Jerry Slevin, a retired Wall Street lawyer who frequently comments at Catholic blog sites about the abuse situation in the American Catholic church, has sent me a copy of an open letter he wrote yesterday calling on the Philadelphia Inquirer to keep light shining as brightly as possible on the case now going on in Philadelphia, as well as on the abuse situation in the archdiocese of Philadelphia. I’m very happy to post Jerry’s open letter here and at Open Tabernacle. It’s well-written, powerfully stated, and full of valuable information–as with everything he writes. It also fits right in with what I just posted about E.J. Dionne’s article critiquing centrist complicity in the extremist strategies of the far right.
Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer articles make clear that last week’s opening of the criminal trial of Monsignor Lynn, the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s former top priest personnel aide to two former Cardinals, was a watershed moment for Philly Catholics and potentially for worldwide Catholicism. Each of you are both witnesses to, and key participants in, the unfolding events. While the Associated Press and NY Times’ columnists and reporters, among others, have followed this story closely, this has mainly been the Philadelphia Inquirer’s story from the start.
The world is watching closely to see if America’s justifiably fabled free press can finally break through the countless diversions offered worldwide by the Catholic hierarchy and their well funded apologists and well placed advocates. Vatican experts recently indicated at an “abuse summit” in Rome that over 100,000 American children have been sexually abused by priests, yet no bishop has yet been held accountable under the American criminal law system. The Lynn trial may lead to changing that, assuming that Philly District Attorney, Seth Williams, doesn’t stop at Lynn and follows through by investigating diligently up the hierarchical ladder to the ultimate decision makers, the Philly Bishops and Cardinals.
The deceitful hierarchical myth that the priest child sexual abuse problem resulted from a few rogue “bad apples” has already been laid to rest forever by the trial, thanks to the exceptional reporting by you and others. The answers to the bigger questions, whether the full truth will be uncovered and whether the hierarchs ultimately responsible will receive justice, remain to be seen.
Some of you reporters know a bit about me . I am a cradle Catholic, son of Irish immigrants, and a retired Harvard Law trained, Wall Street lawyer. I have four young grandchildren nearby the Philly area. I went to 16 years of Catholic schools and each of my four children attended Catholic schools. I have never sued the Catholic Church and don’t currrently plan to. I just want justice and the deterrence that only criminal prosecutions of the ringleaders can effectively provide.
I am very worried about the safety in the Catholic Church of all children, especially Pennsylvania (PA) children, including my grandchildren, and perhaps your children as well. I am writing to express my concern and to appeal to each of you, perhaps as parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and as just plain caring people. But also as fellow professionals, who are devoted to finding and reporting the truth.
New York City has its own unresolved political and clerical corruption problems, that are sometimes interrelated with Philly’s. For example, next week, Philly’s long time recent Cardinal Rigali is to be feted at NY’s St. Patrick Cathedral, amid protests, on Holy Thursday by his former St. Louis protege, Cardinal Dolan, currently head of the US bishops’ group and frequently mentioned as a possible next pope. It is to be expected that they will discuss Lynn’s trial, privately but not publicly, unless some intrepid reporter gets lucky.
Many Americans, over more than two centuries, have given their lives to protect our freedoms, none more important than freedom of the press. That freedom both privileges each of you and obligates you as well–it is the linchpin that protects us all from the insatiable lust for power sadly endemic to too many leaders, including political, corporate and religious leaders.
The US Founding Fathers, especially Philly’s Benjamin Franklin, were worldly men and knew how powerful people could abuse their power. Franklin spent many years in pre-French Revolution Paris, and saw “up close and personal” monarchical and clerical abuse of all kinds. The Founding Fathers realized that a free press was, often at critical junctures, the last protection from powerful and organized injustice. Philly is now at one of those junctures. The Lynn trial has shown thoroughly already that many defenseless Philly children have for decades been sexually abused by priests right under the nose of hierarchs, children that were unprotected and failed by police, prosecutors, lawyers, courts, political leaders and, until now, often sadly by members of the press as well.
