In substance and style, a report on Catholic priests by Attorney General Josh Shapiro mirrors one by Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda in 1937.
I love westerns. One of my favorites was “Wyatt Earp” starring Kurt Russell as the famed lawman and Val Kilmer, as Doc Holliday. In one scene, Wyatt Earp singlehandedly pursued the Clanton gang across a shallow river. Against a hail of bullets, Wyatt gunned down one of the Clantons and two of their men. No trial, no testimony, just guns-a-blazin’. Looking on, one of Wyatt’s deputies asked, “Is this justice’” “No,” said Doc Holliday. “It’s the reckoning!”
Justice isn’t done this way anymore. Or at least I thought that until I saw a brief report in The Wall Street Journal by Kris Maher (January 12, 2019). From Josh Shapiro’s vast condemning grand jury report declaring that the Catholic Church in all of Pennsylvania covered up the sexual abuse of 1,000 children by 300 priests, only two cases have come to justice. There were no trials. The only two priests who to date could face charges from that report were offered lenient plea deals which they accepted. One 65-year-old priest got 2 1/2 years. The other, age 76, got 11 months. Mr. Shapiro was quoted in the article “There is a reckoning going on in this country.”
When I wrote “That Grand Jury Report on Abusive Catholic Priests,” I laid out a case for why the report on its face is no measure of justice. It was sensational (the news media loved it). It was vengeful (the #MeToo crowd gloated). It was destructive (Anti-Catholics gave it Biblical truth). But it was not justice.
It wasn’t even a tool for prosecution. It was designed and executed for persecution. Instead of making it a centerpiece of our Catholic summer of shame, Catholics should just pause to let its truth sink in. What the PA Attorney General did was as manipulative as the abuse he describes.
The whole affair calls to mind a famous quote from the legendary and much-maligned Sheriff Buford Pusser from my post, “Walking Tall: The Justice Behind the Eighth Commandment”:
“If you let ’em get away with this, you give ’em the eternal right to do the same damn thing to any one of you!”
PETER STEINFELS: “IT’S INACCURATE, UNFAIR AND MISLEADING.”
Fortunately, there are some among us who are not letting Josh Shapiro get away with it aided by the complicity of our silence. There are voices of justice and fairness who are pushing against the hurricane-like headwinds that propelled this Grand Jury Report to do exactly what Josh Shapiro set out to do. Hear me out, please, and when I am finished you can be the judge of his tactics, his conclusions, and his intent. Let’s start with this statement:
“There are cases of sexual abuse that come to light every day against a large number of Catholic clergy. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of individual cases, but a collective moral crisis that perhaps the cultural history of humanity has never before known with such a frightening and disconcerting dimension.
“Numerous priests have confessed. There is no doubt that the thousands of cases which have come to the attention of the justice system represent only a small fraction of the true total, given that many molesters have been covered-up and hidden by the hierarchy.”
Did you think that the statement above was part of Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report? Or maybe an excerpt from one of his press conferences? It easily could be, but it isn’t… The statement above is from a speech by Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich. The speech was delivered at a press conference on May 28, 1937 as 325 Catholic priests representing every diocese in Hitler’s Germany were rounded up and summarily sent to prison on trumped- up sex abuse charges. In the end, when trials of fact and evidence actually occurred, only six of the 325 priests turned out to be guilty reflecting a very different public image from the one Joseph Goebbels set out to convey.
Some may think this comparison to be extreme. However, one of the most well known priests to succumb to the Third Reich’s oppression of the Catholic Church was Father Maximilian Kolbe who was executed in Auschwitz on August 14, 1941, a martyr for truth and Divine Mercy. Whether by design or ironic chance, PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro chose August 14 to release his scathing Grand Jury Report.
It’s ironic that the Pennsylvania report also targets a similar number of priests -301- and opens with the same condemning tone: “Hear me,” Josh Shapiro pleads. “You may have read about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, but never on this scale.” After highlighting the claims of horrific but unsubstantiated stories of rape, brutality, tying up victims with “altar sashes” and forcing others to “gargle with holy water” after “forced oral sex,” the report – now that it had everyone’s attention – went on to claim:
“All of these victims were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all. Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, they hid it all.”
