Pennsylvania, it seems, has been under a national spotlight over the last 5 years or so for priest sex abuse scandals. Monsignor William J. Lynn,formerly of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, was the first church official in the U.S. to be tried and convicted for a crime against children.
His case, however, continues. After he was tried and convicted, his case went through years of appeals. Most recently in 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sided with Lynn and upheld reversal of his conviction, based on something that happened at trial. Lynn’s case is back on the docket in the criminal courts in Philadelphia with a May 2017 trial date.
No civil lawsuits against Lynn has emerged yet, but only time will tell. There may still be time for victims of priest abuse in Philadelphia to seek justice through the civil courts.
Lynn’s prosecution was sparked by an extensive investigation into the Catholic Church in Philadelphia which started over 10 years ago. The Philadelphia Archdiocese was investigated by two grand juries, the first in 2005 and the second in 2011.
The grand jury reports revealed that dozens of priests sexually abused children over decades, and what’s even more troubling is that there were multiple allegations of widespread attempts to suppress reports and shield abusive priests. These allegations form some of the basis of the prosecution against Lynn, who was convicted of endangering the welfare of children.
More recently, the Archdiocese of Altoona-Johnstown is facing strikingly similar accusations. A March 2016 grand jury report revealed a fact that most probably already know, that sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is practically ingrained in its history.
Criminal & Civil Cases – Do They Affect Each Other?
The reality is that criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits don’t really affect each other. They definitely do NOT depend on each other. There’s no requirement that a victim of priest abuse file a criminal case, much less succeed in one.
A criminal case could fail, i.e., the perpetrator could be found not guilty, and the victim could still succeed in a civil lawsuit. And vice versa. A victim could lose a civil lawsuit, and still have the perpetrator convicted in a criminal case. That’s because the criminal and civil justice systems are entirely different from each other. The procedure is different, and even some rules at trial are different. The outcome of one case in no way affects the outcome of the other.
A victim of abuse can file one or both types of cases and in whatever order. Theoretically, a victim could file a civil lawsuit first, and then file a criminal case. However, in most situations, the criminal case usually happens first, if it happens at all. The criminal case gets resolved by way of a plea or trial, and then the civil lawsuit usually starts. That tends to be the most common pattern. Rarely, does a civil lawsuit occur before a criminal prosecution. That’s because the vast majority of victims of sex abuse will file a report with law enforcement before they take legal action in the civil courts.
Statements Can Be Used Against a Party
One of the most critical aspects of a case, whether it’s a criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit, is the statements which will invariably be made during the course of a case. Oftentimes, the statements made during one case will be used in the other.
The Bill Cosby criminal case in Montgomery County, PA is one of the instances where a civil lawsuit happened before a criminal prosecution. This occurred due to differing opinions of the district attorneys who were in office at different times. The district attorney in office in 2005 did not feel that a criminal prosecution could succeed. Over a decade later, a different district attorney disagreed and proceeded with the criminal case.
The case provides a good example of how statements made during one case can affect the other. Cosby testified at a deposition in a civil case brought by his alleged victim in 2005. Cosby tried to argue that the deposition testimony was inadmissible. In December 2016, the trial judge disagreed and ruled that the deposition testimony could be admitted in the prosecution’s case.
Statements in Civil Lawsuits
In a typical criminal case, a defendant will usually be interviewed by law enforcement. The defendant might talk about the underlying criminal events with others. There may be evidence on the defendant’s phone (texts), computer (photos or emails), etc. Eventually the defendant might testify at trial or at sentencing. Down the road, the defendant may make statements to a probation or parole officer or at a probation/parole hearing. Any of these statements can be used in a civil lawsuit to prove the plaintiff’s case.
Lynn’s criminal case, particularly the retrial, are certainly a trove of statements made by church employees, witnesses, victims, etc. Both sides of any subsequent criminal or civil case will be able to access the court files and court transcripts. The same is true of the recent scandal involving the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
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