Philadelphia Was a Shallow Victory

National Catholic Reporter, May 10, 2013 | Go to article overview

Philadelphia Was a Shallow Victory


Two Philadelphia cardinals in succession, John Krol (head of the archdiocese from 1961 to 1988) and Anthony Bevilacqua (1988-2003), for decades knowingly protected priests who had sexually abused children, sometimes savagely, hiding their actions from civil authorities and from the Catholic community.

We are certain of those assertions because a grand jury in Philadelphia managed to subpoena thousands of pages of documentation and to accumulate hundreds of hours of testimony before issuing, in 2005, a stunning report detailing years of sexual abuse of children by priests and cover-up of the abuse by cardinal archbishops.

It was discovered in 2011 that a third cardinal, Justin Rigali, since retired, had essentially disregarded provisions of the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, ignoring credible claims of abuse against more than a dozen priests and bypassing the archdiocesan review board.

The cardinals were abetted in hiding the crimes by an insider group of clerics that included Msgr. William Lynn, as well as Edward Cullen, who went on to become bishop of Allentown, Pa., and Joseph Cistone, currently bishop of Saginaw, Mich.

The Philadelphia archdiocese was one of the worst examples of high clericalism in the United States and of what the clerical/hierarchical culture could breed in its single-minded determination to hide the crimes of sex abuse and protect itself. In the end, it did neither.

Like many others, we felt that a bit of justice had been done when a jury reached a guilty verdict in the case of Lynn and the court sentenced him to jail. Certainly, the other overseers of the cover-up--the cardinals and other officials--escaped prosecution, but Lynn stood as an example to others that determined prosecutors could find ways to reach into the hierarchical ranks and force accountability even as church authorities refused to do so.

So why question the court's rulings now? Why entertain a kind of counternarrative and pose the disturbing questions that Ralph Cipriano raises in his analysis of the recent trials in Philadelphia? (See Page 1.)

NCR has a deep investment in seeking the truth of the sex abuse crisis in the church. The first comprehensive national story on the scandal, a detailed look at a disturbing case in Louisiana and the growing national problem, appeared in NCR's pages in June 1985. Long before the issue became a big media story in 2002, NCR was pursuing the awful truth of this chapter in church history.

That same investment in understanding the truth of this ugly issue compels us to consider the serious questions raised about the legal proceedings that led to Lynn's conviction and sentencing and the convictions of Fr. …

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