The names of NBA star Kobe Bryant and some deceased Catholic priests are dragged through the mud of postmortem injustice as though civil rights died along with them.
Our Sunday Visitor is a venerable old Catholic news weekly that presents itself as being “For Catholics Who Love Their Faith.” Published since 1912, it has a fine editorial staff of dedicated Catholics. Its publisher is Scott P. Richert who was once moderator of the Catholicism page at About.com. A few years ago under his watch, These Stone Walls was second place finalist for the About.com “Best Catholic Blog” award with first place going to Father Z’s Blog (which I highly recommend, by the way.)
Our Sunday Visitor – more popularly known as OSV – also cited These Stone Walls in its 2010 “Best of the Catholic Web” feature in the area of spirituality. So I could find plenty of reasons to want to stay-on OSV’s good side. I hope this post does not change that, but I would be remiss and self-serving if I let my present disappointment with OSV pass by in silence.
In mid-March in Arlington, Virginia, OSV had planned to host a Symposium called “The Church in Crisis: A Way Forward for Catholic Laity.” A recent editorial, “Be Part of the Solution,” called upon faithful Catholics to take part in the conference in order, among other noble endeavors, “to offer practical tools for healing and restoring trust.” The Symposium was subsequently, mercifully, postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
No one could find fault with that endeavor, and I certainly would not. However, there is a problem with the “practical tools” with which OSV proposes to heal and restore trust. In a previous issue (OSV, Feb. 16-22), editors included a news brief entitled, “Independent ProPublica posts names of accused clergy.”
OSV reported that ProPublica, an “independent, nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power,” published a database with the names of more than 5,800 Catholic priests “credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct.” OSV editors reported that as of January 20, 2020, at least 178 U.S. dioceses and religious orders have posted these lists.
The remaining dioceses have not done so. OSV Editors then added an alarming statement of disregard for the civil rights of priests accused:
- “We hope that other dioceses and religious orders follow suit – with complete and up-to-date lists – and release the information they have for the sake of further healing and transparency.”
I am sorry, but what OSV editors are calling for here is not fidelity from Catholics. It is an orchestrated, anti-clerical call to disregard the civil rights and civil liberties of one class of Catholics, priests who happen to be U.S. citizens entitled to these rights. OSV editors are living in denial if they do not yet know what the American bishops and their handlers mean by “credible” as the standard by which they measure these cases.
“Credibly accused” means only that an accusation against a priest “could have happened.” In other words, if both the priest and his accuser lived in the same city thirty years ago, the accusation is “credible” on its face. Some of our bishops were visibly alarmed, arguing that it is unjust for anyone to suggest that the same standard should now also apply to them. I want to challenge OSV editors to read “The Credibility of Bishops on Credibly Accused Priests.”
KICKING THE DEAD AND COLLECTING CASH
Such an assault on basic rights occurs without pushback in no other forum in America. Our bishops have altered popular interpretation of Church law in the court of public opinion so
that priests can be regarded as mere disposable employees hired or fired at will. If such a standard for dismissing an employee existed in any U.S. company, employers would find themselves embroiled in litigation for reckless disregard of rights.
Catholic Priests tend not to sue their bishops. They tend not to sue Catholic media either, but promoting the denial of civil rights can be construed as being complicit in the violations themselves. ProPublica got its lists from our bishops. It is true that all of the priests on those lists have been accused. It is not at all true that all or even most of those accusations have been substantiated or proven through any legal process.
Few of the priests on these lists have been charged, have faced trials, or have been afforded due process. Like Justice Brett Kavanaugh facing a highly partisan Senate confirmation hearing, most accused priests are considered guilty simply for being accused. Many on the lists now called for by OSV are deceased and are no longer even here to defend themselves or their names.
Over 70-percent of the priests on these lists were accused 20 to 50 years after accusations were alleged to have taken place. The media watchdog site, The Media Report hosted by David F. Pierre, Jr. covered this truth in these pages in “Kicking the Dead and Collecting Cash.” Catholic writer Ryan A. MacDonald wrote powerfully of the affront to canon law and basic Constitutional fairness that these lists present in “A Dark Age for Priests: Bishops as Judge, Jury, Executioner.”
The handling of claims against most priests is not at all like what happens in most other charges of abuse. You have likely heard that Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein was recently convicted at trial on felony charges of sexual assault. There are other trials yet to come. The case against him was brought from multiple accusers and it is widely believed to have spawned the #MeToo movement. I first wrote about it in “Weinstein, Spacey, Franken: The Tyranny of #MeToo.”
That post was named for the first subjects of the #MeToo frenzy, but it by no means exonerates them. Those first three cases had mixed outcomes. Harvey Weinstein now stands convicted and in prison for his first charges to come to trial. The case against actor Kevin Spacey fell apart in court and the charges were withdrawn. Democratic Senator Al Franken declared his innocence despite compromising video, and resigned from the U.S. Senate.
Like the reputation of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick among some now silent bishops and priests, the reputation of Harvey Weinstein was fodder for gossip in the movie industry for years. The #MeToo cascade of accusations came as no surprise to the whisperers of Hollywood.
Weinstein had donated millions to Democratic causes and candidates who then scrambled to get some distance from him. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League once wrote of Weinstein’s caustic anti-Catholic legacy in “Harvey Weinstein vs. Bill Donohue” (Catalyst, November 2017).
What Bill Donohue wrote is an eye-opener, but at Weinstein’s criminal trial, the only charges that mattered were those for which evidence convinced a jury of his guilt. In the American system of justice, due process is not to be served solely by rumor, reputations, or the rhetoric of the news media. Justice is served only when facts and evidence come before a court of law, and a defendant is given an opportunity to refute them. This did not happen in the cases of most of the priests OSV editors now want to place on public lists.
KOBE BRYANT’S POSTMORTEM TRIAL BY MEDIA
The decades leading up to Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo age, however, have also seen a growing perversion of justice. The postmortem treatment of Kobe Bryant is an example. Two decades ago, Bryant was instrumental in helping the Los Angeles Lakers win three consecutive NBA championships. Then, in 2003, he was accused of sexual assault in Colorado.
Bryant was a 24-year-old rising NBA star when accused by a 19 year-old woman who somehow found herself in his hotel room. Faced with a potential sentence of decades in prison if convicted, Kobe Bryant was defended by competent counsel. He publicly admitted to a consensual act of adultery, but denied that any assault took place.
As jury selection began in the trial, however, the accuser telephoned Colorado prosecutor Mark Hurburt to withdraw her charges. When a trial was off the table, Bryant issued a statement of apology for his behavior that night and for its consequences while also maintaining that the behavior included an adulterous, but consensual, act. Bryant and his unnamed accuser then reached an undisclosed 2005 financial settlement.
Was the settlement an indication of guilt? It is for Catholic priests, but for no one else. The late Michael Jackson was acquitted at a criminal trial for child sexual assault, but reportedly settled claims for some $20 million. In spite of this, Jackson remains an icon of progressive Hollywood, the music industry, and millions of fans, a story I covered in “Pop Stars & Priests: Michael Jackson and the Credible Standard.”
Were these true cases of sexual assault or shakedowns for money? Just asking that question places me on a collision course with the #MeToo movement and its unquestioned demand for fidelity to political correctness. Justice is now taken out of the realm of evidence and manifested in the dogmas of hashtag justice such as #BelieveSurvivors, #ChildrenNeverLie, and #BelieveWomen.
Fortunately for Kobe Bryant, the NBA and his family stood by him. Bryant moved on from this incident to become a devout Catholic convert, a faithful husband and father, and a beloved figure in the NBA, among his teammates, and across a mostly forgiving America. All was well until his sudden death in February, 2020 when Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were tragically killed in a helicopter crash on a foggy day in Southern California.
While Kobe Bryant’s family and his many teammates and friends gathered to grieve and honor his life, along came Mark Huriburt, the former Colorado prosecutor, for another shot at convicting Kobe Bryant. This time, however, the trial was held in a court of public opinion with the aid of the all-too-eager Associated Press instead of before a judge and jury.
In an article entitled, “#MeToo: Bryant Prosecutor Speaks Out,” by James Anderson and Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter – who had not even been born when her father was accused – became a springboard for a prosecutor to try a case in the news media that he never got to try in court 17 years ago.
All that was missing was the Constitutional right to a defense and a presumption of innocence. Missing also was a trial of facts that included facing and cross examination of an accuser.
It is this necessary defense that is missing from all but a few of the claims against priests whose names are on our bishops’ lists and various grand jury reports. (Please see “Grand Jury, St. Paul’s School, & the Diocese of Manchester.”)
In the A.P. article, former prosecutor Mark Huriburt presented a back story of abusive treatment of Bryant’s then 19-year-old accuser as the presumed cause of her withdrawal of charges. In a pre-trial hearing at the time, Bryant’s defense counsel, Pamela Mackey, “stunned observers by suggesting the accuser had sex with multiple partners in a short amount of time surrounding her encounter with Bryant.”
The article barely mentioned the actual outcome of the claims: a civil settlement reached in 2005 which could imply a possible financial motive. An equally plausible reason for dropping charges could have been to settle without risking an acquittal at trial. The A.P. article did not name the accuser.
