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A Single Earthshaking Word from a Philadelphia Courtroom

(photo: steakpinball/flickr)

Guilty.

That was the word that rang out over the head of Jerry Sandusky in a Pennsylvania courtroom yesterday. Forty-five times it rang out, once for each of the charges associated with his abuse of at least 10 boys over the course of 15 years.

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

It was not a surprise to Sandusky’s lawyer.

“From the beginning, we knew what we were facing. Surprise would have been [if the verdict had gone] the other way.”

This makes Jerry Sandusky the latest in a sad string of abusers — a string filled with coaches, teachers, priests, and parents — who took advantage of their position of trust to satisfy their own sexual needs with vulnerable children in their care. His story, as high profile as it is, as sad as it is, is not at all new.

What *is* new took place in a courtroom to the east, in Philadelphia.

Guilty.

That same word that likely condemned Sandusky to spend the rest of his life in prison also rang out over the head of Monsignor William Lynn yesterday. Lynn was found guilty of a single child endangerment, by transferring a priest he knew to be a danger to children from one parish to another — where that priest did indeed abuse another child.

Guilty.

It only rang out once, but it’s the first time that that word has been applied to a Catholic priest who did not directly abuse a child, but instead participated in covering up that abuse. Lynn knew what a danger Father Avery was, and did not act.

Guilty.

Lynn was Secretary for the Clergy, whose job it was to handle clergy placement on behalf of the archbishop. Lynn’s lawyers tried to cast him as a mere functionary, who had no authority to challenge what the archbishop wanted done — and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Archbishop Bevilacqua wanted things hushed up and buried. The main reason that Bevilacqua wasn’t charged was that the grand jury felt his health was too poor — a judgment borne out when the Cardinal died on the eve of Lynn’s trial. (The grand jury’s report is here.)

At the trial, Bevilacqua’s actions were scrutinized Father Thomas P. Doyle, the canon lawyer who tried to warn the USCCB about the dangers of covering up for child abusers back in the 1980s. In thanks for his work, the hierarchy of the church derailed his career and sidelined him from offering them any additional advice. The prosecution, however, put his advice front and center in the trial:

A priest who is an expert on canon law testified Thursday that in his opinion, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was guilty of obstructing justice when he ordered the shredding of a confidential memo in 1994 that listed 35 archdiocese priests accused of sex abuse.

Father Thomas P. Doyle, an outspoken advocate for victims of clerical sex abuse, was asked on cross-examination what advice he would have given Bevilacqua.

“He’s got a list of 35 men who are sexually abusing children, and he’s going to shred it?” Doyle asked incredulously.
“No way,” Father Doyle told the jury. “That’s like obstruction of justice.”

That sole “guilty” spoken in Philadelphia is the one that ought to send shivers up the spines of every bishop and cardinal of the Catholic church. In Philadelphia, the story is not over, as there are other trials waiting to be held on this. Similarly, if I were retired Cardinal Rigali, I’d be consulting with my attorneys rather closely. From the grand jury’s report, there certainly appear to be things that Rigali either knew or should have known about but upon which he did not act. Do they rise to the level of a criminal coverup? I don’t know, but there’s certainly enough there for a prosecutor to want to dig in a bit deeper.

Here in Kansas City, it certainly worries Bishop Robert Finn, whose trial for failure to report suspicions of child abuse by one of his priests is slated to begin later this summer. The priest’s computer was found to have child porn on it, and the Archdiocese knew about this for six months before reporting it to the police.

Guilty.

That one word from Philadelphia also ought to worry some folks at Penn State, much more than the 45 repetitions of it closer to home, as this nugget deep in the Philly.com story of Sandusky’s conviction notes:

Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of the campus police, face charges of perjury and failing to report child abuse stemming from their response to the McQueary episode.

Prosecutors say both did not report the incident to outside authorities and later lied about their knowledge of it to grand jurors. They maintain their innocence and expect to take their case before a Dauphin County jury in the next year.

Bishops. Academic administrators. Whatever the title they bear, supervisors of all stripes ought to heed the warning coming from that Philadelphia courtroom. Better to deal with the bad publicity of one of your underlings misdeeds than to be found trying to sweep them under the rug.

This isn’t over, folks. Not by a long shot. But the legal landscape has changed dramatically — and for the better.

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Peterr

Peterr

I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.

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