Catholic Culture Overview
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Grand jury indicts Philadelphia chancery official, raps retired cardinal

February 11, 2011

Msgr. William Lynn, a Philadelphia pastor who headed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s office of clergy from 1992 to 2004, has been indicted on two counts on endangering the welfare of a child.

In a report released along with the indictments, a grand jury indicated that they had also considered charges against retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

District Attorney Seth Williams said at a press conference that Msgr. Lynn “supervised two of the abusers . . . knew they were dangerous, and chose to expose them to new victims.” The indictment marks the first time that an American chancery official has faced criminal charges for covering up evidence of clerical abuse.

The indictments came as the result of a grand-jury investigation that produced a stinging indictment of the Philadelphia archdiocese and its response to sexual abuse. The grand jury's report charged that archdiocesan programs allegedly designed to assist victims of abuse have in fact been used to protect accused clerics and Church officials, and expresses suspicions that priests who have been credibly charged with abuse are still in active ministry, despite the US bishops' clear policy guidelines requiring their suspension.

The grand jury report was the 2nd such inquiry into possible criminal behavior in the Philadelphia archdiocese. And earlier report, issued in 2005, had contained a blistering denunciation of the archdiocese. But at that time, the grand jury stopped short of recommending criminal charges, explaining that there was not adequate evidence to support successful prosecution of acts that had taken place within the statue of limitations. The new grand jury found such evidence, thanks to the emergence of new witnesses.

Indicted and arrested along with Msgr. Lynn were four priests accused of abusing boys. Three priests are accused of raping one boy between 1998 and 2000; the fourth is accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996. The grand jury report recounts the priests' offenses in lurid detail, and underlines evidence that Msgr. Lynn was fully informed about the priests' misconduct.

The grand jury report indicates that the panel seriously considered criminal charges against Cardinal Bevilacqua. In a section that clearly indicates the depth of suspicion focused on the archdiocese, the report explains:

The Cardinal’s top lawyer appeared before the grand jury and testified that the Cardinal, at 87, suffers from dementia and cancer. We are not entirely sure what to believe on that point. We do know, however, that over the years Cardinal Bevilacqua was kept closely advised of Monsignor Lynn’s activities, and personally authorized many of them. On the other hand, we do not have good evidence about the Cardinal’s actions specifically as to Father Avery and Father Brennan, the two priests whose treatment forms the basis for the endangering charge against Lynn. The documents clearly show what Lynn knew in these two cases and what he did or didn’t do about it. But that direct link is lacking as to Cardinal Bevilacqua. On balance, we cannot conclude that a successful prosecution can be brought against the Cardinal – at least for the moment. New reports of abuse continue to come in.

In announcing the indictments, district attorney Williams identified himself as a Catholic. He said:

The criminal acts that occurred here are not representative of my religion. They are the bad acts of individual men. I recognize all the good that the Roman Catholic Church has done and continues to do in the world. But I am sworn to uphold the law, and I will do what is necessary to protect children. There must be more separation between the things the church does in the name of helping victims and the things the church does in an effort to protect itself from financial liability and ill repute…..I love my church but I detest the criminal behavior of priests who abuse or allow the abuse of children.


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  • Posted by: Gil125 - Feb. 11, 2011 7:33 PM ET USA

    It should not be necessary to say, "I love my church but I detest the criminal behavior of priests who abuse or allow the abuse of children." Those of us who love the Church hate the actions of those who abuse children---and those who allow that abuse---much more than do those who hate the Church, or are indifferent to her.