The Founder’s Story
“Truth Begins with Acknowledgement”
My name is William Lynch. My story begins nearly 4 decades ago in May of 1975. While at a church-sanctioned camping trip in northern California, I was raped, sodomized and strangled by Rev. Jerold Lindner, a Catholic priest. I was 7 years old.
I remember blacking out during the rape and regaining consciousness with semen in my mouth and the priest on top of me, his hands around my throat. As he strangled me, he spoke these unconscionable words: “You are no longer a child of God.” In that moment, I felt I ceased to exist. Later in the weekend, Lindner would rape and torture me and my 4-year-old brother forcing unthinkable acts among and between us. Watch the interview of Will’s story.
Like a textbook case of child sexual abuse, I told no one. I swore my brother to secrecy, terrified the priest would make good on his threat to skin our sister alive and kill our family. Never able to tell my story or give voice to the source of my pain, I began a descent into darkness. Alcohol and drug abuse, broken relationships, battles with authority, missed opportunities, self-sabotage and suicide attempts followed. It took everything for me to move forward, persist through multiple failures on both personal and professional fronts, and still seek the justice my heart yearned for.
When the truth of the abuse surfaced in 1996, I discovered the Statute of Limitations for criminal prosecution had expired. The law clearly stated that from the time of the sexual assault, my brother and I had six years to file criminal charges. We would have had until we were 10 and 13 years old respectively.
My only legal recourse was to mount a civil lawsuit against the institution that harbored the priest. As a result, I became one of the first litigants to sue the Church for their inaction in dealing with child sexual abuse within their organization. Although I won the case and received a financial settlement, it never brought me peace or resolution. It was not until later I discovered the provisions in the settlement agreement – promised by the Church – to protect children from Lindner were never enacted. Once again, I felt victimized – betrayed by a system that repeatedly failed to protect me and society as a whole.
Then came that ill-fated day in May, 2010, almost 35 years to the day of the rape, when I could no longer endure the pain and suffering. I drove to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, CA, where the now-retired Lindner lived, and confronted the priest who had destroyed my life. My intention was to persuade Lindner to sign a confession and take responsibility for what he had done to my brother and me. What resulted was a physical altercation and my subsequent arrest.
My trial began on June 20, 2012, in Santa Clara County Superior Court, where I was charged with felony assault and felony elder abuse. If convicted, I faced the possibility of four years in prison. I was offered multiple plea deals, including probation, which I refused. Unlike Lindner and the Catholic Church, I was prepared to face justice. I took the stand, told the truth and acknowledged responsibility for my actions. I prevailed and was acquitted on all charges.
My actions brought international attention to the issue of child sexual abuse, a profoundly flawed judicial system and the ongoing cover-up of abuse by the institutions that engage our children. My capacity to face my abuser inspired others who were abused as children to come forward (many for the first time) and share their stories. The outpouring of support was inspirational and an affirmation that something had to change. It was then that I realized I wanted much more than truth and justice for myself, “I want truth and justice for all.
Through this experience – though I had put myself at risk, I was finally able to find my voice, become empowered and begin to take back my life. I wanted to provide others with the same opportunity; but in a way that is safe and productive, which is the reason I launched the non-profit, RISE – Roots for Individual & Social Empowerment.
In addition, I have developed a solution to end the cycle of sexual abuse against children. It’s designed to clear the past while putting measures in place to protect children in the future. Our first goal is to repeal the criminal and civil statutes of limitations as they pertain to sex crimes against children throughout the United States and the world.
I am committed to ending the cycle of sexual abuse against children, and I know that I cannot do it alone. This is the next big social issue to transform. It is a human rights issue as well as a public safety concern. Without question, it is a unique challenge, and our greatest opportunity. Please join the movement and become part of the legacy to protect children now and for generations to come.