Finally, after 10 weeks of testimony and 13 days of deliberation, a partial verdict was reached in the trial of Monsignor William J Lynn and Father Patrick Brennan. Monsignor Lynn was convicted of one count of endangering a child, while the charges against Father James J Brennan, accused of child endangerment, corruption of a minor, and attempted rape, resulted in a jury deadlock.
The outcome was mixed, but I agree with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Ronnie Polaneczky, that whatever the outcome, the priest sex abuse jury did their job. As did the prosecutors. The determination of the Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and his team of prosecutors may not have resulted in a sweeping conviction but it was nonetheless valuable. It put into the public mind the manner in which the church made its decisions to move priests around without worrying about impunity from outsiders, or the legal system.
That is a huge change. The scope of the decades of abuse is no longer hidden and platitudes, payouts, and random apology sessions by Pope Benedict will no longer suffice as penance.
I was in the courtroom for the closing arguments which highlighted the deep divides and opinions about the role of the Philadelphia hierarchy in the cases. It was patently clear that there were three other men who should have been present to answer to these charges: The “princes” of the church, Kroll, Bevilaqua, and Rigali. Their complicity in the cases of abuse in the archdiocese was on trial as well, and to this observer they were found wanting. It certainly appeared as though it was their direction that allowed these incidences to occur.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Archdiocese issued a short statement, but it will continue to pay for it for years to come. Right now, the legal fees defending Lynn and Brennan are at $11 million, with the bill expected to come in at around $14-15 million when all is tallied. In addition, there are more cases to be adjudicated and, as noted in this searing post by Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, the case will haunt the archdiocese for sometime to come.
Personally I am grateful that the D.A. had the guts, conscience, and moral core to finally bring the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to a reckoning. While Cardinals Kroll, Bevilaqua and Rigali will perhaps never stand trial for their role in allowing priests to continue in ministry, stymie the justice system, and turn a blind eye to the heinous sexual abuse of children by their own priests, this trial is the start of a cleansing.
If, as the scriptures say, judgment begins in the house of God, the Catholic Church is only in the early stages of judgment. With the myriad serious moral issues facing the church, the mixed messages it continues to give out about faithfulness, fidelity, and justice are hollow against its payout of pedophiles, the persecution of nuns, and pompous words about ‘religious freedom,” which do not hide the Janus face of the USCCB.
Freedom may become a pricey commodity for leaders of the church who continue to operate with impunity, ignoring their own norms for sexual abuse. It is time for those Bishops who allowed these evils to continue to pay the price for their sins. If they want to fight the government, fine. Now with the conviction of Lynn, the government has served them notice that the law is not afraid to hold them accountable.