The Archdiocese of Philadelphia expelled a 63-year-old priest in the wake of a 45-year-old claim of sexual contact with a minor when the accused was himself a minor.
“Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.” (Psalm 27:12)
When I wrote “St. Michael the Archangel and the Scales of Salvation” recently, I included a sampling of warnings in Sacred Scripture about the grave sin of false witness. My list included the above quote from Psalm 27, verse 12. I am not certain how many readers caught it, but I inserted a comment to precede the entry: “This is one for which any number of priests could implore their bishops.”
Ryan A. MacDonald presented the most recent example of that verse from Psalm 27 in a guest post, “In the Diocese of Manchester, Transparency and a Hit List.” Since then, he has been invited to submit an article for the Center for Prosecutorial Integrity (CPI) based in Rockville, Maryland. The Center is a recognized leader in the national effort to restore the presumption of innocence, affirm due process rights, and end wrongful convictions.
Ryan’s submissions will focus on how these Constitutional efforts are reflected in the current climate. The Center for Prosecutorial Integrity has engaged hundreds of thousands of persons – criminal justice officials, legislators, researchers, and members of the public – through conference presentations, mass and social media, legislative advocacy and other means.
A central focus of the agency is described on its official site as a “Cornerstone of Justice” based on this citation from Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- “Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defense.”
The Center has recently published some alarming facts about the perversions of justice that take place when the protection of these rights erodes. This should also raise alarms for how these rights are reflected in the Catholic Church in America. Consider these findings from the CPI:
- Since 1989, there have been over 2,400 documented cases of persons who have been convicted by either trial or plea bargain who were later exonerated of the crimes. Many spent years or decades in wrongful imprisonment.
- An estimated 43 percent of wrongful convictions arise from misconduct by prosecutors, police, investigators, and other officials according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
- More than 90 percent of criminal cases in America are adjudicated during closed-door plea bargain negotiations. These cases have little or no public accountability.
- The most common types of ethical violations committed by prosecutors include:
- Failure to disclose exculpatory evidence (Brady violation).
- Use of inadmissible or false evidence and lack of candor to the court.
- Plea bargain offenses.
- Inflammatory statements and witness tampering.
- Mischaracterizing evidence.
- Vouching for claimants and witnesses.
At my own trial, I had firsthand experience with these same ethical violations but not all were by prosecutors and police:
- My diocese, in the throes of risk aversion, issued a pretrial press release declaring me guilty.
- Prosecutors withheld evidence in the form of tape recordings of interviews with witnesses and failed to disclose the identity of an accusing witness who recanted claiming that he was offered money to join the case.
- The constant threat of a life sentence was hanging over my head if I did not accept a proffered plea bargain for a one-year sentence in prison.
- The police detective investigating (choreographing) the case badgered and threatened witnesses in attempts to change their testimony and is alleged to have bribed at least one witness.
- The prosecutor compared me to Adolf Hitler in the presence of the jury.
- The presiding judge instructed the jury to “disregard inconsistencies in the ‘victim’s’ testimony.”
“TO PROMOTE JUSTICE, NOT HINDER IT”
Just when you thought the moral panic could not possibly descend any deeper into the justice of Salem, Massachusetts circa 1692, a story like this comes along to shake us from complacency. I had no plan to write about this story, and in fact had decided not to. But then a well known priest and canon lawyer sent me the details with a comment “If you don’t write about this, no one will.
This story begins in 2002. Wave upon wave of lawsuits and other demands for cash began to be heaped upon virtually every diocese in the United States promoted by contingency lawyers enticed by the prospect of 40-percent cuts from Church settlements that to date have exceeded $3.5 billion. At that time, Archbishop Charles Chaput, then Archbishop of Denver, penned a 2004 article for First Things magazine entitled “Suing the Church.”
Archbishop Chaput’s article was excellent. Its intent was to present the injustice of so-called “window legislation” – a suspension of civil statutes of limitation in some states that created a one-year window to file lawsuits in expired sex abuse claims. I could not agree more with Archbishop Chaput’s argument and conclusion.
- “Statutes of limitation exist in justice systems to promote justice, not hinder it.”
Meanwhile in Boston, The Boston Globe Spotlight Team treated every mere allegation as demonstrably true. The resultant media wave spread across the land, and accusations and demands for money intensified. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice was asked by the bishops to study causes and contexts of the crisis.
