Thoughts on the Philadelphia Grand Jury and Msgr. Lynn Trial
Recently the appeals case involving Monsignor William Lynn was decided upon by an appeals court. This case (just one part of the entire clergy abuse issue within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) is complex and has affected so many people, including a number of St. Monica parishioners and their families.
I, too, was personally affected by the entire situation. I was working in the Office for Clergy when the 2009 Grand Jury published their findings. I was tasked to read the Grand Jury findings, inform members of the archdiocese, personally contact priest brothers to let them know that they had been mentioned in the Grand Jury findings and assist in the removal of a number of priests from their assignments. In addition, in the spirit of priestly fraternity, I was asked to keep in touch with a number of priests while their cases were being investigated in order to support them and help bolster their spirits. I never anticipated that this “ministry” to my priest brothers would continue for almost three years. Needless to say, it has not been a happy time for any of us.
Any casual reading of the news would show numerous opinions on the Monsignor Lynn case. One of the best articles that I read was published on December 26, 2013 in the New York Times and was written by Erik Eckholm and Steven Yaccino. I found the article cogent, fair, concise yet comprehensive. One of the most salient points that Eckholm and Yaccino mention in their article was:
“Whether or not the conviction stands up, Monsignor Lynn’s trial remains a warning to church officials everywhere,” said the Reverend Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst with The National Catholic Reporter and expert on church leadership.
“Everyone in the chancery now knows they could be arrested and prosecuted if they do not follow the law carefully,” he said.
This last point is especially poignant as I shall illustrate below.
What has happened in the past several years?
Ever since 2005, when the U.S. Bishops in Dallas adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People”, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been putting procedures and policies in place to protect children. Obviously more can also be done but it is interesting to make note of the most recent guidelines that have been adopted in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:
- All allegations of clergy sexual abuse involving a minor are immediately reported to law enforcement.
- Every complaint is logged, and each allegation is promptly reviewed to determine whether and what interim restrictions on ministry or employment should be imposed.
- No internal archdiocesan investigation proceeds without the approval of law enforcement.
- Archdiocesan victims’ assistance services are now strictly segregated from our internal investigation efforts.
- All complaints against clergy involving a minor, even those solely involving violations of The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries are now sent to the Archdiocesan Review Board
- The creation of a separate Office of Investigations to ensure immediate referral of complaints of abuse to law enforcement.
- The codification of steps to ensure that any cleric from outside the diocese or from a Religious Order seeking to minister in the Archdiocese is screened to guarantee the protection of children.
- Mandated Reporter Training for over 35,000 Archdiocesan employees and volunteers has been completed. This training goes above and beyond the requirements of Pennsylvania state law.
As a pastor, and as a parish, what are the challenges that we face locally at St. Monica?
- People are simply not aware of how comprehensive and inclusive (and, at times, inconvenient) the current guidelines are. ANY person who has ANY contact with ANY child in ANY way on St. Monica grounds or within the context of any St. Monica activity (sports, birthday parties, religious education, sleep over’s, youth activities, field trips, etc…) absolutely has to comply with the child protection guidelines. To this end, we have placed them as an insert in the bulletin, and will place them on the parish website.
- The guidelines have changed since the initial U.S. Bishops meeting in Dallas in 2005.
- In some cases, different requirements apply to different categories of people who have contact with youth (Example, requirements for employees are different than for volunteers). In other cases, different requirements apply depending on when and for how long you have resided in Pennsylvania or other particular geographic areas.
- Some parents simply don’t take the guidelines seriously. It has been exasperating for the Parish Staff and me to constantly remind “adults” of the requirements to have their clearances updated or to have to chase after them to complete the training and submit the necessary documentation.
- This goes to the point I mentioned above. The Lynn case appeal hinges on a 2007 change of the statute. A more “stringent” application of the law now applies to “supervisors of supervisors.” As I read it, this could potentially mean that, if a child was abused at St. Monica in an activity that was allegedly “supervised” by an adult who did not have the proper clearances, I could be legally held responsible as the “supervisor of the supervisors.” Some might say this is a legal overreach. Personally, having not seen much leniency in application of the law in cases involving priests and children, I don’t think it is wise to take any risks.
- We have limited staff at the rectory and the record-keeping of all clearances is detailed and time consuming.
- Become familiar with the guidelines.
- Determine where the guidelines do, or might, apply to you and your family.
- Fill out all necessary forms; go on-line to complete any required documentation or training.
- Cooperate with the Parish Staff and submit all necessary documentation on-time. This is serious stuff. Frankly, the Parish Staff does not have the time, nor the inclination, to be chasing after adults for information needed to protect their own children.
- Become informed, not confused. Contact Cathy Levine (firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-644-0110, ext. 112) who has built up a considerable amount of experience in these matters and will be glad to walk anyone through the requirements.
- Be an advocate for your children. Recognize your responsibility as a parent to question anyone who works directly with your children about their clearances. Keep in mind that we now have outside entities that have use of our campus. We are no longer limited to just “Parish Families.” When in doubt, ask. If you are not comfortable approaching the adult in question, call the rectory office (610-644-0110). Cathy can confirm if the clearances for any individual are up-to-date.
- Be aware! Report any questionable behavior, whether related to young people or not, to the Parish Staff, to me and to the local authorities. The more “eyes” we have watching the parish, the better, more comfortable and safer everyone will be. This is what is meant by “Mandated Reporter”.
Archdiocese of Philadelphia, “Comprehensive Policies for the Protection of Children and Young People” (http://archphila.org/protectionofchildren/protection.php.)
New York Times article by Erik Eckholm and Steven Yaccino (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/27/us/conviction-overturned-for-church-official-accused-of-covering-up-abuse.)
U.S. Bishops Conference “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/charter.cfm .