Catholic Priest Gets Prison Time For Covering Up Child Sex Abuse

A Catholic Priest who covered up news of sexual abuse of children while working as an official of the Philadelphia Diocese will be going to prison:

PHILADELPHIA — The first U.S. church official convicted of covering up sex-abuse claims against Roman Catholic priests was sentenced Tuesday to three to six years in prison by a judge who said he “enabled monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children.”

Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, “helped many but also failed many” in his 36-year church career, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said.

Lynn, who handled priest assignments and child sexual assault complaints from 1992 to 2004, was convicted last month of felony child endangerment for his oversight of now-defrocked priest Edward Avery. Avery is serving a 2½- to five-year sentence for sexually assaulting an altar boy in church in 1999.

“I did not intend any harm to come to (Avery’s victim). The fact is, my best was not good enough to stop that harm,” Lynn said. “I am a parish priest. I should have stayed (one).”

Lynn’s lawyers had sought probation, arguing that few Pennsylvanians serve long prison terms for child endangerment and their client shouldn’t serve more time than abusers like Avery. They plan to appeal the landmark conviction and seek bail while the lengthy appeals process unfolds.

The judge said Lynn enabled “monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart.”

She believed he initially hoped to address the sex abuse problem and perhaps drafted a 1994 list of accused priests for that reason. But when Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua instead had the list destroyed, Lynn chose to remain in the job and obey his bishop — by keeping quiet — as children suffered, she said.

“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” Sarmina said.

So, in some sense at least, Lynn was the priestly equivalent of Joe Paterno, a man who was aware that children were being abused and, instead of doing the right thing, he covered the matter up in order to protect the institution he represented. He wasn’t alone in that, of course, we’ve learned over recent years that countless Diocesan officials, Bishops, and Cardinals in the United States and Europe did the exact same thing, and while it’s good to see Lynn paying for his crime the fact that so many others have gotten away with theirs and in many cases still maintain an air of pious religiosity is truly flabbergasting.

Rod Dreher puts it well:

It’s plain from their conduct in these matters that bishops and their immediate underlings do not fear the justice of God, so I’m glad that they are now being made to fear the justice of the state. It is a tragedy that it had to come to this for the Church; the Church should have been the first to defrock these child molesters, and report them to the state, instead of covering up for them and leaving them free to molest more children. If ordered to protect a child molesting priest, Msgr. Lynn ought to have refused to cooperate with the policy. He did not. He is reaping the consequences. Sadly, he is also a scapegoat, but the Cardinal, having died, is beyond the reach of earthly justice.

The Cardinal to whom Dreher refers is Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who was the man who put into motion the cover-up that Lynn was convinced of:

In 2012, a document was discovered showing that Cardinal Bevilacqua had ordered Monsignor James Molloy, now deceased, who served in the Office of the Vicar to Cardinal Bevilacqua until 1994 to destroy a list of 35 abusive priests. Monsignor William Lynn was accused of covering up cases of abuse by archdiocesan priests, having at the time been the highest U.S. Catholic Church official to face criminal charges.

In a just world, Bevilacqua would have been the one on trial.


FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Religion, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. KansasMom says:

    If only the Catholic Church were held to the same standards as the NCAA held Penn State. A $2 billion dollar (cause 60 million is literally pennies to the Vatican) fine and a 4 year penalty of not receiving government funds of any sort. No tax exemptions, no Medicare or Medicaid payments. Do “God’s” work all on your own you sorry bastards.

  2. Gustopher says:

    I think the sentences for both Avery (the assaulter) and Lynn (the accomodator) are a bit light, but I’m pleased that Lynn’s sentence is give-or-take the same as Avery’s.

    In a just world, Bevilacqua would have been the one on trial.

    In a just world, there wouldn’t just be one person on trial.

  3. Just Me says:

    I think it makes sense to hold people in positions of authority accountable when they choose to be a part of a cover-up in these cases.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @Just Me: Agreed – how about the sociopathic banksters.

  5. legion says:

    Completely relevant joke of the day, courtesy of Jezebel and Rob Delaney:
    Good News: They’re taking down the Joe Paterno statue at Penn State. Bad News: They’re putting it up at the Vatican.

  6. mattb says:

    @legion: God that works on multiple levels.

  7. Bill says:

    The Catholic church is a very sick puppy. A diocesan employee on Hospital bedrest is told her insurance will cease three months before she is due to give birth. That tells you the church worships money not human life.

    My son is in a cemetery after being born three months premature. Our parish saved a few dollars. The Bishop at the time, Sean Patrick O’Malley, his office ignored me. The hypocrite will rot in hell one day along with all the facilitators in the church leadership.

    BTW Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died earlier this year if you didn’t know.

  8. DRS says:

    Maybe we should take a page from the NCAA’s book. Pull tax-empt status until all these child abuse cases are cleared up. Once the collection plate is in danger, there might be some serious action.

  9. James in LA says:

    It seems the RCC faces a math problem. These suits are just getting started. In the Milwaukee dioceses alone, over 8000 cases of abuse involving just over 100 individual abusers and their protectors forced it into bankruptcy to pay out settlements. And future cases are likely coming as the story gets deeper with each revelation.

    That’s once dioceses. Multiply this across the globe, and the math problem is dire indeed.

    Produce Bernard Law for trial in Boston.