“You knew full well what was right, but you chose wrong.”

That was the judge’s comment when sentencing Monsignor Lynn to 3-6 years in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial. As I mentioned before, this case is in its own way much more significant than the Penn State scandal, because the Catholic church is (some would say) more important than college football.  Andrew Sullivan notes that Pope Benedict was apparently responsible for much the same crime 30 years ago:

[T]his precise chain of events – in which a child-rapist priest was reported as a criminal to the church authorities, then sent to therapy, then reassigned only to rape again – is exactly what Joseph Ratzinger did in Munich in the 1980s. How does an institution allow a lower priest to go to jail for such an act, while allowing the chief pontiff to carry on as if nothing had happened, as if children had not been raped because of his direct complicity in protecting the rapist?

Here’s an interesting quote from one of Lynn’s supporters:

After the sentencing, Ann Casey, a friend of Monsignor Lynn for 36 years, said she believed he was a scapegoat and a victim of his intense faith in the archdiocese’s leaders. “It was his vow of obedience to the church that landed him this morning in jail,” she said.

That is to say, he was only following orders.  This is, of course, the problem that comes from being part of an institution with an absolute belief in the rightness–and goodness–of its beliefs and practices.  Nothing can be allowed to happen that might lessen people’s faith in that institution.  And if you have taken a vow of obedience, nothing can stand in the way of fulfilling that vow.

The judge’s remark is an interesting refutation of the NOMA position that morality is the province of religion. Clearly we have a common understanding of when religious authorities are being immoral.  We need to hold them to our standards, not theirs.  So why should religion be privileged in its pronouncements as to what is right and wrong?

Let’s hope Monsignor Lynn has a chance to ponder this in prison.

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