Generating fears, shameful to our ears, ruining careers; personal attacks, alternative facts, financial kickbacks: the rap of SNAP for a modern American witch hunt.
Ever so slowly awakening across America is a long-suppressed awareness of an ugly part of history that keeps repeating itself. There are prophets arising among us who are finding the courage to speak truth to power – in this case the power of mob justice. One of them is columnist Michelle Malkin whose recent article, “Fighting for the Falsely Accused” was sent to me last month.
Michelle Malkin tells the gruesomely familiar tale of former Fort Worth, Texas police officer, Brian Franklin. Convicted of the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in 1995, he spent the last twenty-one years in prison for a crime he had nothing to do with. As Ms. Malkin describes, “There were no witnesses. There was no DNA.” There was just one person’s word against another’s, and the jury – after lots of media hype – was conditioned to bring no skepticism to the heavily coached testimony of a distraught teen.
The sole evidence was a medical report of a physical examination concluding that the girl had in fact been sexually assaulted. That, and a claim that the assault occurred in the backyard of her biological father who was a friend of the police officer-suspect, was enough to satisfy prosecutors and a jury.
It was a prosecutorial perfect storm, and the fact that there was no other evidence, no DNA to test, no witnesses to the peripheral circumstances of the crime, left the defendant-turned-prisoner with nothing to satisfy the court’s demand for proof of actual innocence. So with no one having to “prove” Brian Franklin’s actual guilt, his imprisonment went on and on, passing two decades in the long, slow parade of lost time that struck home hard for me. “It’s the easiest crime to be falsely accused of,” Mr. Franklin says today.
Before reading any further, try to place yourself in Brian Franklin’s shoes for a moment. It’s easy to feel immune from the gravity of such injustice because we have no frame of reference for it happening to ourselves – or to a brother, a father, a son, a close friend,” – until it does. How would you defend yourself against such a charge when no evidence at all is needed to convict you?
After 21 years in prison – what Michelle Malkin described as “a harrowing 7,700 days of a life sentence” – Mr. Franklin had to fight for freedom even after newly discovered’ evidence emerged showing that the girl’s stepfather was the actual assailant. In a new trial 21 years after the first, Mr. Franklin was acquitted. He now has to fight again, this time for a declaration of actual innocence from a Texas court that would make him eligible for reparations for the 21 years of life stolen from him.
Over time, laws have been passed that make such exonerations very difficult to obtain. Judges in my own appeals have declined to even review newly discovered evidence because of laws that don’t require them to. Under current New Hampshire law, a convicted defendant has one year from the date of conviction to find and bring forward new evidence that might challenge it, an impossible task from prison.
In a majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist ruled that “actual innocence is not, in itself, a constitutional claim,” that would support a federal habeas corpus petition for a new trial. Rehnquist wrote for the majority court that innocent defendants in such cases can seek a political solution by asking for a pardon or sentence commutation from their governors. In the entire history of the State of New Hampshire, not a single such petition has ever been granted for a claimed sexual offense. As Brian Franklin said, “it’s the easiest crime to be falsely accused of,” and the most difficult from which to obtain justice once accused.
And as for reparations for the wrongly convicted, a decade ago, the New Hampshire Legislature, passed a law limiting reparations for wrongful imprisonment to a $20,000 cap regardless of how many years or decades a wrongfully convicted person spent in prison. It would cost more than that just to hire a lawyer to pursue such a claim for reparations.
THE CATHOLIC RISE OF McCARTHYISM
In the case of Brian Franklin, he reports that he was sustained throughout those 21 lost years by the fact that, as Michelle Malkin wrote, “his family and church stood by him.” On the day this is posted, I awaken to my 8,216th “harrowing day of a life sentence” in prison. The things that sustained Brian Franklin have been largely absent from my experience and that of any other American Catholic priest so accused.
When a Catholic priest is accused, the first line of defense for a bishop and diocese is driven by lawyers and insurance companies and it has one goal: to get as much distance as possible from the accused. When I was accused, my bishop and diocese issued a press release that pronounced me guilty before jury selection in my trial. My diocese added to the published pre-trial statement that I also victimized the entire Catholic Church.
I don’t think anyone in the Diocese of Manchester would stand by that today, but they don’t stand against it either. I think that today they have a hard time explaining it so they just don’t even try, but I know exactly what happened, and it’s time to say it out in the open. In the current climate, few accused Catholic priests could have a fair trial in America. No convicted Catholic priest could be heard justly by an American appellate court or judge. No one in the Church or judicial system wants to admit this, but it is true, and we can learn why from a 1950s moral panic called “McCarthyism”.
Church officials, after getting their distance from the accused, leave it to the civil courts to sort out guilt or innocence. Maintaining a pretense about the integrity of the outcome, they remain blind or silent, or both, about the role played by money and the practice of mediated settlements in generating accusations. I described how this played out in my own diocese in my recent post, “David Clohessy Resigns SNAP in Alleged Kickback Scheme.”
From 1990 to the present, activists from SNAP – the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – carried out a highly effective campaign modeled after the community activism of Saul Alinsky and the tactics of ACORN, the radical Association for Community Organization for Reform Now. The activist campaign used public demonstrations and the news media to shame anyone who challenged or dissented in any way from the moral panic they promoted. The nature of the forces at work in this were described recently by The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger in “McCarthyism at Middlebury” (March 9, 2017):
“American campuses have been in the grip of a creeping McCarthyism for years. McCarthyism, the word, stands for the extreme repression of ideas and the silencing of speech. In the 1950s, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy turned his name into a word of generalized disrepute by using the threat of communism, which was real, to ruin innocent individuals’ careers and reputations.”
