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EDITORIAL: Those who ignore child abuse should face jail time

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The conviction in Philadelphia of a Roman Catholic priest accused of failing to report cases of sex crimes against children should serve as a wake-up call to others who intentionally turn a blind eye toward abuse.

In a trial that garnered far less attention than that of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, Msgr. William J. Lynn was convicted of child endangerment. A former aid to the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Lynn is the first senior U.S. church official convicted of covering up sexual abuse by priests.

Lynn wasn’t accused of abusing anyone himself but as director of clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, he knew the names of priests who had been accused of abusing children and he allowed those men to be transferred to parish after parish, exposing more children to sexual predators.

The three-month trial exposed the worst of the Catholic Church’s sins of shuttling pedophile priests from town to town to hide abuse. In fact, transfers of pedophile priests took place only when parents of abused children confront church officials and demanded action.

Catholics and others may have grown tired of hearing about reports of abuse by priests, coaches and others in positions of power, but society needs reminders that we all hold some degree of responsibility in protecting vulnerable children.

Our own communities have been touched by clergy abuse. The Rev. Harry Monroe, who served parishes in Perry County in the 1970s, allegedly abused several children. Civil cases have been filed against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis alleging church officials knew of Monroe’s previous abuse.

Those church officials are likely retired or dead but the church still faces a responsibility not only to remove criminals from its midst but to punish those who allowed the cycle of abuse to continue for years, or in some cases, decades.

There was a time when the authority of priests and other clergy went unquestioned. To the church’s credit, that has changed. Dioceses have review boards and zero-tolerance polices that automatically remove priests from active ministry when there are credible reports of abuse. Seminarians today face more thorough psychological screening and supervision.

No one can deny the good clergy do in our communities, but no one is above the law and covering up crimes against children is among the worst offenses anyone can commit.

According to a New York Times article, Lynn removed his clerical jacket in the courtroom moments after his conviction and was led by sheriff’s deputies to a holding cell. When sentenced next month, the 61-year-old could face three-and-a-half to seven years in prison.

Those guilty of similar cases of failing to report clear cases of sexual abuse of children should expect prosecution and jail time.

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