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The Catholic Church's Secret Sex-Crime Files

Page 5 of 5

At least one good thing came out of Billy's case: When his allegations were finally brought to the district attorney's office, his case, which falls within the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution, became the foundation of the grand jury's current investigation. Even the Vatican itself appeared to take drastic action: On September 8th, Cardinal Rigali will be replaced by Charles Chaput, the charismatic archbishop of Denver. The Vatican insists, however, that Rigali's resignation has nothing to do with the scandal. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has shown nothing but support: In April, when the pontiff needed a special envoy to appear on his behalf in the Czech Republic, he chose none other than Rigali for the honor.

As for Cardinal Bevilacqua, under whose watch Billy and other children were allegedly abused, the grand jury regretfully noted that it could not recommend criminal charges in the current case, since it lacked direct evidence against the cardinal. Bevilacqua, now 88, has rejected responsibility for the abuses that occurred during his tenure. When he testified before the grand jury in 2003, Bevilacqua conceded that any move involving the reassignment of accused priests was "ultimately my decision." But he was quick to stress who was really at fault: In every instance, he insisted, he had "relied on my secretary of the clergy's recommendations if anything was necessary to be done." With Bevilacqua insulated from prosecution, the district attorney grabbed at a lower-level bureaucrat, one the cardinal himself had hung out to dry: Monsignor Bill Lynn.

Lynn stands in the courtroom in Philadelphia, having been sworn in by Judge Renée Cardwell Hughes. Hands clasped, his face pulled into a frown of concentration, the monsignor proceeds to answer a series of routine questions: He holds a master's degree in education. He takes medication for high blood pressure. He has never been treated for mental illness or substance abuse. He understands that the charges against him carry a maximum penalty of 28 years in prison.

Then the judge comes to what she considers the most pressing point: Does Lynn truly understand the risk he faces by allowing the church to pay his legal fees? If Lynn's attorneys are paid by the archdiocese, their loyalty to their benefactor may put them at odds with his needs as a defendant in a criminal trial.

"You have been charged. You could go to jail," Hughes says gravely. "It may be in your best interest to provide testimony that is adverse to the archdiocese of Philadelphia, the organization that's paying your lawyers. You understand that's a conflict of interest?"

"Yes," Lynn replies.

The judge massages her temples and grimaces, as though she can't believe what she's hearing. For 30 minutes straight, she hammers home the point: Do you understand there may come a time that the questioning of archdiocese officials could put you in conflict with your own attorney? Do you understand that you may be approached by the DA offering you a plea deal, in exchange for testimony against the archdiocese? Do you realize that is a conflict of interest for your lawyers?

"Yes, Your Honor," Lynn continues to insist cheerfully, though his voice grows fainter as the minutes tick by. In one final plea for rationality, the judge asks if Lynn would like to consult with an independent attorney for a second opinion. He declines and returns to his seat, looking flushed and unhappy.

Lynn's lawyers, citing a gag order on the parties in the case, declined to allow him to comment for this article. The archdiocese also refused to comment, citing its emphasis on what it calls "moving forward." So far, Lynn's attorneys have simply argued that the case should be dismissed: Because charges of child endangerment are normally reserved for people directly responsible for kids – parents, teachers – Lynn's remove from the victims means his prolonged efforts to cover up the crimes were not technically illegal.

The court has rejected that argument, and the trial against Lynn and his co-defendants – all have pleaded not guilty – is scheduled to begin this winter. It may include videotaped testimony from Cardinal Bevilacqua, as well as the release of some 10,000 potentially incriminating documents. Lynn must know on some level that the church could be using him as a shield one last time in its systematic campaign to hide decades of monstrous abuses against children. But his willingness to sacrifice himself – his unswerving obedience to his superiors, even in the face of criminal charges – is what makes him such a loyal and devoted servant, all the way to the bitter end.

This is from the September 15, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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