You are seven years old. You go on a camping trip with your little brother and a priest, a man who you trust and respect. The priest molests you, and at one point forces you to have oral sex with your brother, who is four. If you tell your parents, says the priest, he will kill your little sister. You tell your brother never to speak about what happened on that trip. You grow up, have alcohol problems, attempt suicide twice, your marriage ends in divorce, and you are estranged from your brother.
And then, 35 years after the priest shattered your life, you show up at the Jesuit retirement home where he lives, in bucolic Los Gatos, California, and ask to speak to him.
The priest is now 65. When he comes to the door, you pummel him, leaving him bruised and bloodied, with two cuts to his face and ear.
Two years later a jury acquits you of all felony and elder abuse charges, and deadlocks on misdemeanor assault charges. You are free to walk. You could’ve taken a plea deal early on and avoided the risk of jail time, but you chose not to.
You are William Lynch, 44, of San Francisco.
In 1998 the Jesuits paid you and your brother $187,000 each after legal fees to settle your lawsuit against the priest – Father Jerold Lindner – my high school English teacher.
In 2007, one of Lindner’s own nieces sued the Jesuits for what Father Jerry did to her as a child, and was awarded $786,000.
Two years ago, after the assault was first reported, I wrote about Father Lindner as I knew him back in high school. He was a decent English teacher, a little creepy, the butt of jokes, but none of us suspected how truly monstrous he was.
Where to start.
I do believe the Catholic Church’s vow of celibacy is a problem, and can exacerbate whatever perversions already exist in a man. You can not thwart a drive as essential as the need for food, sleep and water without risking some terrible consequences. Some men can handle it, some can’t. I think of another teacher from high school, a wonderful man named Father Joseph Fice. He taught me theology, and, more importantly, when I was a freshman and my dad was unavailable for a Loyola High School Father-Son Pancake Breakfast, he took me instead. We’ve been in e-mail contact recently. I can only imagine how the actions of his colleague must pain, disgust and sadden him.
The celibacy mandate for priests wasn’t instituted until the 11th century – before that, priests could, and did, marry. The vow was put into place by Pope Gregory VII – a man – as fallible as any other.
I had no doubt Lynch would be acquitted – this would be a case of jury nullification just like the O.J. Simpson trial – only in this case, Lynch professed his guilt when he didn’t have to, and he didn’t murder two people in cold blood.
Lindner took the stand for 40 minutes to describe how “vicious” his beating had been, but when questioned about the molestation itself, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and stopped talking. The judge struck all his testimony from the record.
How he could be so shameless and unrepentant as to take the stand in the first place is beyond me.
One of the jurors said that after the priest’s testimony was thrown out, “we all thought it would be not guilty. But then the defendant said he did it.”
Lynch took the stand – voluntarily – and admitted to beating Father Jerry, thereby incriminating himself.
Lynch wanted my English teacher’s actions exposed – the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution had expired – and didn’t want to lie about what he had done, even if it meant risking his own freedom.
“I honestly thought I was going to jail,” said Lynch after the verdicts were read.
Paul Mones, one of Lynch’s attorneys, called the jury’s verdict “remarkable,” given that Lynch told the jury he punched the priest several times.
But sometimes juries look to the spirit, and not the letter, of the law. Lindner didn’t serve a minute behind bars for what he did, and the church picked up the tab for the settlements. Far as I’m concerned, and I hazard to guess the jury felt the same way, it was Lindner, not Lynch, who got off easy.
“I was wrong for doing what I did…”
These are Lynch’s words, not Lindner’s, and I don’t particularly agree with Lynch.
“…I perpetuated the cycle of violence. But if there is anything I want people (who have been molested) to take away from this, it is that you can come forward, you can seek justice, and you can find justice in many forms.”
One of those forms is punching the man who stole your childhood in the most sickening fashion and nearly ruined your adulthood.
Prosecutors knew they had an uphill battle, and tried to make this case about vigilantism, not karmic payback.
“As prosecutors, we must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, in order to uphold the rule of law, and the high ideals of our country,” said D.A. Jeff Rosen. “We knew the Lynch case would be difficult, but our mission is to do what is right, not what is easy or popular.”
By getting on the stand and admitting what he had done, unlike my English teacher, it seems to me Lynch embodied Rosen’s idealism.
Lynch and Lindner got their day in court, and a jury of their peers decided what was fair.