Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Judge Gives Msgr. Lynn Three to Six Years In Slammer

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina told Msgr. William J. Lynn today that she was sentencing him to three to six years in state prison, because he had turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering of victims of sex abuse.

"You knew full well what was right, Msgr. Lynn, but you chose wrong," she told the defendant, before imposing sentence. Lynn has been in jail since June 22, when he was convicted by a jury of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a third-degree felony.

The judge contrasted Lynn's recent service at St. Joseph's Church in Downingtown, where he was pastor from 2004 until his indictment in 2011, to his 12-year-tenure as secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004.

The judge said she got hundreds of "heartfelt letters of support" on behalf of Lynn, many from parishioners at St. Joseph's, who told her that Pastor Lynn would drop every thing to help someone in need. But the judge said that as secretary for clergy, Msgr. Lynn had displayed insensitivity to victims. He was either promising to do something, and doing nothing, the judge said, or he was doing his best to "callously shield the priests."

As a consequence, the judge said, Lynn allowed "monsters in clerical garb," notorious archdiocese predators such as Stanley M. Gana, and Nicholas V. Cudemo, to "destroy the souls of children" in "the most terrible way."

Judge Sarmina said she believed that Lynn "started out with the best of intentions" when he became secretary for clergy in 1992. That's why, the judge said, she believed that Lynn drew up a list of 35 abuser priests in 1994, because he wanted them removed from active ministry.

But once the monsignor sent the list to his bosses, and heard nothing back, she said he figured out that those abuser priests on the archdiocese payroll weren't going anywhere. At that point, Lynn had a choice, the judge said. He could have "refused to be part of a sham that he knew was harming children," the judge said, or he could choose to stay.

The judge said she believed that Lynn was so hellbent on following the desires of his boss, Cardinal Bevilacqua, that he "steeled himself" whenever he met with victims, to "keep from hearing their pain and turmoil." In his position as secretary for clergy, Lynn had "a huge fiduciary duty" to protect children, the judge said, but "he steadfastly refused to hear and refused to see" the suffering of victims.

The judge said that Lynn was not a scapegoat, but was being "sentenced for choices he made," namely to ignore the suffering of sex abuse victims. Those victims "continue to be punished to this day," the judge said, with depression, failed relationships, drug and alcohol abuse problems, and suicide attempts.

The judge's decision followed more than two hours of legal arguments and tearful pleadings from character witnesses on behalf of the defendant, as well as brief speech from the monsignor himself.

Lynn stood in front of the judge wearing a black short-sleeve shirt, black pants, and his white priestly collar. He noted he had been a priest for 36 years. "I've tried to serve God as best I can," he said. "I've always tried to help people."

He apologized to the family of the victim in his child endangerment case, a former 10-year-old altar boy. He never intended to hurt anybody, Lynn said. He didn't even know the victim. "I never saw him until he testified at this trial."

He did his best, he said, adding, "the fact is, my best was not good enough."

Before the judge passed sentence, the defense presented seven character witnesses. Father Joseph G. Watson said he looked up to Msgr. Lynn since he was an 18-year-old seminarian back in the 1970s, and met the monsignor when he was dean of students at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

"He taught me about what it means to be a good priest, what it means to be a good man," Father Watson said of Msgr. Lynn. "He's always been a role model."

James Casey Jr., an insurance executive, testified that he knew Msgr. Lynn since he was 12 years old. He credited Msgr. Lynn with helping him through 9/11, when "I did lose a lot of friends on that day."

Casey told the judge how he broke down in tears one day, in front of family, and that week, Msgr. Lynn called, and insisted they have lunch. "His presence, his calmness kind of got me over that," Casey told the judge. Casey said it was "gut-wrenching to think of him [Lynn] sitting in a cell."

Sister John Magdalene Eibell, the principal of St. Joseph's grade school, testified how Pastor Lynn attended every concert, every basketball game. Another parishioner, Amy Zarilli, testified how Msgr. Lynn dropped everything to attend to a dying woman in a nursing home, at Zarilli's request.

Matthew Coyne, a father of seven who was studying to be a deacon, told the judge how Msgr. Lynn led a drive to build a new church at St. Joseph's.  He also looked up to he monsignor, he said, and he and it made him sick how every time somebody said something good about Lynn in the courtroom, people started shaking their heads like "someone's saying something dirty."

Jennifer Catanese, another parishioner at St. Joseph's, told the judge how Msgr. Lynn helped her cope with the death of one of her five children, and a subsequent miscarriage. "He was so warm and kind to us," at her first meeting, she said, before she started crying. "He's always shown such concern for our kids."

