I wrote recently in “Why Are So Many Catholics So Angry with So Many Priests?” about two parallel stories in the news. One was the unjust conviction and jailing of Philadelphia Monsignor William Lynn on one count of child endangerment after his acquittal on all other charges.
The other news story was the not guilty verdict of a California man who savagely beat an elderly priest in front of numerous witnesses after conning his way into an elderly care center. The man was acquitted of the vicious beating because he claimed the priest molested him 35 years ago. With this verdict, a judge and jury have declared the judges and juries are no longer necessary if vigilante justice is to be the rule of law.
The point I made in that post was that Catholic anger and cultural hostility toward Catholic priests are not a result of the sex abuse scandal, but rather its frame of reference. Many readers agreed with me that the anger I described has preceded the Catholic sex abuse scandal by decades. On the part of Catholics, this vaguely defined anger has festered and grown, in my opinion, since the first implementations of the Second Vatican Council began to take shape in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The comments on that post are worth reading, and some are better than the post itself. In addition to those 20 or so comments, several TSW readers commented by e-mail and snail mail. The reactions of readers form a fascinating mosaic about perceptions of the priesthood in Western Culture at this point in our history. It’s a story I plan to revisit soon on These Stone Walls.
One of the letters I received was from a seminarian who asked whether I had noticed that the conviction of Monsignor Lynn and the conviction of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky occurred in the same state and on the same day. Yes, I had noticed, and I think that fact stole some of the thunder from SNAP members who found the Monsignor Lynn story eclipsed on the cable news channels by the Sandusky verdict.
There was also something disturbing outside the Sandusky trial courthouse that night, and every cable and network TV news outlet in the country was there to cover it. At the moment the guilty verdict was announced, a raucous cheer exploded from the crowd, and it sent chills down my spine.
It should have been a solemn and somber affair. That cheer seemed more a response to a contest in the Roman Coliseum than the exercise of justice in an American court of law. Are there really winners and losers in this story?
Like many prisoners, I followed the Jerry Sandusky trial carefully, and I believe justice was indeed accomplished inside that courtroom. But not outside. The cheers and jeers of that crowd had no place in the administration of American justice. I was glad to hear one newscaster say he was embarrassed for his own peers who stood there to focus on the cheers.
Since I wrote about the Penn State case in “Separation of Church and Penn State: A Media Double Standard,” I have been interested in both the evidence and outcome of the Jerry Sandusky trial. The media hype about this trial, and the cheers of that crowd outside the Coliseum – umm, courtroom – make it more difficult for the falsely accused to defend themselves in the court of public opinion – a court that increasingly spills over into our courts of law.
THE MIKE NIFONG – DUKE LACROSSE CASE
As contingency lawyers lined up after that verdict to take aim at Penn State and its football culture, I could not help but think of what happened six years ago at another U.S. college, Duke University. I wrote about this last year in “Sex, Lies and Videotape: Lessons From a Duke University Sex Scandal.”
You might remember this story, rapidly disproven, of sexual assault charges brought against three student members of the Duke University lacrosse team. The charges were filed and prosecuted by District Attorney Mike Nifong who, by the time it was over, was disgraced and disbarred for prosecutorial misconduct when the charges were exposed as a fraud – a fraud he learned about, then kept prosecuting.
But the prosecutorial misconduct was not Mike Nifong’s alone. As heads roll at Penn State following the Sandusky verdict, absolutely nothing happened to any of the 88 Duke University faculty members who openly and publicly trampled upon the rights of the accused students to due process and a presumption of innocence. I am not alone in drawing this comparison. Authors K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, Jr. wrote of this in an excellent op-ed titled “Penn State, Duke and Integrity” (The Wall Street Journal, Opinion, July 19, 2012). There is a lesson in this great essay for both Penn State and Duke University leaders, and – between the lines – for Catholic leaders as well.
Justice prevailed eventually, for the accused and indicted Duke students, but justice doesn’t always work itself out so justly. If those three students had been charged against the backdrop of a Jerry Sandusky case, the outcome could have been very different – as it was for Monsignor William Lynn in Philadelphia. When I faced trial, the notorious “Father James Porter case” had raged on throughout New England. I heard his name spoken during my trial more often than I heard my own.
PLENTY OF ANGER TO GO AROUND
I am a month away from marking 18 years in prison for a crime that never took place. If I was not angry about that fact, I would no longer be either human or sane. I am in fact very angry about it, and have been since the day this injustice was sent in motion nearly twenty years ago.
