Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Marci Hamilton on Philadelphia Abuse Trial: "Following Orders Is No Defense"

Esteemed legal scholar Marci Hamilton weighs in on the "no one's responsible when everyone's guilty" defense of Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia about which I blogged yesterday

Unfortunately for all the higher-ups in [Lynn’s] position, following orders is no defense to criminal behavior.  If someone chooses to put a pedophile in contact with further children, that’s a crime. That’s endangerment of children, whether someone told you to do it or not.

As Hamilton notes, the revelation that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua shredded damning evidence of clerical abuse of minors in the Philadelphia archdiocese, and that there was a cover-up of this abuse at the highest levels of church authority, exonerates none of those involved in the cover-up.  Instead, what we're seeing in Philadelphia all over again, as more evidence of the extent of the cover-up is produced, is the same wearyingly familiar pattern we've seen in diocese after diocese around the world.  

Speaking of the past cases of abuse in the Philadelphia archdiocese about which evidence will be produced in the Lynn trial, Hamilton says, 

Those cases will be a part of establishing that it wasn’t simply one oversight, it wasn’t an accident that the survivor that’s at the heart of the case against Msgr. Lynn was put into danger’s way.  It was actually just an ongoing practice that he was following over the years. ... It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t an oversight. It was a system of covering up child sex abuse.

The goal of Lynn's attorneys as they argued that Lynn is innocent if Bevilacqua was guilty was to suggest that poor Monsignor Lynn was caught in a system in which he innocently abetted a cover-up the extent of which was unknown to him as an underling.  He was only following orders, and had no knowledge of all the malicious things occurring above him in the hierarchical chain.

But as Hamilton rightly notes, it's ludicrous to claim that Lynn failed to protect children from priests he knew to be a danger to them, because of some mere technical oversight on his part.  As she notes, the clear pattern we've seen over and over in these cases, and are now seeing once again on sickening display in Philadelphia, is a pattern of "an ongoing practice" that is not in the least accidental: it's a pattern of "a system of covering up child sex abuse" (my boldface).

And that system involves everyone in the hierarchical chain of command in the leadership structure of the Roman Catholic church who has not blown the whistle on the cover-up.  The evidence produced by Lynn's defenders that Bevilacqua shredded damning documents about clerical sexual abuse exonerates not a single person in this chain of command who has acquiesced in the cover-up and the endangerment of children.

To the contrary, it compounds and proves their guilt--though I'm not sure at all that this was the motive of the defenders in producing the evidence.

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