In the end, the Third Reich actually assured more justice and due process than the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Of the 325 priest indicted by Joseph Goebbels, all of them were subjected to legitimate trials but only six were deemed guilty. Of the 301 priests accused in Pennsylvania, most are dead, none faced trials, and two accepted lenient plea deals.
Perhaps the strongest voice to actually read the whole ugly report and register opposition to its distortions is Peter Steinfels in a stunning article in Commonweal Magazine, “The PA Grand Jury Report: Not What It Seems” (January 9, 2019).
Steinfels, a career journalist of high regard for his integrity and accuracy, is formerly editor of Commonweal and religion writer at The New York Times, and is currently a Professor. Emeritus at Fordham University. His conclusion is that Josh Shapiro’s 1,356-page report is irresponsible, inaccurate, unfair and misleading. He presents a compelling analysis as follows:
The report’s conclusions are contradicted by its own evidence. Thus it is written in an inflammatory style, and in a length that would entice journalists and others to settle for reading only its long introduction, its most inaccurate and inflammatory part. In fact, a Pennsylvania judge also regarded it as inflammatory.
The report lacks all historical context by not providing any background for the reasons why Church leaders acted the way they did decades ago in their handling of accused priests. The report has no sense of history. It treats the seven decades from 1945 to 2015 as one block with no distinction between then and now.
The report presents no apparent awareness of changes in societal norms from the end of World War II to the present, the time period of its accusations. Like so many in this story, Josh Shapiro condemns the Catholic Church – and only the Catholic Church – for not acting in 1945 as it would in 2005.
The Pennsylvania report presents all its claims of abuse as though they are happening in the present. It covers-up the fact that not one priest in its pages was still in active ministry at the time the report was compiled. It also covers-up the fact that nearly half the accused priests are deceased while few others can legitimately face charges. (There have been but two so far described early in this post).
The report presents the utilization of treatment professionals and facilities as some malevolent effort to bury a problem when in fact the clear intent was to restore when possible and seek ongoing monitoring when not. How can any child advocate, argue today that simply throwing real offenders out into the street protects vulnerable young people? (I worked in ministry as Director of Admissions for one of these facilities, and I can attest to the great tragedy of their loss since the Dallas Charter which now opts to simply discard the accused).
JOSH SHAPIRO’S GRAND JURY REPORT IS “A FRAUD”
I strongly recommend the article by Peter Steinfels. If its 11,000-word analysis is simply too much for you, then I suggest – an accurate and well-informed summary meticulously put together by David F. Pierre, Jr. of The Media Report entitled, “Speaking Truth to Power: Esteemed Journalist Calls Out PA Grand Jury Report As a Fraud.”
David Pierre notes a misleading aspect of the report that the news media has intentionally distorted. The report “ignored the fact that almost all of the accusations it details date back many decades and that many accusers did not even come forward until after 2002.” By that time, most of the accused priests were either deceased, retired or too elderly to refute anything. Boston civil rights lawyer Harvey A. Silverglate characterized such claims in his 2004 article, “Fleecing the Shepherds”:
“There is reason to doubt the veracity of the newer claims which were brought forward only after it became clear that the Church would settle for big bucks.”
This is consistent with research conducted by David F. Pierre, Jr. detailed in his book, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, the Fraud, the Stories – (for full disclosure, one chapter is about me). He described the findings of a former Los Angeles FBI agent who investigated numerous such cases and found fifty percent of them to be fraudulent attempts to extort money from the Church with false claims.
It is also consistent with the 2004 findings of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice which revealed that seventy percent of the total number of claims were not brought forward as they occurred, but only years or decades later after 2002 as dioceses were forced into mediated settlements with no substantiation.
And lastly, Peter Steinfels’ conclusions are consistent with what I have exposed in “A Weapon of Mass Destruction Catholic Priests Falsely Accused.” That widely-read article published at LinkedIn Pulse exposed some of the fraud that has run rampant and unchecked throughout this crisis for the Church, and how the mainstream media has engaged in a cover-up by ignoring it.
