He is being tried, reports THE NEW YORK TIMES, for felony charges of endangering children and conspiracy. This is the first time that an official who had been in charge when proven and alleged sexual abuse by children happened in parishes is being held accountable. No one is contending that Lynn actually abused children. What the prosecutor does want the jury to decide is that a member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy failed to prevent and/or punish the abuse. If the prosecutor succeeds, Lynn could face decades in prison.
Victims of sex abuse and the advocacy organizations which represent them are watching this trial closely. A guilty verdict for Lynn could embolden them to file similar charges against officials in other parishes. What supports this kind of legal action has been the Vatican's argument in its own legal problems that the Roman Catholic Church is decentralized. The hierarchy at the Vatican has little to do with the daily operation of the parishes in America.
This mirrors the decentralization stance of "Dukes v. Wal-Mart" whose class action status was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Defendant Wal-Mart convinced SCOTUS that, given this decentralization, managers at the stores were relatively autonomous and therefore could not have conspired to discriminate against women. The Justices threw out the class action part of the lawsuit.
Theoretically, every diocese and archdiocese in America could be the setting of the kind of trial going on in Philadelphia. Such exposure could disclose, over and over again, how the Roman Catholic religion operates as an organization. Officials could wind up in prison, just as some priests have. The legal fees could bankrupt parts of the Roman Catholic Church.
Here in the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Bishop William Lori, after negotiating settlements with the alleged victims, approached SCOTUS several times to keep the records sealed. Recently, the Vatican appointed Lori as Archbishop of Baltimore. At the time of the settlements, he had been praised in some circles for how he had managed the sensitive manner. Then media outlets such as THE NEW YORK TIMES requested that the legal documents be made public. They won.
Disclosure: In 2004, I was a paid communications consultant to the diocese of Bridgeport.