President John F. Kennedy once said that "the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality." We are in a time of great moral crisis: an epidemic of sexual abuse committed against children. Regardless of their particular religious beliefs, most Pennsylvanians would agree that if someone is aware of acts of child sexual abuse and has the power to intervene, that person has a moral obligation to do so. If they deliberately fail to act, they are complicit in the crime.
Unfortunately, a Pennsylvania appeals court recently reversed the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, who was the first church official ever to be charged or convicted for mishandling claims of clergy sexual abuse. Prosecutors said that Lynn, while acting as the archdiocese's secretary for clergy, reassigned known child predators to different Philadelphia-area parishes. One of the priests he reassigned then went on to sexually abuse another young boy.
Lynn was incarcerated and serving a sentence of three to six years, but he will now be allowed out on bail after the appellate court reversed his conviction. The unanimous ruling by the three-judge Superior Court held that Lynn was a supervisor and not a parent or caregiver. As such, the Pennsylvania child-endangerment law would not have applied to him at the time.
Not only has the appellate court's decision angered many around the state, it may also have set a dangerous precedent for the criminal cases against three former Penn State officials charged in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The defendants include the former president, vice president and athletic director.
As we noted at the beginning of the post, there can be no neutrality when it comes to the inexcusable crime of child sexual abuse. Hopefully, the Philadelphia district attorney will be able to restore Lynn's conviction and send the message that those who deliberately fail to act are and should be considered guilty.
Source: CBS News, "Monsignor William Lynn, Philly priest with overturned sex abuse conviction, to get bail," Dec. 30, 2013