Survivors of Sexual Abuse Prevail in Pennsylvania: The Lynn and Sandusky Cases Show Us What Justice Looks Like

Posted in: Criminal Law

Remember this date: June 22, 2012.  That was the day that Msgr. William Lynn and Jerry Sandusky were each taken from their separate courtrooms in Pennsylvania and escorted to jail, after each had been convicted by a jury of his peers of committing crimes against children.  That is justice.

Jerry Sandusky: Convicted on 45 out of 48 Counts

Sandusky is the classic enterprising predator, who created opportunities for himself to “help” children in need so that he could groom them to need and trust him, and then eventually sexually assault them.  Sandusky started the Second Mile charity for troubled children, and then handpicked the most vulnerable boys from the charity and brought them into his web of football camps, and his home, which was filled with children coming and going. He dazzled them with a front seat experience of Penn State football; with trips to Bowl games; with hobnobbing with Penn State coaches and players; with money, athletic shoes and equipment; and with what these boys needed most of all: attention.

Sandusky brought these boys into this hypercharged masculine universe and then coerced them into sex acts.  As Victim 4 explained on the stand, Sandusky boxed him in.  With all the perks Sandusky delivered, the boy was cool and was envied by the other boys for his special status in the Sandusky and Penn State football galaxy.  When other kids teased him about being Sandusky’s “butt boy,” as jealous kids will do, of course he felt he had to deny it.  In the course of the trial, one man after another described what it was like to be a boy who finally had received what he needed, only to be ensnared in Sandusky’s sexual compulsion.

Sandusky was tried by state prosecutors in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, for the sexual abuse of ten children, with eight of them, adults now, taking the stand.   Including jury deliberations, the trial lasted a mere two weeks, and resulted in the reading in open court of 48 sex abuse charges, with the jury pronouncing him “Guilty” on 45 of those charges.

Sandusky was led off to jail.  That is justice.

Msgr. William Lynn: Convicted on 1 of 3 Counts

On the very same day the Sandusky verdict was read, the beleaguered jury in the trial of Msgr. William Lynn finally emerged—after 11 weeks of testimony and 12 ½ days of deliberations—to convict Lynn on a charge of the endangerment of children.

This was the first time anyone in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church had been criminally convicted for the role he played in the corrupt system that has covered up the sexual abuse of children around the globe.   It took ten years—from the convening of the first grand jury to today—for prosecutors to fully examine how the Philadelphia Archdiocese had handled child predators among the clergy, but it was a busy ten years for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.  Their yeoman’s labors paid off in true justice, with Lynn being taken directly from the courtroom to jail.

The jury struggled with a conspiracy charge, partly because of the confusing instructions they received.   There is also good reason to question the jury’s banker’s schedule in this case.  The Sandusky jury deliberated for twenty hours in just two days.  In contrast, there were weeks when the Lynn jury barely cracked 20 hours of deliberations.

The subject of the endangerment charge on which Lynn was convicted was Fr. Edward Avery, who pled guilty to sexual assault of a boy and criminal conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child.  Avery admitted the assault and testified that Lynn knew that Avery had abused children before, but still put Avery in the ministry, with access to children.  The jury did not know of Avery’s plea, but when that plea is added to Lynn’s conviction, we have a fog-free picture of sex abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese: A priest would abuse a child; the Archdiocese would learn about it; and its Vicar for Clergy, who in this case was William Lynn, would then place the abusing priest in a new position, with access to a new crop of children.

(On an additional sidenote, the trial also involved charges against Fr. Brennan, on which the jury deadlocked.  I would expect prosecutors to retry him.)

But, in the end, Avery’s plea and the charges against Brennan are mere footnotes to the guilty verdict against Lynn.  The key point here is that the shame and humiliation of the victims has now been successfully transferred to the predators and the Archdiocese.  That is justice.

Meanwhile, Victims Also Triumphed in the Pennsylvania (and New Jersey) Legislatures

While we were treated to the vindication of the truth and justice in these two Pennsylvania courtrooms last week, state legislatures also moved to create more opportunities for justice regarding child sex abuse.

For instance, in a move many expected would occur only after the Apocalypse, Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Lower Paxton Twp.) permitted a bill enlarging Pennsylvania’s statutes of limitations for child sex abuse to leave his House Judiciary Committee.  The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has demonically opposed the bill. It would have created a window for the thousands—if not millions—of child- sex-abuse survivors in Pennsylvania who have been shut out of court by Pennsylvania’s historically short statutes of limitations (SOL).

Marsico did not have the courage to back that bill, but he did let out a new bill that would eliminate the criminal SOL and extend the civil SOL to the time when the abuse survivor reaches age 50.  The Catholic Conference predictably opposes these bills, too, but Marsico has been subjected to advertisements castigating him for abandoning the protection of children, and he plainly has felt the heat.  The new bill is a great step forward, but it still leaves the vast majority of Pennsylvania victims without any chance at justice.

The reality of where survivors stand in Pennsylvania and the reasons why they need a window were illustrated in the Lynn trial.  Only two survivors fell within the current statute of limitations, but that was enough to get the criminal trial rolling.  Judge Teresa Sarmina permitted evidence of the abuse of 22 other victims as part of the case against Lynn on conspiracy.  Two in, 22 out.  That is a snapshot of the situation in Pennsylvania right now.

Meanwhile, New Jersey is racing ahead of its neighboring states of Pennsylvania and New York (where Governor Cuomo and the Senate continue to favor the needs of the predators over the children) in its press for justice.  On Thursday, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee followed the step the New Jersey House Judiciary Committee had taken the week before:  It voted out of committee the most progressive SOL reform in the country, a bill that wipes out the civil SOL for child-sex-abuse victims both forward and backward, prospectively and retrospectively.  Now, that is justice!  The bill could go to a floor vote this week in both Houses.  If passed, this bill will put New Jersey in the vanguard of states on the protection of children.

On June 22, 2012, juries sent Sandusky and Lynn to jail. On June 22, 2012, the tide shifted decisively in favor of child-sex-abuse survivors.  On June 22, 2012, justice was served.

Posted in: Criminal Law

  • mference

    God is not done with PA, just yet.

    Some very interesting articles at this site.

    I would like to talk to any survivors from western PA who may have filed a report concerning clergy sex abuse to Douglas Nowicki when he was the head of catholic schools in the Pittsburgh Diocese.

    I can be reached at 412-233-5491 or email me at

    Mike Ference

  • It is never ok for anyone who has a position of authority over children to have sexual contact with them. Ever.

    Studies show that those, boys espcially, who have their first exposure to sexual acts in this way are at far higher risk for the the after effects of sexual abuse: depression, anxiety, inability to form healthy relationships, and far higher rates of substance abuse and suicide.

    There are resources to help survivors heal, however. Organizations like MaleSurvivor(dot)org provide information and support to male survivors of sexual abuse and their loved ones. If you are struggling with the after effects of abuse and are looking for resources and information, please visit our website.

    You are not alone. It was not your fault. Healing is possible.

    Christopher Anderson,
    Executive Director

  • Kay4Justice

    Amen! Thank you, Marci!