As I prepared to defend myself against false charges in a trial in which I stood alone, my own diocese – the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire – issued a press release declaring me guilty before a jury was even selected. In the succeeding 18 years, I have had to defend myself against the media driven explosions of a national sex scandal involving priests, and against a Dallas Charter that gutted our rights and the responsibilities of our bishops to protect those rights.
And every step of the way since the priesthood crisis of 2002 erupted, I have had to conduct this defense and seek a legal review of my trial alone while simultaneously forced to divide my meager resources to also defend myself against my Bishop and Diocese in Rome. This is what Catholic writer, Ryan MacDonald described in “Bishop Takes Pawn: Plundering the Rights of a Prisoner-Priest.” How, then, could I not feel angry?
But there is plenty of anger to go around. How could I not also be angry about the organized cover-up of a news media ever poised to point out injustice at Duke University, or in the hundreds of exposed wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations nationwide, but always silent when the injustice points to a story of Catholic priests falsely accused? And the Catholic press, as I pointed out just a week ago, has been no exception in this silence.
A CHALLENGE FOR CATHOLIC CULTURE
However, if I had to pinpoint one thing that runs second to prison itself in the ugly injustices visited upon Catholic priests falsely accused, it is the way so many Catholics use the sex abuse scandal to further agendas of their own. I have repeatedly described examples of how this infuriating tactic has been employed by groups like SNAP and VOTF, but there are less obvious examples as well.
One was in a source that I otherwise hold in high regard Catholic Culture, by a writer I hold in equally high regard, Philip Lawler. In a recent essay entitled, “Louis Freeh, I have another job for you,” (July 13, 2012) on Catholic Culture, Phil Lawler took a look at the notorious failures of Penn State officials in regard to years of suspicions about former coach, Jerry Sandusky. Penn State commissioned former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Louis Freeh to investigate, and he recently issued a stinging report. Phil Lawler applauded the Penn State Board of Trustees that commissioned the Freeh investigation for their decisive action. Mr. Lawler wrote on Catholic Culture:
“You can’t say the board covered up evidence … and you can’t say that the board protected the men who protected a convicted molester; they were relieved of their posts months ago. If only we could say the same about the U.S. Bishops’ Conference! For a decade now, we have had incontrovertible evidence that many bishops covered up evidence of abuse and shielded abusers from prosecution. But no American bishops have been forced to step down.”
That looks fair enough on its surface, but think about this, please. It’s fair only if we as Catholics are prepared to settle for a version of Catholicism in which priests and bishops are henceforth to be seen as mere employees “on the job,” subject to hiring and firing by corporate boards for which the court of public opinion supplants the authority of the Holy See and Church law. Are we ready to settle for a purely business model for Church governance? Phil Lawler, whose positions I respect, should reconsider what he is advocating here.
Like many in the Catholic media – as I described in “The Catholic Press Needs to Get Over Its Father Maciel Syndrome” – Phil Lawler is well aware of another side of the story of accused Catholic priests, but keeps a safe distance from it. His high regard for the Penn State investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh lacks consistency if he ignores other investigations closer to home.
Last year, for example, David Pierre of The Media Report published a bombshell entitled “Los Angeles Attorney Declares Rampant Fraud, Many Abuse Claims Against Catholic Priests Are Entirely False.” David Pierre’s report broke down the findings of veteran Los Angeles Attorney, Donald H. Steier, who worked with a former career FBI agent to investigate over 100 claims of sexual abuse by priests. That FBI agent’s report concluded:
“ONE-HALF [capitalization his] of the claims made in the Clergy Cases were either entirely false or so greatly exaggerated that the truth would not have supported a prosecutable claim for childhood sexual abuse.”
Another former career FBI Special Agent recently issued a report summarizing his three-year investigation of my own trial and convictions. His report is published, along with hundreds of pages of supporting exhibits, at the website of the National Center for Reason and Justice. It’s in plain sight, but not one secular or Catholic news source has cited it with the exception of The Media Report which published “Alarming New Evidence May Exonerate Imprisoned Priest” (February 20, 2012). David Pierre widely distributed his report to both secular and Catholic media, but it was just as widely ignored. Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture hasn’t touched it either.
I do share one idea with Phil Lawler, however. I, too, have another job for Louis Freeh. The problem is that if he takes it on, and finishes it, we may never know the results because no one may publish them.