So Philadelphia’s Msgr. Lynn received nearly the maximum sentence for harboring at least one pedophile priest through reassignment. His lawyers maintain that Lynn is the “fall guy” for a systematic failure by the Archdiocese in which they routinely reassigned predator priests to unsuspecting parishes and agencies.
So is Lynn really as blameworthy as say, Cardinal Bevilacqua who once reportedly said during the height of the scandal in Boston that he had never met nor known anyone who had been abused by priests?
I’m of a split mind here. Surely, Msgr. Lynn knew what was going on with at least one priest (the statute of limitations has run out on several others) that they could have discussed in the case. Msgr. Lynn did nothing to protect children at least in that instance and clearly in several more.
The issue at play indeed is a systematic one, however, one in which there seemed to be a “standard operating procedure” with regards to these cases in Philadelphia’s archdiocese, of reassignment after a brief psychiatric evaluation. Even when recommended that an abuser-priest be kept away from children the advice seemed to be roundly ignored in favor of hoping, against better judgement, that this would not occur again. Moreover, there seemed to be a lack of knowledge about pedophilia at the highest levels of the Archdiocese, including Msgr. Lynn and Cardinal Bevilacqua that was ingrained in this standard procedure of reassignment.
And nobody was smart or brave enough to question that.
What responsibility do we have to buck an unjust system, even at great personal risk to ourselves? I would say simply, that doing the right thing is often, if not always, never easy. And that’s why so many people fail to do it. Fear of reprisal, ostracizing and perhaps even death may have been at the heart of this systematic failure. How many other areas of life do we see people unable to stand up for the most vulnerable in society because of a fear like this? It is the great anxiety of the world in many ways. We’ve allowed great harm to come to many because of our inability to stand up for the rights, needs, safety and even lives of others who are in harm’s way.
And that friends, is wrong.
I can understand the fear that goes along with it, but as said, doing the right thing is almost never easy. That’s just the way it goes. When we stand up for others, we put ourselves at risk and we need to be willing to do that. Perhaps we need to be “cunning as snakes” as Jesus said, in order to protect ourselves? Or perhaps we need more indifference in our lives knowing that indeed the truth will set us free regardless of what happens. We need the bravery to stand up for least of our people, as Jesus did so often. We also need to acknowledge that when we do that we will face much resistance from others. Living in this way will put us in solidarity with the vulnerable and while it might restore their dignity and safety, it also may very well put us in harm’s way ourselves.
I often recount the story of a former workplace of mine where I discovered a woman was not being hired because of her race. It took me three whole days to approach someone in management about it. Why didn’t I speak up sooner, if not immediately? I was afraid. What if I misheard this? What would the person who was at the heart of this do to me if they found out? What if management was angry with me for accusing someone of this and fired me? Finally, I placed all that fear aside and realized that if any of that occurred, I probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway because our values didn’t line up. It was an unjust system and I needed to say that to someone. Unfortunately, our tendency is often to say nothing at all, ignore the issue, and hope that injustice will just go away.
Msgr. Lynn’s failure was simply that. He was working in an unjust and horrifying system of Archdiocesan governance and he did nothing to question it. I shudder to think if there were, in fact, any other injustices in the Archdiocese that have yet to come to light.
So today, let’s pray for victims of abuse for all those who were put in harm’s way by an unjust system of authoritarian power gone awry.
But let’s also pray for our priests, lay people, women’s religious and all those who witness injustice in the world. May they have the strength to speak up when they see the horror of evil at play and may the Holy Spirit pour the gift of fortitude on them so that they might rest easy in doing the right thing, even when it is difficult.
And let’s pray for Msgr. Lynn as well. May we somehow be able to forgive him for his failures and may we realize that it would be unjust for him to be abused by others while he serves his punishment regardless of whatever he enabled others to do to children. Revenge does not equal justice. So let us pray that he is able to see his actions as remorseful ones and that he can make peace with God and himself and that although he was unable to offer a harbor of safety to children, may he be kept safe from harm–as he pays his debt to society.
May God who is infinitely merciful grant us salvation for all of our failures as a people. And may peace and justice one day reign for us all. Amen.