A California criminal case involving retaliation for alleged sexual abuse decades ago by a Catholic priest is raising questions about whether vigilante justice is ever appropriate, reports Time magazine. William Lynch, 44, was arrested last month for going into a northern California nursing home, luring an elderly priest into the lobby and beating him bloody. Lynch said that when he was 7 years old the priest, Jerold Lindner, 65, had sexually molested him. After Lynch was arrested, the blogosphere lit up with messages of support – and protests that he was being charged for a beating that many regarded as well-deserved payback. When Lynch was arraigned in San Jose, his backers marched with signs attacking the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse in its ranks and proclaiming “Free Willy.”
Lynch has vowed to fight the assault charge against him and to make Lindner – who has denied abusing him – the issue. Yet the question is whether we as a society are prepared for crossing that line. In the 1980s in New York City, Bernhard Goetz – a subway rider who shot four young men he believed were menacing him – ignited a national debate over vigilantism. Lynch’s trial has the potential to raise the same issue for a new generation: When, if ever, does someone have the right to take the law into his own hands?