It’s difficult for me to summon up any sympathy for Monsignor William J. Lynn, the high-ranking Roman Catholic priest convicted of child endangerment in a landmark case.
Lynn, as everyone in Philly, and around the country, surely knows by now, was the Philadelphia Archdiocese point man for investigation and action in the clergy sex scandal. Instead of protecting children from these predatory monsters, Lynn protected the church — by transferring the pedophiles to other parishes and sweeping the evidence under the rug.
Now facing the distinct possibility of spending his golden years behind bars, the 61-year-old cleric’s lawyers pleaded with Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to allow Lynn to remain free, albeit on house arrest, until his scheduled Aug. 13 sentencing.
Sarmina denied that request this week, taking prosecutors’ fears into account that Lynn could be a flight risk. Turns out, there is some interesting evidence to back this up. Some 35 American priests accused of child sexual abuse have fled to Rome in recent years, where they have enjoyed the protection of the Vatican, and rest easy knowing that the Vatican has no extradition treaty with the United States — meaning those runaway pedophiles could conceivably never be forced to return to America to face their crimes.
Lynn, on the other hand, has been tried and convicted, and should be treated like every other convicted criminal. Since his conviction last month, Lynn has been awaiting his sentencing hearing, along with the city’s other miscreants, at the Curran-Fromhold detention center in Northeast Philly.
It can’t be pleasant.
A man in his 60s, never in trouble with the law before, a non-violent pacifist, suddenly finds himself in a very, very unfamiliar environment — and one of the scariest situations imaginable.
His fellow inmates surely know who he is, and why he’s there. They followed his three-month long trial on television, and read the news reports. And even if you’ve never been on the other side of the bars yourself, we’ve all seen enough prison movies to know the other residents do not receive child molesters kindly.
I’m betting Lynn hasn’t had a wink of sleep, or even one restful moment, since he was led from the court in handcuffs three weeks ago. I imagine he spends every moment of every day scared out of his wits, and flinches reflexively if another inmate even comes within arm’s reach.
Years ago, I spent the night in the holding cell at the Roundhouse — strictly as a reporter, of course. I wanted to get a real feel of the sights, the smells, and the overall gloom of the place. I can tell you this: it was far, far more ugly than you can imagine. The stench was incredible – a potent combination of urine, body odor, and unidentified stink that made your eyes water and forced you to suppress the natural gag reflex.
The shouts, screams, and general din are even more distracting. Inmates argue loudly with each other, and with themselves, often yelling at unseen demons both internal and imagined.
And his was only the overnight lockup, not Curran-Fromhold, where the city’s worst offenders — not the most gentlemanly bunch to begin with — wait to learn how long they’ll spend in the penitentiary.
For a man like William Lynn, it must be a nightmare.
But if it is a living hell, it is one of his own making, and I agree with Judge Sarmina in letting him sit it out in a lonely cell, as opposed to relaxing at home with friends and family. Sure, he’s looking at some long, sleepless nights, but how many victims of abusive priests have trouble sleeping, even years later? A good number of them, I’ll wager.
No one accused Lynn of being a child molester himself. He simply aided and abetted child molesters, foisting them on unsuspecting parishes, ignoring the very real danger that more kids would have their innocence stolen by these monsters.
In some ways, what Lynn did was worse.
Having him sweat it out in a cell doesn’t bother me one bit. Neither does the fact that after sentencing, it’s likely that Lynn will spend the rest of his life locked away with very dangerous people. Although he’s not a murderer, or rapist, or an armed robber, Monsignor William Lynn is just as dangerous as the men he’ll spend the rest of his days avoiding like the plague.
It may not be justice, but under the circumstances, it’s as close as we can get.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.