Saturday, March 03, 2012

First trial holding "The Church" accountable for sex abuse crisis

We've noted strenuously here that, in the midst of the Roman Catholic sexual abuse scandals, no bishops were ever held to account for having shuffled around abusive priests, enabling them to continue to prey on the young and innocent.

For those Roman Catholics who want to try to mitigate the guilt of their own institution by saying "oh yeah, well Protestants do it too", well, there is no Protestant equivalent to these administrative monsters who were the enablers.

Now, in Philadelphia, a trial has begun, accusing an "Archdiocesan official" of covering up [and hence, enabling] abuse. Jury selection is under way, and the trial will open on March 26. This one will be worth watching, because it will establish a precedent:
The trial for the first church official charged with the cover-up of child sexual abuse is under way in Philadelphia, as jury selection began Feb. 21 for Msgr. William J. Lynn and two codefendants. Lynn faces charges of felony child endangerment and conspiracy.

Prosecutors allege the former archdiocesan secretary of clergy recommended parish assignments for the codefendants, Fr. James J. Brennan and former priest Edward Avery, that would place them in contact with children, knowing they had abused or been accused of abusing children in the past.

Brennan and Avery will stand alongside Lynn when the trial opens March 26. Both men face charges of molesting the same St. Jerome Parish altar boy on separate occasions.

All three have pleaded not guilty. The archdiocese, called an unindicted coconspirator by the prosecution, is covering Lynn’s legal fees.

Lynn, 60, is the first Roman Catholic official in the United States charged in the sex abuse scandal for administrative actions. As secretary of clergy for Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua from 1992-2004, Lynn was responsible for making recommendations on priests’ assignments in the archdiocese, with his duties extending to investigating reports of priests sexually abusing children and recommending appropriate action. Bevilacqua died Jan. 31 at age 88, a day after the judge ruled him competent to testify in the case.

“The whole country is watching because it’s a key moment in the ongoing story about how the church handles child sex abuse,” said Marci Hamilton, who holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Cardozo School of Law at New York’s Yeshiva University. Lynn’s case could push the focus beyond the perpetrator and to the systemic problems in the church, she said.

“I would really be surprised if [Lynn] were found to be not guilty. The evidence is compelling,” she said.

Hamilton, a leading church/state scholar and counsel in multiple sex abuse cases, said the prosecution’s case hinges on showing a pattern in the archdiocese of putting known clergy abusers of children in contact with other children.

To that end, the prosecution won a major pretrial victory when Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled they could tell jurors how the archdiocese handled 22 past cases of alleged abuse.

“Those cases will be a part of establishing that it wasn’t simply one oversight, it wasn’t an accident that the survivor that’s at the heart of the case against Msgr. Lynn was put into danger’s way,” Hamilton said. “It was actually just an ongoing practice that he was following over the years. ... It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t an oversight. It was a system of covering up child sex abuse.”
Of course, Rome has dragged its feet for so long, that most of the major offenders are either dead or practically dead. But as has noted, it has "ambitious plans to post all publicly available documents that are relevant to the Catholic abuse crisis". Having a public record is going to be very important for history.

1 comment:

  1. The defense had better cop to a plea bargain before this trial commences, because if the defense is allowed to inform the jury of the record these men created over 22 previous cases, there's no way that jury won't convict.