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A lesson from Msgr. Lynn's trial

The trial of Monsignor William Lynn on charges of child endangerment for allegedly permitting predatory priests to continue in ministry took an interesting turn today with the testimony of a sister who said Lynn could've removed an abusive priest if he really wanted to.The sister, not named in news accounts because she was herself a sexual-abuse victim as a girl, challenged Monsignor Lynn's defense, which is based on the assertion that he didn't have authority to remove a priest from his job.The sister said Lynn, who was secretary of the Office of Clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese, had the power to at least suggest removing a miscreant priest, and that given his position, the archbishop would have likely signed off. And besides, she said, there was another choice: You can also say, I cannot do this. ... You can walk away.That's the line that grabbed my attention. Leaving aside the legal issues - and I don't think "following orders" is a good defense to rely on - it raises the moral issue of duty to one's conscience.As journalist Ralph Cipriano wrote in a blog post, "It was a simple, but powerful declaration coming from a nun who herself was an administrator down at archdiocese HQ."There has been a great deal of discussion in the church lately about freedom of conscience and use of civil disobedience to oppose unjust government regulation. Perhaps this testimony in the Lynn trial can further discussion about how freedom of conscience applies within the church - when it is appropriate or even required to disobey in conscience.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009).



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Evasion of accountability is the sine qua non of chancery-speak, so it makes no difference whether the resident monsignor or the bishop himself is the one excusing his behavior.My favorite example: John McCormack, former aide to Cardinal Law, and now retired bishop of NH, justifying himself on all counts.Regarding McCormack's assignment to ministry of a priest in New Hampshire with years of compulsive sexual encounters, McCormack said, "I didn't read the file. I didn't know about his history. I relied on others to make recommendations." He mimicked Cardinal Law's response in Boston about McCormack, trying to have it both ways. Exonerate yourself, whether you are an aide with no power to appoint priests or a bishop who depends on aides to read files. How can someone rationalize like this? Truthful communication is something I have yet to hear from the likes of Lynn, his counterparts, or his superiors. May he be promptly convicted and sentenced to prison, as countless others should have been.

I agree with carolyn, but would sadly bet he'll be found not guilty due to the fact that it was Bevilaqua's call. I hope I am wrong.

I think that child protection laws in Pennsylvania indicate that the safety of children is on everyone.

I don't know the law there, Molly. I hope your interpretation is correct, but if "I was not responsible" or "only following orders" prevails... sad.

Freedom of conscience has caused some Catholic adoption agencies to close rather than obey laws that would force them (under penalty of not getting state money) to sometimes place children with gay couples. Rather than obey the law, they quit. Their rationale was the primacy of the well-being of children. Freedom of conscience justifies refusing to give employees health insurance that could also, at no extra cost, give them contraceptive coverage. Rather than obey the law, some claim they are ready for civil disobedience. What a finely sensitive conscience!Obedience to orders justifies moving a priest who commits child sexual abuse from place to place with no guarantees or measures to prevent further future abuses. It justifies having a list of pedophile priests but not doing anything about it. But freedom of conscience might not have much to do with this case, because neither Msgr Lynn nor anybody else at the chancery saw anything wrong with protecting clergy rather than children. What an insensitive conscience!Those are the people who claim the God-given authority to teach us how to have a well-formed conscience.

Claire: The basic problem is that the Catholic bishops themselves do not have well-formed consciences. On the contrary, they have mal-formed consciences, as the role of bishop-enablers in the priest-sex-abuse scandal shows they do.

Claire: the examples you cite in the first two paragraphs of your comment may not be, properly speaking, freedom-of-conscience examples. Rather, they address the question of what a person is to do when confronted with the dilemma of whether or not to obey an unjust law (let's construe the term "law" broadly to include any legislation, regulation, or executive orders/directives which the person is expected to obey by virtue of her position or status).Thus, I would argue that walking away is the right thing for adoption agencies to do when confronted with the demand of complying with an unjust law; the alternative, of collaborating with the unjust law, is, quite literally, unconscionable. The same is true with employers who are confronted with the requirement of unjustly funding contraception; compliance would be morally repugnant.I don't have deep insight into what Msgr Lynn's specific authority was in his position in the chancery. But the unnamed sister is surely right that resigning in the face of an unjust law (demand from his superior) was an option, and would have been the morally right/responsible choice.In addition, he may well have civil-legal obligations to report knowledge of abuse under mandated-reporting laws. That also might well have prevented the Archdiocese from placing children in harms way with known abusers. (Not having followed the trial at all, I don't know whether Lynn ever complied with those legal requirements).