The last character witness was Erin Lynn, the monsignor's niece. "He's been our uncle and he supports us in everything," she said. The monsignor was a regular at all of Erin's soccer and basketball games. "He's the reason our family is as close as it is today," she said, blinking back tears.

She described how when the monsignor said Mass, he would gather kids in the family at the altar. "He made them care about the Mass," she said.

Defense attorney Thomas A. Bergstrom then stood to argue for leniency on behalf of the monsignor. He reminded the judge that the prosecution had not proved any "overarching conspiracy." He described the case as "a unique prosecution," because Lynn was found guilty of endangering a child "he never met, he never spoke to, he never touched."

It was also unique because during the trial, Bergstrom said, Msgr. Lynn had been called to account for the sins of archdiocese priests going back to the 1940s. Indeed, almost all of the rapes and molestations the jury heard about, Bergstrom said, happened well before Lynn took office as secretary for clergy in 1992.

"Be lenient with this good and decent man," Bergstrom implored.

Jeff Lindy, another Lynn defense lawyer, went through the traditional goals of sentencing: deterrence from preventing future crimes, deterrence to set an example for society so that others won't commit the same crime, rehabilitation, and retribution, meaning punishment for causing harm. In terms of deterrence, Lindy said, Msgr. Lynn was no longer secretary for clergy, so he was no longer "an instrument of the archdiocese." Therefore, Lynn posed no further threat to society.

Lynn also been through his share of rehab, and retribution, Lindy said. The monsignor has been under investigation for more than a decade, Lindy said. Also, the message has gone out that the crime Lynn committed will no longer be tolerated. His client's face has "been on the front page of every newspaper in the country," Lindy said. Lynn has been publicly humiliated; he's also lost his position as pastor of St. Joseph's, and will probably not get it back, Lindy said.

"He doesn't need rehab," said Lindy, who urged the judge to consider instead of incarceration, restorative sanctions such as probation, house arrest or work release.

Next up was Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, who promptly took a classless and  gratuitous swipe at Father Watson, the Catholic priest who had testified earlier that Lynn was a role model.

Somebody should ask Father Watson, Blessington yelled, "if he wants to aspire to be as good a criminal as Msgr. Lynn."

That brought a large audible groan from the packed house. As usual, Judge Sarmina did nothing to reign in the rampaging prosecutor.

Blessington then took a swipe at defense attorney Bergstrom, for arguing that the sins of archdiocese priests that Lynn was being held accountable for largely happened before he became secretary for clergy.

"I don't care if it happened in 1910," Blessington fumed. "They want special treatment," Blessington yelled at the monsignor's defense lawyers. But a jury decided that their client was a criminal, Blessington said.

Although the good deeds that the character witnesses talked about were done in public, Blessington said, the bad deeds were recorded on documents never meant to see the light of day.

"The secret archives," Blessington thundered. "The secret life of Bill Lynn!"

"We're talking about children being raped," Blessington yelled. Blessington went through letters that victims sent the judge. He brought up one letter sent by the husband of Diane Drinker, one of the victims of Nicholas Cudemo, who had been repeatedly sexually abused by the predator priest.

When Cudemo showed up to say Mass at the victim's home parish years after she was abused, Drinker sought help from Msgr. Lynn, who told her that Cudemo also had rights.

"Bill Lynn has arguably inflicted more harm on Diane then Cudemo," Blessington quoted the victim's husband as writing to the judge.

Blessington managed to turn the testimony of all seven character witnesses against the monsignor. It was hard to watch good people suffer, the prosecutor said. "All this suffering," Blessington said, including the tears of the character witnesses, happened "because he [Lynn] did what he did," the prosecutor said, jabbing his finger in the direction of the monsignor.

"He didn't show mercy, he doesn't get mercy," the prosecutor thundered. "He gets justice."

Judge Sarmina actually gave the monsignor a break with her three to six year sentence. Lynn was facing three and a half to seven years. The reaction to her decision was mixed.

"I think it was a fair verdict," said Slade McLaughlin, a lawyer who represents the family of the former 10-year-old altar boy who was orally sodomized by Father Edward V. Avery. It was Lynn's failure to prevent Avery from harming the 10-year-old altar boy that was the basis for Lynn's conviction on the endangerment charge.

"I will say that they [the victim's family] are happy that there's jail time" for Msgr. Lynn, McLaughlin told reporters outside the Criminal Justice Center. "I can tell you the young man has suffered greatly."

