Monsignor William Lynn is going to prison, which is exactly where he belongs.
The former head of personnel for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was sentenced earlier this month to spend at least three years behind bars _ convicted of covering up allegations that local priests had sexually abused children. Lynn is a criminal: As Judge M. Teresa Sarmina put it after passing down his sentence, Lynn “enabled monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children.”
This is the first time in U.S. history that a Catholic priest has been sentenced to prison for covering up accusations of abuse within the church. Between 1992 and 2004, Lynn was in charge of investigating allegations of abuse within the archdiocese and never _ not once _ sided with the victims. When claims were brought against priests in the parish, Lynn didn’t alert the police. Instead, he transferred the priests to another parish, or simply looked the other way.
Among the worst cases in the archdiocese was that of Edward Avery. In 1993, the priest spent six months in a Catholic psychiatric treatment center after being accused of child sexual abuse. Upon Avery’s release, Lynn sent him to live in a rectory, where, against the advice of doctors, Avery had access to children. Six years later, Avery forced a 10-year-old altar boy to perform sexual acts on him. Avery pleaded guilty to this crime in March and now faces up to five years in prison.
While a prison sentence is unusual for a priest, failing to do the right thing is not. Many leaders within the Catholic Church have covered up for pedophile priests over the years, and in their silence they have become accessories to the crimes.
Such silence is endemic to the entire church, reaching all the way to the Vatican, where questions remain unanswered about what Pope Benedict XVI did or did not do about Marcial Maciel, the Mexican priest who founded the Legionaires of Christ. After Maciel’s death in 2008, the Legionaires admitted that Maciel had molested seminarians and fathered several children. From 1981 through 2005, Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was in charge of investigating allegations of sexual abuse within the church. Documents detailing claims against Maciel reached Ratzinger’s office as early as 1998, yet nothing was done for years. Why didn’t Ratzinger take action? Was he deferring to Pope John Paul II _ who was close with Maciel? Whatever the reason, his behavior was similar to Lynn’s. The only difference is that the pope will never have to answer for his silence.
I’ve written about this topic before, and I’ve heard from many readers who wonder why I keep coming back to it. First, it’s a matter of journalistic integrity: I believe that those in power must be compelled to explain their actions. But there are also personal reasons. As a child, I attended the Centro Escolar del Lago school in the state of Mexico, where three Benedictine priests would brutally beat, humiliate and intimidate the students. They would often strike my classmates and me with the soles of their shoes, and sometimes they would even pull us up from the floor by our hair. And after being victimized by them all week, we had to confess our sins to these priests every Friday.
While there was no sexual abuse at the school, the physical and mental abuse was constant, and these so-called religious educators often bragged about it openly. I may have been born a Catholic, but at that school I stopped being one _ I wanted no part of an organization that would allow those priests to threaten and beat us. The worst part is that many teachers and parents knew what was going on, yet nobody stepped in to defend us. Nobody denounced the priests’ behavior. Nobody said a word.
Today, it’s vital that we not keep silent about abuses at the hands of religious figures _ especially in Latin America, where few dare to speak out against priests. Silence only creates accomplices and fosters more abuse.
Let’s speak up and tell the monsters in clerical garb, and their accomplices, that they no longer have free rein to terrorize the innocent.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
(Agust 03, 2012)