Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced this week to just shy of the maximum sentence. He will serve a minimum of three years in prison for failing to protect children from known pedophile priests. There is no question that the harsh sentence is meant to send a message to any church officials who would participate in the cover-up of sexual abuse.
There seems to be something of a sea change in terms of how we deal with the crime of sexual abuse. Sweeping it under the carpet has, at long last, become unacceptable. Monsignor Lynn's sentence is intriguingly synchronous with the NCAA's smack-down of Penn State in light of the Freeh Report.
Prosecutors challenged, not only the cover-up mentality, but the culture of blind obedience to authority on which the Catholic Church relies.
Ann Casey, who attended the sentencing and said she had been a friend of Monsignor Lynn for 36 years, said she believed that he was a scapegoat and a victim of his intense faith in the leaders of the archdiocese. "It was his vow of obedience to the church that landed him this morning in jail," she said.
During the trial, Monsignor Lynn's lawyers argued that he had tried to protect children, but that his powers were limited and that he had followed the instructions of the cardinal at the time, Anthony J. Bevilacqua. But prosecutors argued that Monsignor Lynn played a central role in deciding how to handle complaints against priests and that "following orders" was no defense.
We have got to stop thinking of obedience as a universal good. It can lead to disaster. As I wrote here, that emphasis on obedience leads inevitably to abuses of power. From Monsignor Lynn, who never dared question the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, to the child who is terrified to disobey both priest and God by refusing sexual acts. The poor little boy in the central case of the Lynn trial, for instance:
Monsignor Lynn's conviction was for lax oversight of one former priest who had a known history of abuse, but was allowed to continue in ministry. The former priest, Edward V. Avery, now 69, spent six months in a church psychiatric center in 1993 after an abuse episode, and doctors said he should be kept away from children. But Monsignor Lynn, though aware of this history, sent him to live in a parish rectory and did not warn parish officials.
In 1999, Mr. Avery undressed with a 10-year-old altar boy, told him that God loved him and had him engage in oral sex. Mr. Avery pleaded guilty to the assault just before Monsignor Lynn's trial began and was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison.
Meanwhile, am I the only one who sees some horrible irony in the abusing priest receiving a lighter sentence that Monsignor Lynn? Two and a half to five years for molesting a ten year old? Seriously? Two and a half to five?!