What's the appropriate response when your tormentor gets his comeuppance?
Should you clap? Sigh? Sob? Smile in recognition of a rare moment of karmic payback?
Msgr. William J. Lynn didn't rape anyone, but he still received a three- to six-year sentence in prison for endangering the welfare of children. He's guilty of inaction more than action. He sullied the priesthood not as a predator, but as the worst kind of company man - a pathologically passive-aggressive coward afraid to question his boss.
Vicky Cubberley, 62, a survivor of clergy sex abuse, never expected this day, so she didn't know quite what to do when victims finally notched a victory. She reveled for a minute, then got back to the business of trying to survive a life of man-made agony.
"Lynn didn't give a damn," she says. "He really had to be made an example of."
A footnote to history
When I first met Cubberley nearly a decade ago, she worked at a financial-services company. But as with many survivors, her adulthood has been defined by treachery experienced as a teen. Diagnosed with both dissociative disorder and post-traumatic-stress disorder, she's now on disability and lives in fear of unpaid bills and losing her home.
Cubberley was targeted by four priests beginning in 1964, when she was 14. One of her rapists, the Rev. Richard Dolan, made Lynn's secret "list" of known abusers that was locked away in a safe until it proved his undoing at trial.
Cubberley met Lynn after she tracked down Dolan in Tennessee. In a confrontation recorded on video, Dolan denied attacking her.
"He said I came on to him," she tells me. "He said it was my fault."
Church investigators deemed her story credible. Dolan was defrocked in 2000; six years later, after a Philadelphia grand jury issued the first of two stinging reports on sex abuse by Catholic clergy, Cubberley was invited to speak to 500 priests, bishops, and seminarians at a first-of-its-kind event the archdiocese dubbed "Witness to Sorrow."
Back in 1993, Lynn was so noncommittal, he contended he didn't know where to find the priest Cubberley had already located.
"Nothing that came out of his mouth was sincere or honest," she recalls. "At the end, he tells me, 'Out of charity, we're going to pay for your therapy.' Charity? Ha!"
Years later, Cubberley began having suicidal thoughts as her daughter approached the age she had been when the abuse began. Cubberley's therapist appealed to Lynn, who "promised the sun, moon, and stars," then ignored them for nine months as Cubberley repeatedly tried and failed to take her life.
"Finally, Lynn writes me saying there's nothing they can do for me. I am, in his words, 'an empty well.' "
Cubberley spits out the phrase. Even then, Lynn was ducking and dodging. She interpreted his message as, Go kill yourself. I don't care.
Right from wrong
Cubberley and her therapist attended a few days of the trial, then both wrote to Common Pleas Court Judge M. Theresa Sarmina. They knew she had heard from the monsignor's family and supporters. They wanted to tell the judge about the Lynn whom victims knew and loathed.
Indeed, seven defense witnesses testified to Lynn's compassion as a parish priest and an inspiration as a spiritual role model. Why, he even comforted Hell's Angels!
The judge acknowledged that one conviction "does not reflect the totality of his life." But neither could she dismiss the wrenching impact of Lynn's do-nothing approach to people like Cubberley - whom Sarmina mentioned by name in court.
"He is not a scapegoat," the judge reiterated, explaining the biblical definition of the term. "He is being sentenced for his own actions."
In a brief but cutting homily of her own, the judge reminded Lynn of the vows he took and violated under the excuse of obedience.
"It is not that hard to be good," she said, "when you don't have to make the choices that challenge you to the core.
"You knew full well what was right, Msgr. Lynn, but you chose wrong."
At home alone, Cubberley did a post-sentence cheer and offered a three-word review: "It's a start."
Contact Monica Yant Kinneyat 215-854-4670 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @myantkinney.
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