New York Times op-ed
July 29, 2012
A dose of criminal justice was long overdue in the pedophile priest scandal. It was meted out in Philadelphia Tuesday when Msgr. William Lynn became the highest-ranking Roman Catholic official in the United States to be sentenced to prison. He was convicted of child endangerment and sentenced to up to six years after a trial that starkly detailed how diocesan leaders shielded predatory priests and rotated them through parishes to prey anew.
The sentence should be a clear warning to church officials that criminal law, not church evasion, is the law of the land when it comes to protecting innocent children.
As the scandal emerged, more than 700 rogue priests had to be dismissed in a three-year period — yet ranking diocesan clergy were never called to justice for their own obvious misdeeds in engineering systematic cover-ups. Eight years ago, the bishops’ own investigative board of laity warned “there must be consequences” for leaders who chose to protect abusive priests rather than report crimes against children. The pity is that the point finally had to be driven home not by church leaders but by Philadelphia prosecutors energized by a secret archive of predator priests that Monsignor Lynn compiled. He testified that the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua ordered in 1994 that the file be shredded, but a copy survived.
The culpability of bishops has been detailed in numerous investigations, but none were called to account until the indictment last October of Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for ignoring warnings about a priest accused of taking pornographic pictures of schoolgirls.
The bishop has maintained his innocence and fought to keep church records secret. But last month a court ordered him to grant prosecutors access to a range of files about how abuse allegations were handled by the diocese. The case is another overdue inquiry into the Catholic hierarchy’s role in abetting the sex abuse scandal.