Why the trial in Philadelphia is so significant
There have been many different attempts by many different people to get bishops to act responsibly in child sex cases. But nothing seems to have much impact.
There have been thousands of civil lawsuits, media exposes, and financial settlements, There have been hundreds of criminal prosecutions. There’s been massive public and parishioner outrage.
Still, even now, most bishops continue minimizing and hiding heinous child sex crimes. They are shrewder about it and more effective with public relations. But in child sex cases, they are largely still acting in the same hurtful and deceitful ways they’ve acted for decades.
One approach, however, hasn’t really been tried: criminally charging the top Catholic officials who enable child molesting clerics to keep hurting kids. That’s what’s happening, for the first time, in Philadelphia. That’s why this trial is so significant.
(NOTE – Kansas City’s bishop faces similar charges, in an even more recent child sex case. But that trial is still weeks or months off.)
It’s crucial to understand that virtually no Catholic cleric has been defrocked, demoted, disciplined, or even denounced by the church hierarchy (here or in Rome), no matter how callous, reckless and deceptive he has been. From custodian to Cardinal, church staffers see that none of their colleagues or supervisors – no matter how corrupt – get even a slap on the wrist for stonewalling prosecutors, deceiving parishioners, ignoring victims, hiding predators, shredding evidence, intimidating witnesses, discrediting whistleblowers or fabricating alibis.
The message that church employees get is “Above all else, keep protecting the institution. If you do, your position here is secure.” That must change. And apparently, only public officials (not church officials) are willing to force that change.
Since church officials essentially refuse to punish wrongdoers who jeopardize kids, more secular officials must do it. That’s the best way to ensure that predators are caught and kids are safeguarded.
No matter what the trial’s outcome is, we believe that this case will help deter future cover ups of child sex crimes, especially in other institutions. When wrongdoers are exposed and punished, wrongdoing is discouraged. We hope it will also encourage others in law enforcement to focus on both the child molesting clerics who assault kids AND the corrupt church officials who enable those crimes.
We hope this trial will focus attention and pressure on church officials in Saginaw and Allentown, where former Philly archdiocesan officials later became bishops. It’s highly likely that these clerics – Bishop Cistone and Bishop Cullen - acted in later assignments the way they acted in Philadelphia, with little regard for kids’ safety and lots of regard for protecting themselves and their reputations.
We’re grateful that the trial is proceeding despite the last-minute move by Msgr. Lynn’s defense lawyers to shift blame to others in the archdiocese. It doesn’t matter how many other current or former church employees also endangered kids and protected predators. What matters is that Msgr. Lynn is accused of doing so. This “well, other people acted wrong too” claim is at best irrelevant and at worst unseemly, especially coming from a high ranking Catholic official.
Finally, it’s tempting to believe that Msgr. Lynn is some kind of anomaly. But he’s not. He did what hundreds of his colleagues have done. Because of shrewd lawyers, archaic laws, timid prosecutors and other factors, they haven’t been caught. But Msgr. Lynn has.
It’s also tempting to believe that the case against Msgr. Lynn has finally made archdiocesan officials reform. But it hasn’t. (Just a week ago, archdiocese staffers removed Fr. Louis Bier from ministry, said it wasn’t because “misconduct with children,” but refused to give any more details. And instead of announcing whether child sex accusations against almost two dozen priests are deemed credible as soon as they can, church officials are recklessly waiting for months until they can minimize public relations damage by announcing all the findings at once.)
It’s also tempting to believe that replacing Rigali with Chaput is progress. But it’s not. Chaput has a dismal record of protecting kids and being forthcoming in child sex cases. And the culture and practice of secrecy and recklessness in the Philadelphia archdiocese is deeply rooted and long-standing. It was not created, expanded, nor preserved by one man. So no one man started it and no one man can end it.
Our hearts go out to every single person who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes and cover ups in Philadelphia. Coverage of the trial may bring up painful memories for many of them. But we are convinced that this case is having - and this trial will have – positive results. Flawed though it may be, our justice system is the best way to expose the truth, punish the wrongdoers, and deter others from wrongdoing. This case is a reminder of why all of us should turn to the independent professionals in law enforcement – not the self-serving church bureaucrats in chancery offices – when we hear about or experience or suspect that priests, nuns, bishops, seminarians or other church staff are hurting kids or concealing crimes.
Read the story here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/26/justice/pennsylvania-church-abuse-trial/index.html