In the last few weeks there has been a disturbing repetition of vigilante justice aimed at sex offenders. In some cases, including the Port Angeles man who killed two registered sex offenders because “it had to be done,” it was vigilante justice. In Shiner, Texas, a rancher killed a man he alleged was molesting his daughter. The sheriff refused to arrest the father and the grand jury concurred.
I previously wrote on both incidents, arguing that the justice system has no need for vigilante executions. It does, however, have a strong need for people willing to step forward and protect innocent victims.
But what happens when the vigilante and the innocent victim are possibly one and the same? The result is a crime of retribution, a vendetta, and it is the story of a man by the name of Will Lynch.
According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, in March 2010 Will Lynch, 42, was said to have entered a home for retired priests and confronted one by the name of Fr. Jerold Lindner, 65. Lynch then proceeded to savagely beat the aging priest.
If that violent episode were not shocking enough, consider Lynch’s booking photo (left). Rather than the usual mix of animosity and irritation, his expression contains a glimmer of self-satisfaction, like the cat who ate the canary. It is not the type of look you see from an otherwise law-abiding man who just practically pulverized someone with his own hands.
In fact, I can readily imagine the emotions swirling through Lynch when this booking photo was taken. For those who knew his circumstances, the photo is an iconic image of sweet revenge – the assault was retribution for 35 years of torment Lynch endured because a trusted priest was also a pedophile.
One of the surprising aspects of Will Lynch’s ongoing assault trial is the adamant assertion, by both the Santa Clara County Prosecutor and Lynch’s defense attorney, that Lindner did indeed molest both Will Lynch and his younger brother some 35 years ago. This revelation loomed over the entire proceedings in a trial that prosecutors attempted to avert with a generous plea offer. Lynch refused the plea bargain, choosing instead to find closure through the trial.
This story was first forwarded to me by my sister, a former San Francisco cop. We reminisced about the Lynch tribe, a large Irish Catholic family who lived in our neighborhood. Because Will Lynch is a few years younger we never crossed paths, but the other main figure, Fr. Jerold Lindner, was a person well known to me. He was my freshman English teacher in 1979 – right about the time he molested Lynch and his brother.
My connection to this story makes for a very difficult discussion. I have met many victims of sexual assault through my work as a police officer, but my role as an objective authority figure has always provided the sense of distance needed for a calm and rational viewpoint.
Then, in the moment it takes to tell a story such as this, the past comes surging forward, bringing with it the fears and awareness of our forgotten younger selves. At that moment we realize just how thin the emotional armor of a child is, how easily it is pierced, and how deep the sense of fear, betrayal, physical pain, anger and self-loathing can penetrate.
These are my thoughts when I look into the booking photo of Will Lynch, the 42 year old man whose eyes shine with the vindication of a 7 year old. His expression suggests that his violent act of retribution, his arrest and criminal trial, was the only course to find justice for a pedophile whose crimes have gone unpunished throughout the decades.
Can that be true? That is a question for which I have no good answer.
The vast majority of us are willing to remove the cancerous presence of predators from our midst, including priests like Jerold Lindner and pseudo-celebrities like Jerry Sandusky. But in our chaotic rush forward we often seem to ignore the quiet pleas from their young victims. In our ignorance we have become deaf to the signals of abused children and failed to recognize the scars of abuse carried in quiet anguish by these children when they are grown.
We failed Will Lynch. We have failed many more like him. We need to do much better.