Thursday, April 5, 2012
Philadelphia's trial of Msgr. William Lynn and Fr. James Brennan has continued this week. Two more jurors were released for unknown reasons. However, the court, presumably anticipating such occurrences, had several alternate jurors available.
The case is unlike many other child sexual abuse cases in that many internal documents are being presented which are disturbing. The prosecution is using this evidence to establish that Msgr. Lynn conspired to endanger the welfare of children. They assert that he was made aware of sexual crimes of priests and then he either failed to act or acted by reassigning these priests in a way that put children at risk. The defense continues to argue that such documentation illustrates an effort by Lynn to do something to respond to the problem, but his effort was thwarted by deceased Cardinal Bevilacqua. The case is still in the government's case in chief, so which side is successfully utilizing these documents is yet to be determined. Guilt of Msgr. Lynn and his codefendant aside, there is a larger picture being painted by the documents. The documents are beginning to paint a disturbing picture of the institutional response by the Archdiocese. Several documents presented suggest a paramount concern and priority of liability issues, a deception of parishioners, and a response which fails to put the protection of children first, if at all. Such was also portrayed in the 2011 grand jury report as well as the 400 page 2005 grand jury report.
The case, however, in other ways is like many other child abuse cases. Jurors heard from victims this week. The victims told of the abuse, the fear of reporting, and then the less than compassionate response from church officials when they did disclose. Similarly, one victim testified of experiencing the well documented effects of sexual abuse: going from a straight A student to one with problems. The victim's credibility was challenged because of some troubled events in his life. This reflects a common scenario in such sex abuse cases. If the allegations are true, victims experience an ironic second victimization. The initial victimization of child sexual assault can have devastating effects on the victims' lives, increasing their risk of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and other conditions. Then, in an ironic twist, often when the children have enough courage to disclose the abuse in a court, defendants tell the fact finder to not believe them because the witness has had such a troubled life. Essentially, the defendants cite the reason he targeted the victim or the after effects of this trauma as the very reason to disbelieve the victim. Whether such is the case here, or the accuser indeed is not credible, has yet to be determined. This week's testimony, however, reminds us that while some of the legal issues in the case are unique to it, the personal and tragic story of child sexual abuse is not.
Coverage of the case is international. It has also been slanted in some areas. With these updates I have tried to pull from different sources. Below are some sources including Sunday's New York Times editorial which illustrate some of what I have discussed. The case will resume next week.