Schram: Criminal Cover-ups of Pedophilia

By Martin Schram
Ventura County Star
June 26, 2012

Like planets and stars, two huge news masses with much in common hurtled for years through their independent orbits until in a happening far more rare than a lunar eclipse they unpredictably came into perfect alignment last Friday.

In the same news cycle on the same day in the same state, two juries announced two guilty verdicts in two totally unrelated court cases that were both rooted in the same shameful subject: the sexual abuse of children by trusted iconic figures of institutional authority.

One case was the focus of monumental news coverage, and it may be the only verdict you really know about: Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State University assistant football coach and founder of a celebrated program helping disadvantaged boys, was convicted of 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys.

But it was the other case that was of truly monumental significance, historically, legally, culturally and ecclesiastically. For the first time in the United States, a senior official of the Roman Catholic Church was convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests he supervised.

Monsignor William J. Lynn, former secretary of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was found guilty of one count of endangering children; he faces a prison sentence of up to seven years.

From 1992 until 2004, he investigated complaints of sexual abuse by priests and recommended the priests' unexplained reassignments. One pedophile priest he reassigned was later convicted of abusing a 10-year-old boy in his new parish.

The case's revelations spotlighted how and why it took so long for prosecutors to achieve this first conviction of a church official, after decades of reports about the church covering up crimes of its priests.

But prosecutors did not enlighten us as to why so many have been so willing, for so long, to look the other way. For starters, consider my media colleagues' uneven coverage of this verdict. The New York Times was a rare news organization that got it exactly right; it played both verdicts with side-by-side equality atop Saturday's front page.

Yet, many news outlets fell into the trap typified by the Washington Post (where I proudly worked for years). "Sandusky convicted of child sex abuse" said the headline atop the day's biggest story in the upper right corner of Page 1. Glancing at the page, you'd think they missed the other story altogether; but no, not quite. Down at the bottom left corner, as far from the Sandusky story as you could get, was a half-inch squib with a micro-headline ("Pa. priest convicted") above 18 words of unusually tiny type referring readers to a story on an inside page.

Lynn testified he prepared a list of 35 accused priests but said his former boss, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, ordered the list shredded and barred officials from explaining why priests were being summarily reassigned.

The conviction followed a dogged nine-year investigation by two district attorneys. It came only after changes in Pennsylvania's laws to expand endangerment of children to cover supervisors who shield abusers. Also, the statute of limitations was eased to permit prosecutions until once-youthful victims reach age 30 which made possible Lynn's conviction.

At Penn State, Sandusky continued to abuse youths while law enforcement, university officials and even parents failed to respond to red-flag concerns. The media spotlight ultimately emboldened accusers to testify. Their failures, while appalling, paled compared to the now-documented crimes and sins of the Catholic Church's senior officials in the United States and globally.

In 2009, Ireland's government capped a three-year investigation by reporting how the Catholic Church in Dublin spent decades protecting pedophile priests. The church's new leaders were key to the probe. They produced 60,000 once-secret church files documenting the cover-up crimes of their predecessors: how the church hid crimes by shifting priests to new parishes, including some churches in America.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin called his predecessors' actions "a crime in both civil and canon law. For some reason or another, they felt they could deal with all this in little worlds of their own. They were wrong, and children were left to suffer."

Ireland's 2009 report to its people should be its 2012 gift to America and the world: a model of how an enlightened government-church effort can repair shattered faith and trust.








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