For the first time, a jury convicted a Catholic official for the cover-up of sexual abuse claims.
61-year-old Monsignor William Lynn of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was found guilty of child endangerment. Prosecutors say that from the years 1992-2004, when he served as secretary of the clergy, Lynn re-assigned priests to unsuspecting parishes after claims of sexual abuse.
The jury acquitted Lynn on one count of conspiracy and another count of child endangerment.
Lynn faces up to seven years in prison.
The jury could not agree on a verdict for Rev. James Brennan, a co-defendant in the case. Brennan was accused of abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1996.
Seth Williams, District Attorney, said that what happened within the Catholic Church was "unspeakable," adding, "People knew that these were predators who were much more concerned with the institution than the victims of sexual assault. They failed to recognized that 'the Church' is its people. The most important thing, I think, is that this monumental case in many ways will change the way business is done in many institutions, be they religious institutions, educational institutions, day camps, whatever. People will not protect predators any longer."
Barbara Blaine, President of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), told PBS News that there is "a great deal of relief and feeling of vindication for victims in the case."
Catholic spokesman and psychologist Thomas Plante of Santa Clara University agreed that the case is significant in that someone other than a clergy offender was convicted of a crime, adding that it would be more important if a bishop, rather than a monsignor, was convicted. He compared the monsignor with "the assistant manager of Starbucks and not the manager of Starbucks."
Blaine said that cover-ups of predator priests occurred all across the United States and that it would be wrong to think that Philadelphia is an anomoly. "I believe what happened in Philadelphia is the norm," she opined. "I think it's time that church officials should be held accountable for enabling the predators who preyed on us when we were children. The vast majority of us [who were victims] wouldn't have been had the church officials done the right thing." She believes that the Philadelphia case offers hope to many victims who have not yet come forward.
Policies and procedures were put into place in 2002, according to Plante, and abuse cover-ups since that time are problematic and egregious. He thought that there has been a significant change in handling abuse since 2002.
Blaine's view of the Catholic Church's new policies and procedures were not as optimistic as Plante's view. "Just last year, the same grand jury that indicted Monsignor Lynn found 37 accused predator priests working in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia," she told PBS. "And currently, right now, there is a bishop under indictment in Kansas City for endangering children, just like Monsignor Lynn, and he has not stepped down. He's been able to maintain his position, and I think that if there were to be investigations like this in other jurisdictions, we may find the same type of behaviors there. I think it's wrong to think that this is a problem of history because I believe it's ongoing today."