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23 June 2012

First senior US Catholic official found guilty of covering up sexual abuse

Former cardinal’s aide tasked with investigating abuse claims faces up to seven years in prison for endangering children.

By Caroline Crampton

A Roman Catholic priest in Philadelphia has become the highest-ranking US church official to be found guilty of covering up child sex abuse claims.

Monsignor William Lynn, who supervised hundreds of priests and was an adviser to the Archbishop of Philadelphia, was convicted of endangering children by a jury. He was acquitted of a second count of endangerment and conspiracy, but could still face up to seven years in jail. It is likely that he will appeal the verdict.

This is another landmark in the ongoing efforts by prosecutors and victims’ groups to secure convictions in religious abuse cases, not just because of Lynn’s seniority in the church, but because he has been found guilty of endangering children through failings in his administrative and investigative duties, rather than because he had any direct contact with abuse.

Lynn was in charge of around 800 priests in the US’s sixth-largest, and was, as Al Jazeera reports, accused of covering up abuse scandals by “transferring priests to unsuspecting parishes”. He was also in charge of investigating sex abuse claims in the archdiocese betwenn 1992 and 2004.

As I wrote earlier this week in relation to the $28m settlement awarded to an abuse victim in a case involving US Jehovah’s Witnesses, these kind of cases and convictions, horrible as the details are, are to be welcomed. Lyon’s case is particularly important because it demonstrates that even an organisation as big as the Catholic church will be held accountable, and that individuals who try and use an instition to conceal wrongdoing will be discovered.

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