Agree, Thomas.(But at least they're investigating the Girl Scouts. Notice how many stories of the bishops' "scrutiny" of the Girl Scouts have been published just in the last day: )

(Earlier articles about Lynn seemed to suggest that he was chosen for the job because of his passivity and lack of mental acuity. Asking a man of limited ability, little education, etc., to walk away from a job like that is unrealistic.)

I would argue that the following is at least indirectly relevant:

Bishops Group to Investigate Girl ScoutsBy THE ASSOCIATED PRESSThe Girl Scouts are facing an official inquiry by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find offensive, and assertions that the Scouts associate with groups espousing stances in conflict with church teaching. The Scouts, who have parish-sponsored troops, deny many of the claims and defend their alliances. The inquiry will be conducted by the bishops Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will look into the Scouts possible problematic relationships and problematic program materials, according to a letter from the committee chairman, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Ind., to fellow bishops. Critics contend that Scouts materials should not contain links to groups like Doctors Without Borders, the Sierra Club and Oxfam because they support family planning or emergency contraception.

The nuns, the Girl Scouts . . . who's next?

Yes, good suggestion and in keeping with the Apostle Peter who said "judgment begins with the Household of God." It is a deeply spiritual principle and one that we need to return to in our day--"get thine house in order" is the OT way of putting it, I believe. The energies and efforts of our bishops and diocesan headquarters is a precious commodity. Would that it were focused more clearly on the purity and sanctity and common sense morality of our priests and parishes. The spiritual war within each of our hearts is more critical, and more the domain of the Church's call, than the cultural wars.

Greg Metzger: But for Catholic cultural warriors, such as the bishops in the USCCB, the culture wars are exhilarating experiences. In the culture wars, the Catholic bishop/warriors get to huff and puff and openly and publicly proclaim their religious zealotry in opposing same-sex marriage, in opposing legalized abortion in the first trimester, and in opposing artificial contraception and the Obama administration's contraception-coverage mandate.For the Catholic bishop/warriors to expend their energies and efforts proclaiming their opposition to these and other matters publicly is no doubt a heady experience for each bishop/warrior.

If we had a thread on the Bishops and gGrl Scouts, only staunch hierachical defenders of the right would support just another awful PR move by our lurched to the extreme tight Church of policy makers.Those who've folowed Philly know Bevilaqua (and by extension Rigali - now Chaput?) allowed real evil to perdure! No question about it.Word softening is itself an evil in this IMO.Chancery types in Philly (as some testimony indicated) were told obedience to the Bishop was most important (and child safety and permitting evil were allowed despite its view of how expebdable innocents were.)Is this just Philly? Or KC? Or beyond?I thought about Cardinal Egan's saying he din't have to apologize for Bridgeport -who thinks he stil doesn't have behind the scenes juice in NY?And of course there"s Cardinal Law at a distance and all his chancery surrogates now empowered, plus his "friends"(e.g. George, Sheehan) and their buddies.The institution and loyakty/obedience is all that matters.One last note: Lynn was chosen for his "passivity."Big piece in NCR on the lead man (Sartain) to "dialogue"/bring in to line the nuns.The article notes such a nice man(remrmbers everyone's name) but very careful not to rock the boat.This is the sytem at work.The system stinks!

I trust the Girl Scouts to further the well-being of my daughters more than I trust the Catholic bishops.

The nuns, the Girl Scouts . . . whos next?------1) All who contribute to the organizations the Girl Scouts are accused of supporting: Doctors Without Borders, the Sierra Club, Oxfam, et al.2) All who use or support the use of contraception.3) All who support the Democratic Party.4) All in favor of labor unions.5) All who failed to join the RUSH to the barricades. (And all who joined the RUSH but are now equivocating.)6) All . . .

David Pasinski, do you think that in Philadelphia Msgr Lynn will be found not guilty due to the fact that it was Bevilaquas call, and that in Kansas City Bp Finn will be found not guilty due to the fact that reporting to the police was his staff's job?