Among the findings was the fact that the newer claims, many of which were decades old, constituted 70-percent of the total number of claims settled by bishops and dioceses. David F. Pierre, Jr. of TheMediaReport.com, in “Special Report – Los Angeles Attorney Declares Rampant Fraud” (Jan. 2, 2011) reported the findings of a Los Angeles F.B.I. investigator, who determined that a full fifty percent of the total claims were entirely false. In “Fleecing the Shepherd,” a 2004 Boston Phoenix article, noted author and Boston civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate cautioned:
- “There is considerable doubt about the veracity of many of the newer claims, many of which were made after it became apparent that the Church was willing to settle sex abuse claims for big bucks.”
At the same time Archbishop Chaput wrote in First Things that “statutes of limitation exist in justice systems to promote justice, not hinder it,” the U.S. Bishops were lobbying the Holy See to dispense them from observing the statutes of limitation in Church law. As a result, Bishops can now remove accused priests from ministry in cases that are decades old and for which guilt could never be established. They replaced “Guilty” with “Credible.” Priests are now guilty for being accused.
For wave after wave, the claims came, were declared by the bishops and their lawyer-handlers to be “credible,” and were settled. Hundreds of priests were expelled from ministry and from the priesthood based on uninvestigated and uncorroborated claims. But few cases have been as unjust and unfair as the one that follows.
THE CAIAPHAS SYNDROME: PRO BONO ECCLESIAE
In the fall of 2018, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia received an allegation that Father Christopher D. Lucas, 63 years of age, had engaged in sexual contact with a minor. It was the first and only such allegation ever raised in the more than 40 years of his priesthood and seminary formation.
At first glance, it seemed a mirror image of the hundreds of claims that have been the ruin of priests and their priesthood across the land. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, over which Archbishop Charles Chaput now presides, declared the allegation to be “credible” and Father Lucas “unsuitable for ministry.”
The press release from the Archdiocese then went on to publish the long list of this priest’s assignments and the years he spent in them. This is a capitulation to lawyers and activists among victim groups and the news media. The practice has a singular unstated goal: to promote and facilitate additional accusations against the same priest by those who want to commit fraud while getting their facts straight. I exposed several examples in “A Weapon of Mass Destruction Catholic Priests Falsely Accused.”
But with just a little closer examination, the story of Father Christopher Lucas became a lot more alarming. The allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor is more than 45 years old. It comes from a time before Father Lucas was ordained, before he was in seminary, before he was even in college. The claim is alleged to have taken place – and never followed by another – when this 63 year-old priest was a teenager in high school.
As is now protocol for every allegation against a priest in the United States, the story was turned over to Philadelphia law enforcement for investigation as soon as it was received. No criminal charges would ever be filed. It is unclear whether the allegations constituted a crime, and, even if so, the statute of limitations for prosecuting it had long ago expired.
We have to be clear on this. As for every U.S. citizen, no crime was committed until a judge or jury pronounces the defendant “guilty,” and, as you know, sometimes not even then.
The persecution of Father Lucas should have ended there, but it didn’t. After law enforcement declined to file any charge, the Archdiocesan Office of Investigations (AOI) launched its own prosecution led by its chairperson, the former First Assistant District Attorney for the City and County of Philadelphia.
This former prosecutor acts as the liaison between the Archbishop and his Archdiocesan Professional Responsibilities Review Board (APRRB). For some, all these acronyms are a result of the bishops’ ongoing abdication of responsibility for their decisions in these matters. As the late Father Richard John Neuhaus pointed out in “Scandal Time,” his 2002-2004 pointed rebuke of the U.S. Bishops, they went from making egregiously poor judgments in their handling of accused priests to exercising no judgment at all.
In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to their website, the Professional Responsibilities Review Board is composed of “12 men and women, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who possess extensive experience in investigation, prosecution, child abuse prevention, victim services, and the treatment of offenders.”
In the case of Father Christopher Lucas, prosecutors who did not get to condemn him using the rule of law had a second chance to do so in the name of the Archbishop. The board reported back to Archbishop Chaput that the claim against Father Lucas renders him “unsuitable for ministry” because it violates “The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries established by the Archdiocese.” We are left to sort out for ourselves the bizarre logic through which a 63-year-old priest is retroactively held to the standards of ministerial behavior as a 17-year-old teenager long before he became a priest, or a seminarian, or even thought about it.
In a 2004 First Things op-ed, “In the Aftermath of Scandal,” Father Richard John Neuhaus reported on a remark made to him by a Cardinal Archbishop after the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was enacted in spite of objections by Cardinal Avery Dulles and a few brave others.
- “The niceties of canon law, due process, and elementary decency have in many cases taken a beating. As one Cardinal Archbishop said after Dallas (2002), it may be necessary for some priests to suffer injustice for the good of the Church.”
Though not named in the op-ed, the remark was made by one of the architects of the Charter, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Added Father Neuhaus, “In the course of history, Caiaphas has not been without his defenders.”
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