Next up to address reporters outside the Criminal Justice Center was District Attorney Seth Williams, who managed to do some political grand-standing before the facts got in the way.

"No matter what the sentence was, it wouldn't be enough," Williams told reporters. The district attorney complemented the judge by saying it was "ingenious how she used those letters"sent to her, both for and against Lynn. So far so good.

Williams said he believed the verdict, which he described as "unprecedented in American jurisprudence," had "sent a message" beyond Philadelphia that sex abuse will no longer be tolerated in America.  Ok, maybe he was getting a little carried away about a jury verdict where the Commonwealth lost on four of five counts.

Then Williams put his foot in his mouth, not once but twice. First he said that Lynn had done nothing when told about the rape of a 13-year-old girl. Williams said he is the father of three daughters, and if one of his daughters was raped, he would be outraged if somebody knew about it, and didn't tell him.

It's the second time the DA told this story, and both times he got it wrong. Williams first brought up the alleged rape of the 13-year-old girl at a press conference on June 22, after the verdict in this case. I have three daughters, the district attorney said that day, tearing up on cue. With TV cameras rolling, the district attorney told reporters on June 22 he would be mortified if one of his daughters was raped, and authorities "didn't tell me."

Don't you love a politician and family man who doesn't hesitate to use the theoretical rape of one of his daughters for political advantage?

The only problem is that the 13-year-old girl the fact-challenged district attorney was referring to was never raped. Here's what really happened, according to trial testimony: a married woman who was having an affair back in 2000 with a 27-year-old Lothario priest named Sylwester Wiejata told Lynn that she caught the priest kissing her 13-year-old daughter and fondling the girl's breast. When Lynn confronted the priest about it, he admitted it, and then fled the Commonwealth to go on a spiritual retreat in upstate New York. Lynn did not call police, he admitted to a grand jury in 2002. At least the district attorney didn't shed phony tears this time when he told the story.

Williams' next blunder was to assert that it was Msgr. Lynn who hid the 1994 list that he drew up of 35 abuser priests then in ministry. "He locked away in a vault the names of men who had abused children," the district attorney asserted. Now, he's going to be locked away in a vault, the district attorney said of Lynn.

The only problem was that according to trial testimony, Lynn left at least five copies of a memo accompanied by that list of abuser priests at a 1994 meeting he was summoned to with Cardinal Bevilacqua, Bishop Edward P. Cullen, and Msgr. James E. Molloy. A handwritten memo by Molloy in 1994 said he was ordered to destroy four copies of the memo, but he kept a fifth copy that could be found in the secretary for clergy's office. At this trial, an archdiocese employee testified that in 2006 that she hired a locksmith to open a locked safe in the secretary for clergy's office. Inside the safe, the locksmith discovered the memo and the list.

No testimony was ever introduced to show it was Lynn who hid the memo in a locked safe, but that didn't stop District Attorney Williams from inventing a new crime that Msgr. Lynn was allegedly guilty of. Aren't the facts in the case damning enough, Mr. District Attorney? Lynn also produced a copy of the memo for the grand jury in 2004, and although he didn't have a copy of the list, he told the grand jury all about the list, the circumstances under which it was drawn up, and why he compiled it.

When confronted with his factual error today, Williams looked confused, and then asserted, incorrectly, that evidence in the case showed that Lynn had hidden the list. One official watching the spectacle rolled his eyes. "If you don't know, ask," he said, shaking his head.

Instead of the big bodyguards that accompanied him, District Attorney Williams would have been better served if he was protected by a fact-checker.

The next protagonist to face the TV cameras was Bergstrom, Lynn's defense lawyer. Judge Sarmina, Bergstrom said, was "dead-ass wrong" on the facts, but "we're gonna move on" and appeal the case.

But he's not through with Judge Sarmina. In two weeks, she will hold another hearing on whether to allow Msgr. Lynn out on bail pending appeal. Bergstrom didn't seem to hold out much hope for winning that one either.


  1. Soon he'll be blogging on These Stone Walls, and when he gets out he'll move into a mansion somewhere.

    His reputation may be hurt, but he will be beloved in the company he keeps and he will have lots of company.

  2. Blessington sounds as wild as Bill Donahue.

    Why do we see this over the top behavior? Behavior well beyond normal. It just makes no sense.

    Unless someone wants to make the Church appear the victim.
    It just doesn't make sense.

    How much real time is 3 to 6 years? What's the criteria for early or late release?