While I’m at it, if you have room in your weekly inbox for just one more source of information, make it a free subscription to The Media Report by David F. Pierre, Jr. He has consistently led the Charge of the Light Brigade by exposing distortions in the news media and bringing the truth to light without ever denying or covering for the real sins of the Church and priesthood and the real pain of real victims in this story.
HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE PRESS
In “The PA Grand Jury Report: Not What It Seems,” Mr. Steinfels charged that virtually no one has ever raised the questions he now raises about abuses of a grand jury, a crusading attorney general, or a diocese authoritatively pronouncing so many priests guilty of awful crimes without trials or any other opportunity to defend themselves. I can only presume that he means no one in the mainstream media, and that would be sadly true.
I risk sounding like the PA Attorney General, but “Hear me!” The mainstream media has been part of the problem. Consider the events of just weeks ago. Hundreds of thousands of Americans of conscience took part in the annual March for Life in Washington and across the nation while the mainstream media for the most part ignored them and stifled their message. On its heels, however, the media sent a viral shockwave, a heavily edited video bringing widespread condemnation of some students at Covington (KY) Catholic High School.
Near the end of the March for Life, oblivious to how they were being used, the teens became caught up in some footage that at first appeared to depict a racial incident between the Catholic students and a lone Native American drummer named Nathan Philips. It spawned instant condemnation and a knee-jerk media narrative.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean declared Covington Catholic to be “a hate factory.” Viral CNN coverage slandered the Catholic teens as instigators of a racist rampage. It was CNN’s most visible coverage of the March for Life. The most cowardly reaction came from Covington Catholic High School and the Diocese of Covington. They issued a joint statement of condemnation of the students and a threat of dire consequences.
Then an unedited version of the video appeared, and it told a very different story. The students were exonerated and the media was shamed to the extent that it can be shamed. This was a vivid example of how the news media not only reports news, but shapes it, choreographs it, and exploits it for a leftist ideological end. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro knows this, and in his lurid, twisted, deeply unjust grand jury report, he has harnessed it for his own ends.
Peter Steinfels knows this too, but he needs to look beyond the mainstream media for his allies in this. David F. Pierre, Jr. has raised the same challenges, questions, and critiques with some compelling online reporting at TheMediaReport.com. And these same topics have been at the center of These Stone Walls for a decade. Peter Steinfels’ own venue, Commonweal Magazine, once coldly responded to a TSW reader, “We will not be covering the story of Father MacRae.” It just didn’t fit the narrative. Mr. Steinfels failed to unmask another media “availability bias” at the center of its narrative. Early in his challenge of the grand jury report he asserted:
“In fact, the report makes not one but two distinct charges. The first one concerns predator priests, their many victims, and their dispicable acts. That charge is, as far as can be determined, dreadfully true.”
The entire news media, including Peter Steinfels, seem deeply invested in this narrative which, to date, has produced $3.5 billion in uncorroborated, unsubstantiated settlements in the United States alone. While we’re in the mood to challenge media narratives, another courageous journalist has taken on this one.
In the January—February issue of the Catholic League’s Catalyst, journalist Ralph Cipriano responded to Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report with “The Legacy of Billy Doe,” another Pennsylvania story of “predator priests” and “despicable acts”:
“In a civil settlement, the church subsequently paid [Daniel] Gallagher 5 million. -There was only one problem – Gallagher, a former drug addict, heroin dealer, habitual liar, third-rate conman and thief – made the whole story up. All four men who went to jail – including a priest who died there – were innocent.”
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Are you tired of seeing your Church, your faith, and your priests unfairly maligned in the news media? Share this post with others. And brace yourself, for next week in these pages a prestigious guest will offer the most compelling challenge of all to the distortions you have been subjected to in “The Reckoning.” Meanwhile, don’t stop here. There is more to the story:
- Catholic Scandal & The Third Reich: Rise & Fall of a Moral Panic
- Catholic Media Join the Sex Abuse Pile-On by David F. Pierre, Jr
- The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy on the Cover of Newsweek
- Will Fr. Charles Engelhardt’s Prosecutor Take a Plea Deal? [Hint: He did!]