congregant, or between senior and junior clergy, makes meaningful consent impossible.
    Church leaders: please speak up to protect all vulnerable people, whether they are young or old, male or female, clergy or lay.

    • Boz Tchividjian

      Catherine – thank you for raising this issue. So many seek power in order to abuse. What always amazes me is that Jesus actually gave up his power in order to serve the abused. Again, thank you for your wise words.

  2. Often the support for the abuser does as much if not more damage. When the abused see they are not supported by the clergy they feel the clergy is putting the blame on them. The clergy is the representative of God. When the clergy support evil it appears God also approves of evil. We need some mill stones.

  3. Valarie Brady Prigg

    We have needed your voice for so long. For too long it has been the victims/ survivors who have been fighting alone for themselves & for others who have been wounded by clergy abuse. Please continue to speak the truth to those who would silence us. We will do our part to support your efforts & circulate your articles thru social media. Thank you.

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