By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
For the first time, law enforcement officials are taking aim at not just child abusing priests but those who enabled the crimes by covering up. And what a cesspool they’ve uncovered. Monsignor William Lynn, on trial in Philadelphia on charges of conspiracy and child endangerment has filed a novel motion seeking to dismiss all charges. Lynn alleges that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, a long-time pillar in the American Catholic Church, destroyed a memorandum written by Lynn’s superior detailing the abuse and the priests who perpetrated it.
“The recent unexpected and shocking discovery of a March, 1994 memorandum composed by Monsignor James Molloy, Monsignor Lynn’s then-supervisor, on the topic of this review, clearly reveals that justice demands that all charges against Monsignor Lynn be dropped,” Lynn’s attorneys said in a filing.
It’s an interesting permutation of the “Just Following Orders” defense, but unlikely to prevail. In this case maybe it should. Lynn claims he took it on himself to reviewed secret church files of still active parish priests charged with child abuse. He presented the list to his superior, Msgr. Molloy. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had Molloy shred four copies of the list, according to a memo signed by Molloy and a witness. But Molloy kept a copy in a locked safe at the archdiocese, where it was found in 2006, after Lynn had moved on, according to his motion.
Molloy’s hand-written memo states:
“On 3-22-94 at 10:45 AM I shredded, in the presence of Reverend Joseph R. Cistone, four copies of these lists from the secret archives.” The action was taken on the basis of a directive I received from Cardinal Bevilacqua at the Issues meeting of 3-15-94 ….”
The trial judge has imposed a gag order on the attorneys and litigants, but the public record is beginning to read like a Mario Puzo novel. Since participants are barred from discussing the case, this motion has landed like a bombshell with no public rebuttal as of now. If true, the Church’s thin defense of deniability by ignorance of the problem is probably shattered. Charges of civil conspiracy and destruction of evidence are likely in the offing, too.
Lynn’s lawyers charge that he is being “hung out to dry” in their recent attempt to cast off the criminal charges. Lynn’s defense is that he merely “took orders from Bevilacqua and is being made a scapegoat for the church’s sexual abuse scandal.” Lynn, 61, would faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted on all counts against him. Prosecutors have blasted Bevilacqua in two grand jury reports but never charged him with a crime. They have called the archdiocese and others “unindicted co-conspirators.”
Bevilacqua is now free from any jeopardy having died quietly in his sleep on January 31, 2012. After Bevilacqua’s death, a locksmith was called in to open a safe and inside were copies of both the list of predator priests and the memo that it had been destroyed.
In a statement after Bevilacqua’s death, Pope Benedict XVI praised Bevilacqua’s “longstanding commitment to social justice and pastoral care of immigrants and his expert contribution of the revision of the church’s law in the years following the Second Vatican Council.”
The development raises some other interesting questions: Where are these secret archives that Lynn and Malloy reviewed? Why wasn’t pertinent information of suspected child abuse immediately turned over to police as required by Pennsylvania law? Why was Molloy so careful to exculpate himself in the handwritten memo if the Church officials truly believed they had done all they could as they’ve alleged in various civil suits?
Perhaps most importantly, was the Arch-Diocese of Philadelphia serving God or Mammon in protecting priests and hanging future victims and possibly Lynn out to dry? If the latter, can it ever again claim moral authority over the nations’ 77 million Catholics? Theological questions to be sure but with a very secular impact if the Church truly was a partner to covering up massive child sexual abuse as the evidence is suggesting in a loud voice.
Tough times for the American Catholic Church but infinitely better that those for its apparent victims.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger