Culture & Religion
July Thu 26, 2012
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The first church official in the English-speaking world to be held criminally liable for his handling of sex-abuse cases, this morning (July 24-edit.) a Philadelphia judge sentenced the former archdiocesan head of clergy personnel, Msgr William Lynn, to a prison term of three to six years.After a landmark trial sparked by a 2011 grand-jury report that served to implode the "Last Empire" of the American church, the 61 year-old cleric was convicted in June on a single count of endangering the welfare of a child in a 1999 case involving a since-laicized priest who had been kept in the ministry and continued abusing despite archdiocesan officials' judgment that he had long been "guilty" of previous assaults on minors.The now-former cleric, Edward Avery, pled guilty to abuse and conspiracy charges on the eve of the trial's March opening, and was sentenced to two and a half to five years behind bars.Lynn's sentence falls just shy of the maximum three and a half to seven-year jail term for the charge sought by prosecutors. The monsignor's attorneys have vowed to appeal the conviction, and a high-court review could come as early as this fall.Given the unprecedented criminal action against an Anglophone church administrator for his response to allegations, the Lynn proceedings and their fallout have been heavily watched around the Catholic world and become an immensely symbolic moment for victim-survivors of sex-abuse in the church and their advocates.In a statement before handing down the sentence, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina rapped Lynn for having enabled "monsters in clerical garb... to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart.""You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn," the judge said, "but you chose wrong."While even Lynn's defense conceded that the leadership of the Philadelphia church -- a place once perceived in church circles as a "model" bastion of ironclad Catholic fidelity -- conducted a sweeping, systemic cover-up of allegations and reassigning of accused clerics that spanned generations, the monsignor and his lawyers asserted that, as Secretary for Clergy from 1992-2004, the defendant was a third-tier functionary who sought to do the good he could within the parameters of a policy established by the auxiliary bishops who served in turn as vicar-general and, ultimately, the then-archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, whose death in January came one day after he was ruled fit to testify at the trial. (A videotaped deposition of the cardinal by lawyers from both sides, recorded at his seminary apartment weeks before his death at 88, was not shown during the proceedings.)
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