But the most egregious injustice of former prosecutor Mark Huriburt’s A.P. interview is his statement that he is now “confident” Kobe Bryant would have been convicted if the case had been tried in the current #MeToo environment:
- “I do think it would be different today. Because of #MeToo there is a lot more support for a victim… I was disappointed. I would have loved to go to trial and have a… jury decide.”
Setting aside the insensitivity of suggesting this seventeen years later at a time of tragedy for Kobe Bryant’s family, trying a case in the press is clear prosecutorial misconduct. Fortunately for the cause of justice, Mark Huriburt is no longer prosecuting cases. He heads an internet startup in Colorado. The A.P. reporters callously added:
- “Hurlbert’s comments underscore a shadow cast over the outpouring of grief and the celebration of Bryant’s life by a case that forever changed the lives of the NBA champion and the alleged victim.”
What the A.P. and the former prosecutor seem to suggest is that the rule of law and prosecution with evidence are less important to justice than the political climate. They appear to be using the #MeToo climate to convict in the court of public opinion those who were not convicted in any court of law. This has been happening to Catholic priests for two decades. It is terribly painful to see some in the Catholic media join this unjust moral panic.[Note: After this post was written, Kobe Bryant was posthumously inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.]
“ACCUSED PRIESTS DESERVE BETTER:” – Dr. Bill Donohue
At present, there are bills pending in the New Hampshire legislature and across the country to eliminate civil statutes of limitations for bringing lawsuits in decades-old claims. These bills are typically sold to an unaware public with statements such as, “It is time to hold abusers accountable.”
What the promoters of these bills do not tell you is that holding abusers accountable is a matter of criminal law, not civil procedure. Statutes of limitation in criminal cases can be extended, but clear rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court have held that they cannot be extended retroactively.
So someone who could not have been prosecuted ten years ago due to an expired statute still cannot be prosecuted even if the statute is extended. With just a few rare exceptions, extensions of criminal statutes of limitation can apply only from this point forward. Only term limits for civil lawsuits can be extended retroactively.
If these extensions pass, anyone with a resentment against a teacher could be enabled by the #MeToo frenzy to file a false claim. If you don’t think this actually happens, then you missed Michael Gallagher’s “A Teacher’s Worst Nightmare.”
Such claims have thus far cost the Catholic Church in the United States over $4 billion in settlement of cases with little to no effort at corroboration. Your property tax bills will be vastly different when they reflect waves of financial settlements in a multitude of 20 to 40 year old claims against public school teachers if these misguided bills become law.
But there is an even more dangerous application of #MeToo here. Suggesting that Kobe Bryant might be convicted if the case against him arose today implies a belief that the guilt of others can be used as evidence of the guilt of one. I faced this injustice in my own trial and in the years to follow.
The prosecutor at my 1994 trial was pursuing “trophy justice.” In neighboring Massachusetts, the trial of serial offender, Father James Porter, had raged on for months. At my trial, prosecutor Bruce Elliot Reynolds was allowed to cite the “Father Porter case” in Massachusetts as “proof” that serial abuse by priests is rampant.
Years later, another OSV editor commented regarding those who support my case for innocence that “supporters of [the late Legionnaires of Christ founder] Father Maciel also believed in his innocence only to be proven wrong.” I quickly challenged that. The Father Porter and Father Maciel cases cannot be held up as evidence against me or any other priest. The editor quickly apologized and rescinded his remark.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue has a fine article in the March 2020 issue of Catalyst in which he writes of the moral panic that has driven this story. A portion of his article is about the case against me. I admire his courage and out-of-the-box reporting in “Accused Priests Deserve Better.”
Pope Francis stated in 2018 that lists of accused priests should be published only if accusations are proven – a very different standard than the one applied by our bishops. I hope the editors of Our Sunday Visitor will rethink their call for published lists and a denial of the due process rights of priests. As Cardinal Avery Dulles challenged the U.S. bishops over zero tolerance and the meaning of “credibly accused” in 2002: “The credibility of the Church is at stake.”
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- #MeToo Jonathan Grover & Father Gordon MacRae
- In the Diocese of Manchester, Transparency and a Hit List
- Grand Jury, St. Paul’s School & the Diocese of Manchester
“In the course of my 1994 trial, and while sentenced to life in prison, and during State and habeas corpus appeals I have never been allowed to utter a single word in my own defense. In 2011 a two-part documentary video was made of my testimony. It went missing for several years and has just turned up.” – Father Gordon MacRae
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: These Stone Walls is read around the world on six of the seven continents (I know of no readers in Antarctica). A reader recently asked me to list the top ten countries reading TSW. Here they are in order for last week: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, Philippines, India, Nepal, China, South Africa.
Next week on These Stone Walls: The truth about the exoneration of Cardinal George Pell. Background: The Curious Case of Cardinal Pell: The Power of the State Was Recruited to Destroy Pell.