Claire -- Bp. Finn has had loftier duties, like writing a 20-page pastoral letter to his diocese on threats he understands. See Blessed are the Pure in Heart: A Pastoral Letter on the Dignity of the Human Person and the Dangers of Pornography, (2/21/07). One wonders if he will publish an addendum when his criminal trial is over. Coincidentally, Finn's effort was highly praised by the current Archbishop of Philadelphia, then in Denver:

Apologies. Corrected link to Finn letter

Thanks, Mr. Moses. Significant post and question (altho, Grant's just posted blog addresses many of the main points in this post).Not sure what the "technical & legal" aspects of this trial may or may not say.Simplistically, you have two levels:- legal; criminal level- moral levelRealize that historians and legal experts are divided on the Nuremberg legacy, but it clearly began an international legal process to hold folks to moral behavior (whether one is following orders or not). In fact, Nuremberg can be seen as "destroying" the idea that "just following orders" absolves a person from consequences; responsibility; or accountability. And, this would seem to apply even more to the catholic church and its ordained ministers.So, from a basic natural law and catholic moral level, Lynn is guilty - if nothing else, he is guilty of not speaking out or using his own conscience to protect children, the church, families. (as this sister witness states eloquently - he failed in his duty). His choices, decision, and behavior placed obedience first; institution first, and blind loyalty first. (could have sworn that the gospel imperatives are the exact opposite).At some point, civil society is going to have to hold catholic officials to meeting the basic human dignity rights & gospel imperatives (see Tom Reese's statements as referenced by Grant.....we know that episcopal management is unable to act in the best interest of children).Lynn, IMO, is an embarrassment. For an educated catholic priest and leader to merely follow the orders of a series of bishops is mind-boggling. And we aren't talking about the time period prior to 1985 (when there might have been excuses). Funny how "fear" seems to underlie this whole, sordid episode.What is most shocking to me is the continued episcopal stonewalling - notice, the first allegations or indications of abusive claims results in removal of a priest from active ministry (finally happening since 2002). So, why is a bishop e.g. Finn who is indicted and charged by the KC DA not required to, at minimum, step aside until the criminal case is adjudicated?Lynn's case is complex and it is clear from grand jury evidence and from this court case's evidence, that Bevilacqua manipulated both civil and canon law - along with his "questionnable financial shenanigans", this deceased cardinal began the sordid criminal story; Rigali (can't tell if he was just incompetent; always in Rome playing politics; are just oblivious to internal management?) allowed it to just 'circle the drain"; and now the legal system is doing what it can with those folks left holding the keys. But the tired mantra - just following orders - doesn't cut it anymore.

Catholic adoption agencies to close rather than obey laws that would force them (under penalty of not getting state money)Claire,This is incorrect. Even if these Catholic adoption agencies accepted only private money, they still must comply with anti-discrimination laws and licensing laws which require the agencies to place children with gay couples. The agencies are closing because of the direct conflict between Catholic Social Teaching and the secular law. The state money is a side-issue at best.

"The nuns, the Girl Scouts . . . whos next?"Who's left? Who will sit back and take it?

Keep in mind this article, which said in part: had dinner the other night with a marvelous priest, who started out our dinner by having the little children who were with us recite together (partly in song) the blessing before meals. They loved doing it. Loved the sound of it. Loved the solemnity. Loved the fun.I did not know until well along in the meal, almost at the very end, that this good priest so well informed about so many matters of faith, so genial, and so patently good-hearted and faithful had been falsely accused of sexual molestation eight years ago. He was forced to leave the ministry (an accusation these days is enough to do this a horrible scandal in itself). His accuser died of a cocaine overdose in his mothers house, but not before exonerating the priest by admitting the falsity of his accusation.But all that notwithstanding, the bishop in his diocese has not moved dared? to reinstate this good man and return him to his proper standing in the priesthood, or even to give a public apology for his unjust treatment. Nor has the press that stirred up the atmosphere of high-tech lynchings revisited his case (and hundreds if not thousands of others) to clear them of this horrible wrong.Very few raw accusations that have emerged since the priestly abuse crisis erupted were ever subject to due process and full discovery and an open trial.

Lynn is just using the same excuse that the Nazis used when they were given orders from above. This undoubtedly was passed down and ordered by Pope Benedict, a registered Nazi himself as a teenager.Of course, Nazis had the threat of death over their head. Lynn's worst punishment would have been that he would have lost the Catholic 21 meal per week plan which he has clearly taken advantage of. If he had any guts whatsoever, or if any of the priests that knew about shredding the documents (listing 35 known pedophile priests) had any guts whatsoever, they would have told the police. Instead, they did What Satan Would Do, and those priests were allowed to rape more children, which they did. However, Lynn did manage to help hide the cases until the Statute Of Limitations expired, saving money for the Catholic church, which, by actions, appears to be their top priority. I still can't find that passage in the bible that says to protect money instead of children.

ganhar dinheiro..."disabled"...

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