Before the #MeToo movement engulfed Hollywood and Washington with “Who’s Next?” a Catholic moral panic embraced its same flawed “credible” standard of [in] justice.
The USA Today “Money” section of October 27, 2017, carried this headline: “Weinstein Effect: Men Are Getting Outed, Fired – and It’s Spreading.” Since then, more than seventy high profile claims of sexual harassment or assault lodged against producer Harvey Weinstein triggered a wave that spread through Hollywood, then to Washington, DC and the corporate world.
That legacy includes the production of Catholic-bashing films such as “Priest” (1995) which slandered the priesthood and all priests.
In 1998, Weinstein brought us “The Butcher Boy” in which Irish actress, Sinead O’Connor played “a foul-mouthed Virgin Mary.” The examples go on and on right up to the present time, and the Catholic League exposed and challenged them all.
No one should be surprised that Hollywood, the news media, and other entertainment industries employ a double standard when it comes to sexual misconduct. Many in this industry have grasped at opportunities to disparage Catholicism by pointing to the scandal of priestly abuse.
For transparency, however, you should know that I have had more than one personal encounter with media duplicity. In a recent post – “Plea Deals or a Life Sentence in the Live Free or Die State” – I detailed the efforts of one defender of justice, former Los Angeles prosecutor Marcia Clark, to review my trial.
Ms. Clark used her media notoriety as lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial to try to leverage media support for an inquiry into what she became convinced was a case of wrongful conviction. For a former prosecutor to do this – especially one on the losing end of a very high profile trial – spoke volumes about her personal and professional integrity. But as that post describes, politics and politicians blocked it.
Others in the media have exploited the Catholic clergy scandal, seeing within it an endless source of anti-Catholic jokes, bias, and rhetoric. Now that Hollywood has an opportunity to apply some of the same standards of transparency and accountability that they demanded from Catholic institutions, only time will tell what happens next.
But so far, duplicity reigns. Over recent months, the wave of accusations has been given a Twitter hashtag – #MeToo – that quickly evolved into #HimToo. A list of outed celebrities, politicians, and CEOs has grown into the most asked question of the day: “Who’s next?” By year’s end, the blacklist of “The Accused” included dozens of the rich and famous in Hollywood, Washington, and corporate America. Many were forced to resign.
But some of the media coverage of #MeToo claims reveals a glaring double standard. By early November, for example, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey was accused by a dozen men of sexual harassment, groping, or assault alleged to have spanned decades.
A former TV news anchor claimed that he assaulted her teenaged son in 2016. The son of actor Richard Dreyfuss also accused Spacey of assaulting him as a teen. Actor Anthony Rapp says that he was 14-years-old when Spacey sexually harassed him.
At least one jurisdiction has launched a criminal investigation of Kevin Spacey. This story has created a problem for the news media tasked with reporting it. No one in the media refers to Kevin Spacey as a “pedophile,” the witch-hunt-word so freely leveled at Catholic priests who faced identical accusations.
Just weeks ago, an op-ed writer in the local New Hampshire Concord Monitor wrote that we should all be wary of presuming that claims against politicians and celebrities are true. After all, “it isn’t like the pedophile priest scandal which, for all we know, is still ongoing.”
After the allegations against Spacey surfaced, he revealed publicly that he is “a gay man.” The left-leaning news media usually celebrates such announcements, but the Kevin Spacey story creates a paradox. The media has insisted that the last two decades of Catholic scandal – characterized primarily by claims of abuse of adolescent males – has been a problem of pedophilia, not homosexuality, even when the facts refute that.
WEINSTEIN AND SENATOR AL FRANKEN(STEIN)
The June 25, 2017 issue of Rolling Stone magazine carried an article by Mark Binelli entitled, “How Al Franken rediscovered his sense of humor in the U.S. Senate.” The Minnesota Democrat had become a celebrated icon of the far-left wing of Washington politics. In the article, Binelli wrote of Senator Franken’s recently published memoir, and his decision to attend the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump:
“Franken returned to the grim new reality of his day job. He attended Trump’s inauguration, which he describes in his admirably incautious new memoir, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate as ‘perhaps the most depressing moment I’ve had since entering politics, though that record has been repeatedly surpassed since January 20.’”
I am certain that since then, Senator Franken has encountered some moments that have been far more depressing. Months after the Rolling Stone article went to print, a photograph surfaced from a few years prior to Franken’s senatorial election. The photo depicted him appearing to grope a woman on a plane while she slept. The same woman also accused him of other incidents including a sexual assault. Then the #MeToo floodgates opened.
Mr. Franken admitted to some accusations with a cautionary “I remember them differently.” He outright denied the truth of others. Nevertheless, he announced his decision to resign from the U.S. Senate after being pressured by other Democrats.
I doubt that Senator Al Franken stands for much that I agree with, but what just happened is troubling for democracy. He was elected by the people of Minnesota who now have no voice to assess the damage. Their votes were nullified by 30 politicians.
The agenda became clear when Mr. Franken used the moment to denounce President Donald Trump for alleged behaviors that long preceded his presidency, and that were known to voters before the election. Like many in this story, Al Franken declared Donald Trump to be unfit for the presidency while never even mentioning former president Bill Clinton whose sexual scandals took place not just before the White House, but in it.