Just substitute “campuses” with “Catholics,” “Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy” with “SNAP’s David Clohessy,” and “the threat of communism” with “sexual abuse,” and the McCarthyist aura around the abuse narrative in the American Catholic church is clear.
That aura was created by SNAP, and maintained by its director, David Clohessy. Like Communism in the 1950s, sexual abuse is real, a fact harnessed by David Clohessy and SNAP to fuel moral panic they created as a weapon for an open assault on the Catholic Church. In every media venue that would have them, SNAP stood ready to pounce on any bishop or Church official who called for even the most basic due process and civil liberties for Catholic priests so accused.
In “SNAP Implodes” in the March 2017 issue of the Catholic League Journal, Catalyst, Bill Donahue described how SNAP manipulated the media with picket signs and feigned “Holy Childhood” photos, and harmed the Church through what he called “the conspiratorial savaging of innocent priests.” I am one of them, and I thank Bill Donohue for this truth, and for having the courage to write it. Now it’s on you, dear reader. Please share this post. Shout it from the rooftops in the public square of your social media.
SNAP obliterated the civil rights and civil liberties of merely accused priests by publicly shaming them as “predators” and “pedophiles.” They knew well that these terms carried the same force of shock and moral panic as the political panic that ensued when a charge of “communist” or “communist sympathizer” was leveled in the 1950s. The manipulation of those terms, and of a news media hungry for scandal, characterized and empowered the shaming, blackballing, and ruined lives of the McCarthy Era, the widely accepted model for the modern American witch hunt.
SNAP BENT WITH THE WINDS OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
In the later 1980s and 1990s, SNAP had the terminology right. The scandal in the priesthood was first and foremost a story of homosexual predation and blackmail. But to maintain the moral panic, the language had to change to suit political correctness. The terminology did not sit well with the gay rights movement, so SNAP had to change its tactics and its language. Even the bishops went along with the new script, and to this day many Catholic commentators still stick to the “pedophile priest” story. I wrote about this in a 2011 post, “Be Wary of Crusaders The Devil Sigmund Freud Knew Only Too Well.” One sentence has often been quoted from it:
“It is a testament to the power of reaction formation [a classic Freudian defense mechanism] that an entire institution would now prefer the term ‘pedophile scandal’ to ‘homosexual scandal’ even when the facts say otherwise.”
David Clohessy was masterful at abusing the term and using its force of shock to manipulate the news media. SNAP activists labeled as “pedophile enablers” any person of conscience who called for the application of less outrage and more due process when a priest was accused.
Like an accusation of witchcraft in 1692 Massachusetts, or of being a Communist in 1955 Washington, “The P-Word” – pedophile – was fired like a bullet from an automatic weapon by SNAP activists with rancor and an intent to demean and disarm any skeptic asking for due process. The extent to which this one word was misused and manipulated was a key factor behind what writer, Ryan A. MacDonald wrote was “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph Laplante’s Court,” another post that screams for justice and for both Church and State to take notice.
An example of the tactics of SNAP came from an activist writing under the name, “Neal Allen.” He seemed to stalk cyberspace for any positive comments or articles that called my own case into question, or presented a review of the facts. “Neal Allen” posted the same toxic comment everywhere, fired like a bullet calling me a “convicted pedophile,” and anyone writing in favor of my innocence a “pedophile enabler.”
Then it was discovered – I believe by the heroic David F Pierre, of TheMediaReport.com – that “Neal Allen” does not even exist. It was a fake screen name used by a member of SNAP to give the impression that a mob was building to gang up on any dissenter from the attacks on me, on other priests, and the Church. Once “Neal Allen” was exposed as a fraud, he simply disappeared, but not before bullying lots of people into silent submission.
Now, from the recent lawsuits, resignations, and a kickback scandal within SNAP itself, it seems that none of this was ever about helping survivors or protecting children. It was just about money. In the name of nothing more redemptive than money, great, great harm has been brought upon the Church and priesthood.
The United States bishops going into their meeting in Dallas in 2002 were utterly terrified of Clohessy and SNAP, and the mesmerized news media that seemed to hang on their every word. When the USCCB invited David Clohessy and Barbara Blane to address the 2002 U.S. Bishops Conference in Dallas in full view of the news media, the bishops had settled on a harsh reality that the best way to avoid being targeted by a witch hunt was to join it.
When it was over, and the “Zero Tolerance” language of the Dallas Charter was set in place, the late Father Richard John Neuhaus wrote in his masterful analysis, “Scandal Time,” that the bishops scrambled to the newspapers “to check their score.” Fr. Neuhaus was one of the few Catholic voices to speak out in conscience against this disaster for the American priesthood, and in this he gets the posthumous last word from his essay, “Scandal Time”:
“Zero tolerance. One strike and you’re out. Boot them out of ministry. Of course, the victim activists are not satisfied, and, sadly, may never be satisfied. The bishops have succeeded in scandalizing the faithful anew by adopting a thoroughly unbiblical, untraditional, and unCatholic approach to sin and grace. They ended up adopting a policy that was sans repentance, sans conversion, sans forbearance, sans prudential judgment, sans forgiveness, sans almost everything one might have hoped for from the bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ.” (Father Richard John Neuhaus, “Scandal Time.”)
Editor’s Note: Please share this important post for the cause of justice for the wrongfully imprisoned. For more on this story, please see these other posts by Father Gordon MacRae: