A Cincinnati federal prosecutor said that keeping a 76-year-old priest in prison will “deter other priests” from abuse. This is prejudice, not justice, not truth.
Awhile back, some good people reading These Stone Walls reported that they came across an interview with Judge Alex Kozinski, a high profile judge on the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. He had been one of the very few judges in the public square to address openly the plague of wrongful convictions in America’s courts. He wrote boldly about his concerns for justice in The Wall Street Journal and other venues, and I once wrote about him in “Judge Alex Kozinski Speaks Out on Wrongful Convictions.”
Like many readers of TSW, the ones who saw that interview had been feeling helpless about the state of justice in my regard. So they reached out to Judge Kozinski with a letter seeking his awareness and advice about my trial and failed appeals. When I learned of their outreach, I felt a small glimmer of hope.
But in recent weeks, Judge Kozinski has become another casualty of “The Tyranny of #MeToo,” the subject of a recent TSW post. He was accused of sexual harassment by some of his judicial clerks and then was forced to retire. As a victim of the opposite end of the #MeToo cascade of accusations, I was very saddened by this. I can only hope that it does not end his advocacy for the wrongfully convicted.
Should it? Has our culture moved beyond concepts such as mercy and redemption? In 1987, Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Gerry Studds was caught up in a very public scandal involving a teenage male congressional page. Then Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank became the subject of an ugly story about a 19-year-old gay “escort” living in his Congressional apartment.
After the stories played out in the media, the voters were not swayed. Both men – both were liberal Massachusetts Democrats – were re-elected to Congress even after being censured. I don’t think this could happen today. The people who elected them would never get a chance to weigh what took place. The news media and pundits would make that decision for them. As our bishops have spelled out in the Dallas Charter, there is no repentance or redemption in the age of #MeToo.
In response to my post about “Weinstein, Spacey, Franken, and #MeToo” a couple of private messages questioned whether I should have used the word “tyranny” to describe the allegations of legitimate victims of harassment and abuse. However, I was referring to false accusations, and until we acknowledge that they exist, there can be no justice and no rational discussion about the problem of abuse.
I HAVE NOT GIVEN UP ON JUSTICE
My #MeToo post generated some excellent and thoughtful comments. Some of them reflected a lot of frustration about the direction in which our culture is going. Others expressed frustration about the state of justice for falsely accused Catholic priests in general and for me in particular. As one commenter wrote, “We just don’t know what we can do to bring about justice.”
It’s important for readers to understand that I have not given up hope for justice. But for the moment I have had to change the front lines of this battle. There can be no justice without truth, and the national discussion about abuse and victimhood is swayed more by politically correct sound bites than by truth.
For me – going on 24 years of wrongful imprisonment – truth is as much my goal today as justice. They feel inseparable. Most of us feel powerless over a skewed justice system that is driven more by the media and political correctness than by what is right. But none of us is powerless over truth. So what can be done to help me?
There are currently over two billion subscribers to Facebook. If TSW has 5,000 readers who have a Facebook page, and each of your Facebook pages has 200 connections or “friends,” then by “following” my page and posting something I have written places it in front of one million people every time you do it.
Some have lamented that “no one out there is interested,” or “no one re-shares these posts.” That does not matter. By clicking that “Share” button, you are participating in the truth. That is what matters. A favorite quote that I have used before in these pages is attributed to Saint Augustine:
“The truth is like a lion. No one has to defend it. Just set it loose and it will defend itself.”
And there is no rule against sharing a post more than once. Awhile back, I wrote a pro-life post that just fell off the radar entirely. It was “The March for Life and the People on the Planet Next Door.” One year later I shared it again, and instantly several hundred users shared it on Facebook and another 600 people re-shared it on StumbleUpon.
I am not asking you to share my posts because I think there is anything special about what I write. But I have come to know that we live in a culture that is manipulated by waves of political correctness. What the news media places in front of you each day is not the whole truth. These waves are powerful, but even from prison, I feel an obligation to speak truth to power. To do this more effectively, I need your help.
PREJUDICE ON THE PUBLIC PAYROLL
Here is a stunning example of why this is important. A few years ago, a highly respected New York rabbi was sentenced to federal prison for charges of sexual abuse and receiving and storing child pornography on a computer. At sentencing, a federal judge pointed out that his sentence reflects a three-fold goal: punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation.
The “deterrence” factor that the judge referred to was a hope that the sentence would inhibit such aberrant behavior in other potential defendants, meaning those who, in his view, might contemplate such a crime.
But what if the judge had said that the sentence was imposed to “deter other rabbis” or to “deter Jews” from sexual abuse and child pornography The backlash from the Jewish community and civil libertarians would be sure and swift, and rightly so. If a federal judge sentenced a Muslim religious leader convicted of aiding Islamic State or ISIS, the judge would never get away with suggesting that the sentence “deters other Imams.”
What if a prosecutor or judge said publicly that an African American defendant in a South Chicago shooting should be given a harsh sentence to deter other African Americans from shooting people? In all three instances above, protesters against such profiling should take to the streets. Judges would be publicly reprimanded or even removed. Prosecutors would face charges of prosecutorial misconduct. None of them would get away with this
But in Cincinnati, Ohio in September 2017, a federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman, was quoted in a news report about the failed appeal of 76-year-old imprisoned priest, Father Robert Poandl. Mr. Glassman reportedly stated that upholding this conviction “furthers justice for the victim and hopefully deters other priests.”
Let that sink in, please. “Deters other priests” from what? This is the stuff of gross bigotry, and it is a clear failure of that federal prosecutor’s oath to uphold the Constitution. What this prosecutor is reported to have said is called profiling, and it is unconstitutional.
Benjamin Glassman’s reported statement implies that Catholic priests are a special category of sexual abusers and fear of prison may be all that stands between them and child sexual abuse. This is demonstrably untrue. The suggestion is not only ludicrous, but scary. It is reminiscent of another time, and an inflaming of the mob, a tactic that I wrote about in “Catholic Scandal and the Third Reich: The Rise and Fall of a Moral Panic.”
Read that post, please, if you wonder whether history repeats itself. Statements like the one attributed to U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman must not go unaddressed. He is a public servant answerable to the Attorney General of the United States. I am not suggesting that you personally complain to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but if you are a U.S. citizen it would be within your rights to do so. The published address for inquiries is: firstname.lastname@example.org
NOT ALL JOURNALISTS ARE BIASED
It may suffice, however, to give this post a voice by sharing it widely. And there is more to this story. Just months before the latest #MeToo wave washed over Hollywood and Congress, journalist Paula Christian wrote a ground-breaking June 2017 article for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Ms. Christian’s article addressed the same case that generated the above taxpayer-funded prejudice from U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman. Her title asked a question that I have been asked many times by astute readers: “Is it possible to get a fair trial if you’re a priest accused of sexual abuse?”
Fr Robert Poandl has never wavered in his claim of innocence. He is now 76 years old and still serving his prison sentence while being treated for life-threatening kidney cancer in a prison medical unit. In her work on this story, Paula Christian stands out among most journalists by reporting facts that others omit because of a bias to steer a story like this in a preferred direction.
Ms. Christian points out, for example, that Father Poandl’s accuser, David Harper, waited two decades before making his accusation. There are other elements in this story that raise serious questions about justice and due process, and the role played by the news media in bringing about this conviction.
There has never been any evidence in the case, a fact that weighed heavily on one legal expert. Her analysis rings true for any defendant who has gone through the tyranny of false witness:
“When you have a type of case like this where the evidence is a ‘he said and she said’ and also given the time lapse, it may raise concerns to the court,” said University of Cincinnati law professor Janet Moore. ‘The innocence movement has really sensitized us to the fact that the system can make mistakes too.’”
It was in a follow-up article by Paula Christian – “Fairfield priest in prison for child sexual abuse loses his chance to appeal” (September 12, 2017) that U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman was quoted for his comment that this conviction and sentence “hopefully deter other priests.”
Not all the judges on the Cincinnati appeals court agreed with the dismissal of Father Poandl’s appeal. In a dissenting opinion, Appellate Circuit Court Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote that “a prosecutor inflamed the passions and prejudices of jurors by implying over and over again that Poandl might have abused other boys, and that the jury must protect other children.”
In my own trial, my attorney left for an out-of-state murder trial and was not present for the prosecutor’s closing remarks. He was not present to object when New Hampshire prosecutor Bruce Elliot Reynolds inflamed the jury by making multiple references to accusations against other Catholic priests, and by comparing me with Adolf Hitler. Those were the last words my jury heard before their 90-minute deliberation concluded my trial.
It was tragic, but no surprise, when Father Poandl’s appeal was dismissed. Joe Maher, president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii (“Work for the Good of the Priesthood”) summarized in Paula Christian’s report: “I don’t know of any priests who have won appeals of their criminal convictions.” Not one. In a nation that has overturned over 1,000 wrongful convictions in recent years, not a single Catholic priest falsely accused has had an appeal justly heard and justice weighed.
This is not just a deprivation of justice. It is a deprivation of truth. Help me release the lion. Help me set free the truth.
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Please share this post on social media and other venues. You may also be interested in these other posts about false witness and wrongful convictions from These Stone Walls: