Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Msgr. Lynn convicted; Vatican defenses breached

Yesterday Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced in Philadelphia to a prison term of three and a half to six years for covering up child sex abuse allegations within the Roman Catholic Church. Today, the story has largely disappeared from Internet news outlets, although the BBC did manage to squeeze in a story about women who seek the perfect vagina.

William Lynn, 61
On a quick look, only Al-Jazeera (playing catch-up) and The New York Times (yesterday's story) managed to make some second-day reference to a case that strikes me as having profound implications for the thousands of victims of Vatican abuse, enslavement, and other less visible depredations. Lynn's sentence sends a clear message that plausible deniability -- the refuge of banks, stock brokers, corporations, political organizations and the Mafia -- is no longer quite so plausible and, more important, that that implausibility may be called into question in a very public civil venue.

Lynn was not convicted, as fellow clergymen have been, of fucking or fondling little boys and girls, some under the age of one.  Instead, he was convicted of covering up the crimes of priests who did... a first, as far as I know. The implications go to the heart of the structural deficiencies within the entire Vatican institution -- deficiencies that speak to the centuries-old foundational assertions of power within the church. Sending a few pedophile priests up the river or paying enormous fines on their behalf is one thing, but to throw the lovingly-constructed edifice of power into question ... well, from the Vatican point of view, I can imagine it's "Nellie bar the door!"

And the Vatican is doing its best to bar that door ... now, with less success: Lynn has been convicted of doing what the Vatican has done best --  assert plausible deniability, maintain power, and let the victims on whom Jesus might have taken pity, twist slowly, slowly in the wind.

Before sentencing, Lynn was quoted as saying, “I have been a priest for 36 years, and I have done the best I can. I have always tried to help people.”

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina was quoted as saying, "You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,”

And after sentencing, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued a statement that said in part, "Fair-minded people will question the severity of the heavy, three to six year sentence imposed on Msgr. Lynn today. We hope that when this punishment is objectively reviewed, it will be adjusted."

And in those three small statements, the entire issue seems to be thrown into relief. Lynn -- who might be a perfect expositor of Vatican argumentation -- takes refuge in 1. the goodness he was able to offer over time and 2. the suggestion that he was only following orders and therefore should not be nailed to some judicial cross. Sarmina calls his bluff: No amount of posturing can excuse the full-frontal-nudity of the complicit facts. And the Vatican, in the person of the archdiocese, scrambles to patch the hole in its once impervious dike ... if chain-link logic can nail a monsignor, who knows what more-elevated prelate might be next? Well-woven power begins to fray.

As the archdiocese hopes that "fair-minded people" will see the excessiveness of Lynn's sentence, 
other "fair-minded people" may be wondering at the leniency of that sentence. And still other "fair-minded people" may wonder at the steps the archdiocese has taken in its efforts to address the uncomfortable and unavoidable upsurge in outrage: Yes, there is a reporting procedure now and that procedure includes informing civil authority of abuse claims. But there is still no reference to what happens when, as in the past, functionaries simply ignore the sounds-good, up-to-date, and oh-so-caring guidelines.

It all comes down to people -- honest to goodness, flesh-and-blood people. Thousands of people who suffered at the hands of a Vatican power structure. People who may have wanted to do good as priests, but were caught in the institutional web and hence forced to bend their principles as a means of assuring their stature and profession and beloved institution. People who could no longer choke down the ill-founded pieties of institutional goodness that begged to be trusted ... and was, in fact trusted. People who ached and bled ... and about whom the church would be quick to say they were in business to protect and serve.


Once upon a time, the news business was in business to turn over the rocks that a work-a-day citizenry had neither time nor tools to turn over for themselves. It wasn't perfect, but it was an unstated goal. Crooks and malefactors of all sorts slipped through the cracks. But still ... it was a goal.

And no doubt the perfect vagina is a serious business to those in search of vaginal perfection. But the rise of infotainment takes its toll. Someone has to make the news judgments of the day and for my money, those judgments have been as corrupted as any Vatican apologist by the desire for money and stature.

Sure, the conviction of Msgr. Lynn may be small potatoes in comparison to the economic crisis in Europe, the Syrian civil war, an agricultural drought, or even the up-coming Olympics whose ballyhoo is almost as numbing as coverage of the American presidential election.

But the Lynn case has scratched a very important and far-reaching surface. A bulwark organization and its minions have perpetrated a horror that an uninformed citizenry worldwide deserves to be informed about. The Roman Catholic Church claims something like 1.2 billion members ... a pretty big audience for the information hidden under the Vatican rock. The media may be content to let the story fade off into the distance -- it's 'old news' and if you don't examine it, then it doesn't exist -- but I think they are making a big mistake ... a mistake defined not just as news mistake, but also defined as a moral error.

Am I outraged? You bet your ass I am! Outraged by the Vatican. Outraged by the media. Outraged that the wounds of so many are so blithely salved and forgotten. Outraged by the towering evidence of implausible deniability. Oh...outrage is so comforting. But I also recognize that outrage and a couple of bucks will get me a bus ride.

Once more, in the person of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the Vatican his displayed its steely fist within the velvet glove of caring and concern. Will they get away with it ... again? Probably ... for a while ...

But the Lynn conviction and sentencing puts the Vatican's plausible deniability riff on notice:

"The dog ate my homework" and "I was only following orders" just won't fly.

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