On Thursday, a three-judge appeals panel freed Monsignor William Lynn, the only cleric jailed for shielding child sexual abusers in recent years. The appeals court reversed his conviction finding that the child endangerment law under which he was convicted applies only to parents and direct caregivers, not to those in administrative or supervisory roles.
Lynn was overseeing the clergy and fielding child abuse complaints for the Archdiocese of Pennsylvania from 1992 to 2004. He was convicted for keeping complaints private and reassigning priests to different parishes rather than reporting them, punishing them, and/or keeping them from contact with children.
Church reform and child protection advocates were shocked and saddened by the decision, many issuing statements of disappointment. "We're heartsick," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests. "We felt that this conviction sent a very strong message that if you protect predators, you would be punished. We hoped it would cause other prosecutors to go after other people protecting pedophiles. We thought it was a trend, a start."
In light of the recent ruling, there appears to be a deficiency in the legal structure. As a practical matter, coverup is critical in allowing abuse to happen and continue. As a society, by legally permitting abuse to go on, we are indirectly sending a message that we sanction the behaviors.
I suggest that this is wrong. I suggest that we need stronger child protection laws, that we should recognize the damaging nature of child abuse to individuals and to society, and that we should take a stand against it. By permitting those who knowingly shield abusers to go free, by failing to have effective laws on the books that would proscribe such conduct, we are not only failing to protect our innocents, we are also failing our own selves.
You can find more information on this topic in this article: Monsignor William Lynn Conviction Reversed, Raising Questions About Justice System, Huffington Post, Jan. 27, 2013.