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Msgr. William J. Lynn leaves the Criminal Justice Center after testifying in a sex-abuse trial.

Msgr. William J. Lynn leaves the Criminal Justice Center after testifying in a sex-abuse trial.

Catholic cleric’s child endangerment conviction overturned on appeal

A Pennsylvania appeals court has overturned the conviction of Monsignor William J. Lynn, the first U.S. Catholic cleric convicted on charges of covering up the sexual abuse of children.

The court ruled unanimously that Lynn was wrongly convicted of child endangerment for his handling of priest sex abuse complaints, The Associated Press reported.

The 2012 case drew national attention as Lynn was tried for what many see as unaddressed crimes of child sex abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church. At Lynn’s conviction, no U.S. Catholic cleric had been held accountable in criminal court.

Since then, Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge for failing to tell police about a priest suspected of sexually exploiting children. Finn is the first U.S. bishop to be charged with failing to report suspected child abuse.

Lynn’s conviction, for which he has been serving three to six years in prison, was based on his supervision of the Rev. Edward Avery. Prosecutors argued that Lynn, secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, knew Avery was a sexual predator but continued to assign him and other priests, also known to be abusers, to new parishes.

Read more in the Washington Post.


Melanie Blow asks if the court has defended our constitutional right to do things that are horrifyingly wrong.


I can only assume the court that overturned Monsignor William J. Lynn’s conviction for endangering the welfare of a child correctly interpreted a law. Unfortunately, they defended our constitutional right to do things that are horrifyingly wrong.
Twenty percent of American adults have survived child sexual abuse. Surviving that crime can have a profound impact on a survivor’s world view, and their ability to trust themselves, others, and any concept of “goodness” or “justice”.

Children are almost always sexually abused by someone they care about and trust, who is likely known and trusted by their family. Their innocence, kindness, and good nature is as exploited as their bodies are.

Ten percent of child sex abuse survivors fall into a category of “a non-offending adult was aware of the abuse and did nothing”. Often, these are incest survivors, but trafficking and clergy-abuse survivors are commonly in this category as well.  These children see even more evidence that the world is devoid of kindness and goodness.


Not only has someone they cared about and trusted betrayed them deeply, but apparently that’s OK. After all, someone could have stopped it if it was important enough.

Monsignor Lynn created a situation where he knew it was likely children were going to be sexually abused by a particular priest. There can be a spectrum of “guilty bystanders”, and by creating the situation he created, Monsignor Lynn is squarely on it.
One of the pearls of wisdom I learned from six years of therapy is that as adults, it is much easier to conceptualize and even forgive an abuser than a guilty bystander. It is very obvious to adults that there are a few deeply disturbed, cruel people in this world, and it doesn’t surprise us that they will prey on the most vulnerable. But for someone to knowingly allow this to happen, someone who gains nothing by allowing it to happen, yet does nothing to stop it- this boggles the mind.

Abuse survivors aren’t the only ones infuriated by this – after the facts of the Penn State scandal were released, Joe Paterno became as reviled for tolerating child rape as Jerry Sandusky was for committing it.
Survivors who make it to adulthood with the health, perspective and drive to become advocates see another version of guilty bystanders – they see political systems that tolerate bad laws that harm kids, and would rather pass all-but-useless laws rather than do the hard, controversial work of writing good ones.


Related “The New York Times is being too kind to Pennsylvania”


This is why Statute of Limitations reform for child sexual abuse took ten years to pass in Minnesota, is entering its tenth year in New York and a partial statute of limitations reform bill got vetoed in California this fall.

Statute of Limitations reform allows adult survivors their day in court and gets offenders off the streets – significant outcomes.  I don’t know the nuances of the law Monsignor Lynn was convicted of violating, but apparently it was too narrow in scope. Good people saw that he facilitated the sexual abuse of children. They wanted him to experience justice for that. A law was stretched in a way it wasn’t meant to be, and now a guilty bystander has been vindicated.
The only chance for good to come from this ruling is if the resulting outrage breeds advocates. People eager to show the world that guilty bystanders are not tolerated in their homes, communities or state capitols. People who learn what laws are needed to prevent more victims, versus which ones politicians want to use as re-election tickets.  People who remind everyone of the goodness and justice still in this world.


Are you outraged? Tell us what you think in the comments below.


Melanie Blow is on the Board of Directors for Prevent Child Abuse NY and the New York Coalition to Protect Children. She leads the Stop Abuse Campaign’s campaign to eliminate Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, and sits on the Rochester Area Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She blogs for the Stop Abuse Campaign and Prevent Child Abuse NY, has written for survivor magazines, parenting columns, and has had blogs and editorials published in local and national venues. She regularly testifies before the New York State legislator for children’s issues, and regularly provides educational talks about child sex abuse laws, child sex abuse prevention, and human trafficking.



Click here to join our campaign to pass the Child Victims Act, an act to end the statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse in New York State.



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