January in Rome is pretty bleak. There is a big Post- Christmas letdown; there is no Roman Sun on your face or peeking through the Pantheon ceiling; no tourists to amuse the Romans. It’s a good time to let your mind wander to the law. That is just what every Pope does every January for the inauguration of the Judicial Year of the Holy See. On Saturday, January 21st, Francis received in audience, the Roman Rota, the high Court of the Catholic Church. This included the Prelate Auditors, officials, lawyers and collaborators. In the picture from L’Osservatore Romano, the men in purple robes are the Judges who get to sit up front. But, this year, Pope Francis’ address seemed not to be addressing the Rota at all. Well, except for the line half way through that said that the context of today’s culture lacking in religious values and faith, cannot but condition matrimonial consent. With lack of consent being often used as a grounds for a marriage annulment, this should have made the audience sit up and listen. So much for Canon Law.
For me, the sound byte of the address came towards the very end when Pope Francis said “it takes great courage to marry in the times in which we live.” No truer words are spoken here. In this line Pope Francis showed a profound understanding of life, that so many clerics do not have. How could they? Those getting paid by the hour, terrified about health care for themselves let alone a family, and lucky enough to really have a mortgage to pay, actually know the courage the Pope is talking about. Get this thought into your head and then read the address over again. (It’s only two and a half pages in English). Then you will see how right the Pope is when he recognizes the young married couples “so often left to their own devices”, especially after the birth of a child. The real world Catholics know how much we need the “new Catechuminate” he exhorts us to build. It is wise and refreshing for us to see someone in the hierarchy of the Church encourage us and say that this is the way to maintain marriage as a sacrament in our Church. Black and white boundaries in canon law cannot work without the “family pastoral care” and “the continuing formation” needed in the first moments of family life, based on a generous contribution of time and commitment by our adult Christians. Pope Francis does not lay out a legal bombast of how to tie people together once they have said “I Do”, no matter how tattered the marriage becomes. He sets out a vision of community support beginning with marriage preparation.
This Rotal Address is one of the best from any Pope. It is an Address that might have been lost on this audience, but resonates with the people in the pews. They get it, just like Francis does.
Last week Monsignor James Lynn once again had a day in Court. This time of his
making, asking the Court to bar any retrial of him after he won his appeal. My Blog last
week sets out the issue. It comes down to one detective coming forward to testify.
Retired Detective Joe Walsh had an excellent reputation as a detective, and a human
being. I had cases involving his testimony during the seven years I concentrated my law
practice in criminal law defense. That was before I went to study canon law in Rome.
When I returned to law practice in Philadelphia, I had a short-lived cross-over
experience of civil/canon law. The first accused priest I advocated for, as a result of my
parish pastor entreating me to begin this work, had to first appear before the grand jury
investigation of sexual abuse of a minor in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I
represented him before that Grand Jury. I came across Detective Joe Walsh again,
because he was the lead detective on that investigation.
Writing a blog gives me many licenses. Among other things, I can speak from
experience and give my opinions. So, here goes. Besides my professional case
experience involving Joe Walsh, he led an investigation into a very scary threat to my
life. In order to hurt someone who practiced law with me, another lawyer, facing death
by cancer, decided to take me and my partner to the next life with him. That is in a
serious nut shell version. Suffice it to say I am glad to still be here. In this, I got to know
Joe Walsh in a new professional way, not just through civil law cases and canon law
cases, but as a victim. I do not believe he would ever lie or be in anyway inaccurate in
relating facts in a case. He never showed me that he had an ego, that a case was ever about
him. I never saw him fly his own flag. I believe him to be a man of integrity and
honesty. I was not surprised that he came forward and that he testified. This is not
going to get him any accolades or promotions. But, I do hope it gets him some credit in
This week, in a Philadelphia Court Room, Monsignor James Lynn will attempt to finally end the long process of his criminal case, once and for all, without a retrial. The retrial, a possibility after Monsignor James Lynn of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, won his appeal of his criminal convictions, may not happen at all. His lawyers have a court hearing on their appeal grounds this week, and the grounds are among the most serious a lawyer can allege. That is, that the behavior of the District Attorney’s office in the trial of this case, was so egregious, that it thwarted justice at every level, so much so, that the DA should be prohibited from going ahead with its retrial plans for May 1, 2017. Monsignor Lynn served as secretary of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. He was originally convicted in 2012 of child endangerment, not assault or abuse. The facts alleged that Monsignor Lynn, in his job, placed a pedophile priest in proximity to a child, in violation of state law.
Thomas A. Bergstrom, a renowned Philadelphia attorney and defense attorney to Monsignor Lynn, claimed that the Assistant DA prosecuting the case, withheld evidence that the detective investigating the case believed the accuser was not credible. When Detective Walsh told his beliefs to the prosecuting DA, she replied “You’re damaging my case.” Now retired, Detective Walsh will testify to this at the hearing this week.
Monsignor Lynn was convicted on the testimony that included this only actual accuser. He was sentenced to three to six years in prison on the charges of child endangerment. He was the first Catholic administrator in the US to be convicted of a crime related to child sex abuse. In 2013 an Appeals Court freed Lynn after ruling that the child endangerment laws should not apply to him. The State Supreme Court disagreed and sent Monsignor Lynn back to prison in 2015. In August 2016, an appeal court freed him again ruling that certain evidence was improperly allowed at trial. They ordered a new trial. The Defense is claiming that a retrial should be barred because of its prosecutorial misconduct.
In case you missed it on Christmas Day, the NYTimes featured an article on Joseph Cardinal Tobin. Sure they used it to insinuate some of their usual negative Catholic agenda, and tell us yet again what Pope Francis thinks and why he does what he does, but this is still a very good article about the man, Joe Tobin, now A Prince of the Church. Cardinal Tobin takes his seat in the Newark, NJ Archdiocese on January 6th. We wish him our prayers for the fulfillment of this very important role with his new flock.