  3. "Jeff Lindy, another Lynn defense lawyer, went through the traditional goals of sentencing: deterrence from preventing future crimes, deterrence to set an example for society so that others won't commit the same crime,"

    This is the crux of the matter, deterrence so that bishops and vicars don't hide pedophiles. Bishop Finn may get the same message, and some others--hopefully.

    The hierarchy, through this case and others, have proven they will not police themselves, nor will they police their Sgt Schultz vicars. All Lynn had to do was say to Bevilacqua, "no I can't do this". He didnt' and he's paying the price. That has been the bottom line all along. Lots of good people do despicable things in the face of authority. That doesn't make it right.

  4. Ralph Cipriano, why do you have a problem with Lynn's sentence.?

    1. Judy, perhaps a remedial course in reading comprehension at your local community college is in order.

    2. And perhaps, Media Report, A lot less arrogance on your part might be more in line with the deity you claim to worship.

  5. The monsignor took a bullet for the cardinal, his suffering will be short.

  6. 6 years is a light sentence compared to the life long damage the con artists and masters at deceit caused in the community.

  7. Dear Judy. Where in my story does it say I have a problem with Lynn's sentence? I don't think I expressed an opinion on that. I was too busy reporting what was going on around me.

  8. Dear Ralph-
    You are the best and the only reporter we trust for true facts on the case and trial. We welcome any opinion of yours. Thank you for your blog thru out this long process. God Bless!

  9. "Next up was Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, who promptly took a classless and gratuitous swipe at Father Watson, the Catholic priest who had testified earlier that Lynn was a role model.

    Somebody should ask Father Watson, Blessington yelled, "if he wants to aspire to be as good a criminal as Msgr. Lynn.'"

    I have no issue with the sentence as it seems fair given what he was convicted for. Blessington needs to reign himself in.

    In other words, the Philly DA's office is another institution that doesn't learn from the past. Once upon the time, Barbara Christie was a prominent Philly DA section head in the 80s who won lots of cases with over the top conduct. Unfortunately, antics like what what Blessington did at trial and during sentencing caused the Superior Court to throw out many of Christie's convictions. Historically, the appellate courts in PA do not like over the top advocacy by prosecutors. Blessington's stunts will make the Superior Court look very closely at the record.

    Our juror commenter has not expressed any view on how the prosecutor's conduct affected her view of the state's case; but stuff like what you mentioned above is very ineffective advocacy.

    Blessington could have commented as follows: "Your Honor, I am sure that you appreciated the faithfulness and loyalty of Father Watson to his brother priest and former mentor. In most contexts, we could commend these character traits. But loyalty and faithfulness to fellow clerics is part of the problem that was demonstrated in these proceedings. If this trial taught us anything it was that the church needs no additional role models on the importance of blind loyalty, and faithfulness to clerical mentors or supervisors. Monsignor Lynn was not convicted because he was lacking loyalty to other priests; he was convicted precisely because he placed this value over his obligation to protect the most vulnerable members of his church, the children who his brother priests and monsignors abused. One could say that Father Watson's testimony, as compelling as it was for his loyalty and affection to his former mentor, is equally compelling that the sentence needs to discourage young priests from seeking mentors who place too high a value on loyalty to other priests. The role models the church desperately needs are mentors who are willing to stand up to supervisors or mentors who ask them to do what they know is immoral--even if it means that their brother priests' careers and reputation will be affected.

    1. Well that kicked ass!

      Thanks a lot.

      What could have been might have been.

    2. The over the top antics of Blessington, do not bode well.

      Not Bode well for us.

      I used to work in a store, you let the products sell themselves.

      Blessington sounds like he's Snydley Whiplash.

  10. Ralph, Great Job!
    Kopride you make an excellent point. The "Blue Line" of Law enforcement and the camaraderie among Legal and Health care professionals as well as educators present very similar issues. Sexual Abuse is a SOCIAL issue that includes children as well as adults -- consenting or not. Changing the WHOLE of society regarding sexually abusive behavior needs to be a clear focus of every advocacy group.

  11. a wise and noble judge ,
    the honorable Maria Theresa Sarmina sets the global stage for accountability and crimes against children and community.

  12. New Post today at City of Angels Blog:
    Interview with Pam Spees re Vatican Crimes Against Humanity charges filed at The Hague in September 2011...


Thoughtful commentary welcome. Trolling, harassing, and defaming not welcome. Consistent with 47 U.S.C. 230, we have the right to delete without warning any comments we believe are obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.