Last week I had the good fortune to be profiled in The Catholic Standard & Times, which proudly – and rightly - bills itself as “the official Newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia."
The timing was fortunate. February happens to be Catholic Press Month. I was interviewed, I suppose, because I fit the two key parameters of the piece. I happen to be Roman Catholic, a proud product of eight years under the firm tutelage of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and a reformed altar boy. I am also a newspaper editor, although I am sure you would not have much trouble finding people willing to debate that last point. Many of them believe I am simply a sensational muckracker, who will do anything to sell more newspapers.
That’s only partly true. I don’t consider myself especially sensational.
Many of those who tend to point an accusing finger happen to be fellow Catholics. In overwhelmingly Catholic Delaware County, that can create quite a few enemies. There is no shortage of people – longtime devout readers of the Delaware County Daily Times – who believe the newspaper delights in taking shots at the church, who believe we never miss an opportunity to portray the church in a negative light.
My guess is they are seething this morning.
That’s because the church in Philadelphia is once again making news. In Catholic Press Month, this is probably not the kind of ink they want.
This kind doesn’t wash off with soap and water. It stains a little deeper than that.
Ironically, when Lou Baldwin interviewed me for the piece, I admitted to him that I struggled at times with my roles as an editor and a Catholic.
I told him there were times when I knew what we were writing would not portray the archdiocese in an especially good light, in particular the recent problems involving the closing of parochial schools here in Delaware County, as well as the priest abuse scandal that has dogged the church now for years.
“I respect the archdiocese,” I told him. “But they know there are times when we will call when it will not be under the best circumstances.”
That time arrived again this week.
My first inkling that it was going to be a long day arrived as it so often does. I have a radio in my office that is tuned to KYW Newsradio 1060 all day. When they have breaking news, they offer a little staccato beep to impress upon readers they are about to deliver something important.
That’s what happened early Thursday morning. More charges of sexual abuse were being lodged against two priests, a former priest and a lay teacher.
But this time it involved more than priests. When I heard the teaser that it also included a monsignor, my heart skipped a beat. I kind of knew what was coming next.
The story followed a few minutes later, and I felt a chill when I heard the words. Monsignor William Lynn was being charged, not with any sexual abuse, but instead with endangering the welfare of children.
I know Monsignor Lynn.
He’s my pastor.
I am a member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Downingtown.
The monsignor was charged in his role as secretary of the clergy for the archdiocese in the years 1992 to 2004, long before he came to St. Joe’s.
The charges, if they are to be believed, amount to this. Monsignor Lynn allegedly allowed priests who were abusing children to remain in ministry. The grand jury report that led to the charges faulted him and the archdiocese for transferring problem priests – indeed predator priests - to new assignments without warning parishioners, and also playing hardball with those who came forward to lodge complaints of sexual abuse.
In effect, they charge him with running a cover-up. And they make clear they believe he was doing the work of then-Archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Cardinal Bevilacqua is not charged.
This was not Monsignor Lynn’s first go-round with the grand jury process that has investigated complaints of sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese. His name is littered hundreds of times in the scathing grand jury report that was issued five years ago. And for the most part, it was the same general accusation. He knew what was going on, and did nothing to stop it.
One thing should be made clear here: The monsignor is not charged with abusing any children. Those tawdry details are left for two priests and a former priest in this case. Reading the allegations in the full grand jury report are enough to make you question your faith.
Attorneys for at least one of the priests charged flatly deny the allegations, calling them absurd.
The archdiocese’s response was more muted. Cardinal Justin Rigali put out a videotaped statement saying the church would continue to work closely with the district attorney’s office, and that these allegations caused great pain to all involved. He did last night specifically deny one claim in the grand jury report, that there remain scores of problem priests in active ministry.
Monsignor Lynn’s attorney, Jeffrey Lindy, called the charges brought against his client by District Attorney Seth Williams “unprecedented.”
Another counsel, Tom Bergstrom, questioned the legal basis for the two charges of endangering the welfare of children.
It’s pretty clear they believe their client is being made a scapegoat for the longtime policies of the archdiocese. I think they’re probably on the right track.
“Monsignor Lynn has never been accused of abuse, has never abused anybody or touched a hair on a child’s head,” said Lindy.
I don’t doubt that’s true. That’s not the man I see on the altar on Sundays.
But that’s not what’s really at the heart of these charges. Instead the grand jury paints him – again - as carrying out a policy that effectively thwarted those who dared to file complaints, allowed abusive priests to continue their actions and carried out a plan of assigning them to new parishes.
In other words, he knew what was going on and didn’t stop it.
That’s one of those words newspaper paper people use all the time.
Comes in pretty handy during Catholic Press Month.
Especially this Catholic Press Month.
Yesterday’s charges will reopen the festering wound that is the problem of sexual abuse among Catholic priests. It will cause untold pain, for victims of sexual abuse, for the church, as well as parishioners.
It no doubt will spark another flood of phone calls today complaining about our coverage.
They will accuse us once again of sensationalism, of smearing the church.
They will point out we ignore the good work done by the overwhelming majority of men who don those collars.
After all, they will deride us, those kinds of stories don’t sell newspapers.
Not even during Catholic Press Month.