#METOO CAN BE LUCRATIVE
On the day I write this, I am conscious of a sad anniversary. It was fifteen years ago that a New Hampshire priest, Father Richard Lower, took his own life during a winter’s walk on a deserted mountain path three days after Christmas in 2002. I wrote of that story in 2009, seven years after it happened. It was “The Dark Night of a Priestly Soul.”
When the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis reached its peak in New England and swept the country in 2002, Father Lower became one of many priests swept up in a wave of #MeToo claims. Three days after Christmas, he was summoned to the Chancery office and told of an allegation of misconduct claimed to have occurred 30 years earlier in 1972. He did not admit to the accusation.
Father Lower was accused only after many other priests had been accused – some 28 in all from this one diocese, and many of them were deceased. Since then, that number has risen into the 60s. The diocese was flooded with demands for settlements. A local newspaper described the outcome for accused and accusers:
“[T]he diocese disclosed the names of all the [accused] priests… ‘None of these men will exercise any pastoral ministry in the Church ever again,’ said Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, delegate of the Bishop for Sexual Misconduct, in a news conference…
Manchester attorney Peter Hutchins, who represented 62 people, said no one will receive more than $500,000… At the request of Hutchins’ clients, the diocese will not disclose their names, the details of the abuse, or the amounts of individual settlements. During settlement negotiations, diocese officials did not press for details such as dates and allegations for every claim… ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ Hutchins said. (Mark Hayward, “NH Diocese Will Pay $5 Million to 62 Victims,” New Hampshire Union Leader, November 27, 2002)
One month after the above news report was published, Father Richard Lower was summoned to a Chancery office under siege by wave after wave of #MeToo claims. Bishops across the country had quickly embraced a protocol contrived by lawyers and insurance companies. Father Lower was instructed by Bishop’s Delegate, Rev. Edward Arsenault, to vacate his parish of twenty years by the end of the day. On the next day, December 28, 2002, Father Lower took his own life.
Please do not conclude from this that Father Lower was guilty as charged. He was never charged. The claim was deemed “credible,” meaning that there existed no proof that it didn’t happen. Beyond a lot of money changing hands, no facts were ever investigated. No guilt was ever established. Absent an admission by the accused priest, the absence of investigation and corroboration characterizes the vast majority of settled claims involving Catholic priests.
At the time I wrote “The Dark Night of a Priestly Soul,” one reader who responded by letter wrote that “it should be read by every priest and bishop in America.” Well, it wasn’t. Not even close. The post-Christmas winter can be depressing enough, but for those able to steel themselves against winter’s cold reality that post is a cautionary tale about the unseen tyranny of the #MeToo movement sweeping America.
That tyranny is nowhere more evident than in the aftermath of the priesthood’s own #MeToo nightmare. Late in 2004, two years after the death of Father Richard Lower, I was awaiting a medical appointment in this prison’s Health Services Center. The only empty seat in the crowded waiting room was next to another prisoner-priest who arrived here five years after I did. So I sat with him.
I only rarely saw this man, but on that day I noted that he seemed troubled and despondent. So I asked what was wrong. He told me that on the night before, he had received a letter from lawyers for our diocese informing him that two men had leveled additional accusations against him. They were two men whom, he said, he had never even met.
Yet the claims they made were eerily similar to the claims that sent that priest to prison. This is not as eerie as it seems. Back in 2002, the activist organization, Bishop Accountability established a heavily traveled website for the unstated purpose of helping new accusers to frame their claims with details and dates drawn from other, already “settled” claims.
If the stories of the two new accusers sounded familiar to the priest, it’s because they were following a published script. Both men, by the way, were clients of the same attorney whose 2002 settlement is described above. He amassed multiple rounds of mediated settlements obtaining millions in contingency fees.
Just days after that priest told me he was accused by two accusers he had never met, I received a letter from the same attorney for my diocese. I, too, had been named in two new #MeToo claims by two men whose names I had never before even heard. But my #MeToo moment turned into #NeverAgain.
I sent the lawyer’s letter to The Wall Street Journal. This initiated a probe of this story in 2004 resulting in “A Priest’s Story [Part 1],” a set of April 2005 articles, the first of several by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz. [see Part 2 and Followup] Her articles named most of the accusers who sought or obtained settlements with false accusations.
One lawyer – the one cited above – howled that his clients signed non-disclosure agreements with the diocese. But I was never a party to any such agreement. The newer accusers were among many brought forward by the same lawyer quoted in the news article above. According to a January 2017 article, he obtained 250 such settlements in claims against priests of this diocese, many following scripts that had been laid out on the Internet.
For an example of one of these overused scripts, see a brief but stunning article by Ryan MacDonald that demonstrates how my accusers and their lawyers “downloaded” a script from a November 1988 Geraldo Rivera show to frame their claims and monetary demands. Since then, the same script (it takes place in a YMCA hot tub!) has shown up in numerous claims against Catholic priests throughout the country.
The last word goes to Ryan MacDonald’s “A Touch of Déjà Vu.”
Note from Father Gordon J. MacRae: Father Richard John Neuhaus left this world in God’s friendship on January 9, 2009, six months before These Stone Walls began. Here is his assessment of the U.S. Bishops’ Dallas Charter which was a response to the first #MeToo scare:
“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 [in the Dallas Charter] a thoroughly unbiblical, untraditional, and un-Catholic 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.” (Fr Richard John Neuhaus, Scandal Time.)