Philadelphia Conviction and Convictions

Ralph Cipriano reports on his blog of the legal resolution in Philadelphia. One convicted enabler goes to jail. One accused abuser is free.

Msgr William Lynn couldn’t hide:

The monsignor had his back to courtroom spectators, but everybody could see the back of his neck and his ears turning bright red.

Moments later, family members wept silently as the monsignor was led away by sheriff’s deputies. “Oh God,” one young woman sobbed. His shame was now complete. Lynn would spend the night as the newest inmate at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, known as CFCF, at 7901 State Road in Northeast Philadelphia.

I feel for the man. I know what it is like to have one’s capillaries tell the world what one’s words don’t or won’t say.

Msgr Lynn and his defense team said that the archbishop was calling the shots. And the chancery bureaucrat was just following orders. The jury found the man not guilty of conspiracy, but did find him culpable for returning a predator to parish ministry–where the perpetrator abused again.

Obedience is overblown as a virtue. Perhaps that’s easy for me, as a dissenter, to say. I think obedience is part of a package deal for the believer. It’s not just about our response to authority. It’s not about making life easier on our supervisors, bosses, pastors, bishops, and popes. It’s not about toughening our egos and setting aside narcissism. I’m convinced that obedience is better placed in the context of a greater responsibility to our community.

As a parent I have difficult, distasteful, and anti-ego responsibilities to my daughter. I do things not because she commands, but because they are needful. I muster an obedient response to the duties I have as a father. Other people, too, for the relationships I have: my wife, my pastor, my parishioners, my extended family, my friends, my neighborhood, and so forth. And I bring an appropriate attitude with each of these. I pay taxes obediently because I respect the government I have elected to do their duty to me and to my sister and brother citizens. I am free to complain, protest, and lobby for change. That doesn’t make me less obedient, only more responsible.

Suppose my daughter is having a difficult day, and I take over her chores to make sure the pets get fed. I perform that duty with as much joy as I can muster. But when the test is complete, things are restored. Or if she has sassed me during this time, we will address the matter when it is likely to be effective.

This is what servant leadership is about. This is what John 13 is about. This is why saints got down on their knees and served. This is why people who sat on thrones and sycophants surrounding them are not invoked at baptism.

Getting back to Msgr Lynn, he was disobedient in keeping counsel to himself on the predator priest in question. He may well have been smoothing over his relationship with his bishop. But he was being disobedient as a citizen, disobedient as a priest, disobedient to Christ, and disobedient to the hundreds of thousands of lay people in his diocese. He took the easy way out. He said little. He did not protest. Today he is on the receiving end of a brutal punishment. Either he is a liar, or his bishops should be serving prison time in his stead for their criminal, sinful, and antigospel policies. Either way, this is a very sad day for the Church and for the presbyterate. It should be a gravely sad day for bishops, but I don’t think they quite get it yet.

People in Msgr Lynn’s situation who stand up to authority as obedient Christians, have an opportunity for sainthood. Who ever remembers the wicked on the lists of the Church’s martyrology?

Much earlier in our marriage, when the young miss was much younger, I was confronted with a situation of unfairness and injustice. My wife could have counseled me to keep quiet and not stirred the pot. But she did not. She knew the cost of standing up to authority, and I knew I could not live with myself for allowing a friend to be bullied in a situation that had gotten out of hand. It made for a very rough time with the pastor for the next few months, but it was the right thing to do. Even if it might have possibly cost me my employment.

When I go home at night, my daughter is not aware of the decisions I make daily to live as a Christian adult. But I know that even if the capillaries are not broadcasting heat in my skin, I have an obedient responsibility to my family as a Christian man above my responsibility as a provider. I would rather be pushing a grocery cart through the streets, homeless, than to live in a prison of my own making for not standing up to injustice. Those words might be brave enough, as I’ve not had to deal with a job-or-else situation in many, many years.

And what has been accomplished by keeping quiet in Philadelphia? Whole diocesan ministries dismantled from the top. 117 years of print publishing comes to an end. Dozens of jobs lost by people who likely understood what mandatory reporting looks like. There’s a certain brutality in that, don’t you think? Eleven million for legal defense–imagine if penitents brought that sort of money before the Lord, instead of just uttering a three-fold mea culpa.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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