Would this watershed case have even happened, but for the determination of one woman, former Philly District Attorney, Lynne Abraham? Nevertheless, we are here now and let’s make sure that this pervasive abuse and cover-up can never occur again. We owe that much to our children and to the many abuse victims that will continue to suffer until they die.
On March 1, 2012, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s editorial board in its editorial, “Couldn’t shred the truth…”, indicated in speaking about the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s priest child abuse scandal that a ”…. cover-up not only occurred, but, in effect, will continue so long as the church’s battle against full disclosure continues. ” I agree with your editorial board, but fear as explained below that the cover-up may still be continuing.
I am quite worried as an experienced lawyer about the direction of Monsignor Lynn’s trial so far, both structurally and strategically, and want to alert each and all of you about some of my concerns. You, of course, are all professionals and will act accordingly. Hopefully, you will at least reflect on my concerns. Philly citizens, and I, expect no more, but also no less. As best I can tell, the security of Philly children is mainly in the hands of the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s professional staff as I explain further below.
I have reservations about, among other matters, the Philly criminal justice system and about the evident strategy of the current ambitious head of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Chaput, and his apparent “de facto” boss, Cardinal Rigali. There are many reasons, some seemingly sordid, why it has taken decades to get to trying criminally Lynn and his accomplices. There may not be another or better opportunity to clean up this Philly abuse mess once and for all. What happens in Philadelphia, will definitely not just stay in Philadelphia, so let us give it our all now!
Structurally, Lynn’s lawyers are paid as directed by Archbishop Chaput and, to that extent, appear to have a major conflict of interest. “Who pays the piper, calls the tune”. Lynn may, or may not, understand the implications of being represented by lawyers who may in some respects serve two masters. Philly Judge Renee Hughes did understand this and tried unsuccessfully to warn Lynn at the outset of this case a year ago, before she was succeeded by the current Philly Judge, Teresa Sarmina. It is still not too late for Lynn at least to seek a second independent legal opinion.
Lynn likely has little money and apparently needs to look to Archbishop Chaput both for money to pay his legal bills and for his current and future retirement income. Lynn’s case in my view as a lawyer was, in effect, likely lost months ago, given the overwhelming evidence, etc. His lawyers now appear to be framing the case to blame mainly recently deceased Cardinal Bevilacqua and his subordinates, including Lynn.
Of course, this defense strategy can hardly help Lynn. It is no legal defense to the pending child endangerment charges against Lynn that Lynn was just following his boss’s orders. Lynn could always have resigned and called the police, as he should have. Nobody forced him to accept and retain the perks and prestige of his senior clerical management position. So what are Lynn’s lawyers up to? It appears very evident to me they are trying to keep the trial’s focus on Cardinal Bevilacqua and away from Cardinal Rigali.
Cardinal Rigali until 1994 was among the most powerful men in the Vatican. Suddenly and inexplicably, he was exiled to the minor diocese of St. Louis, a clear demotion. Robert Huber, in his July 2011 Philadelphia Magazine article linked below, provides unconfirmed reports on why Rigali was exiled, including rumors he got too friendly with some young men in the Swiss Guard.
There is no living American hierarch that has more history and clout with the Vatican and that has been closer to the present pope and two of his predecessors than Cardinal Rigali. He knows well how the Vatican operates and must also know where the skeletons are buried. Rigali is a unique proxy for the pope in the dock here, which is why it appears to be so important to the hierarchy to avoid at all costs having the Philly criminal investigation focus on Rigali, even though he controlled the Philly Archdiocese for almost a decade until only a few months ago.
As reported in the 2002 article linked below by Jeannette Balz, a former writer for the National Catholic Reporter, even during his stint in St. Louis, Rigali was considered to be a hands-on, detail-oriented hierarchical manager. Lynn officially worked under Rigali for several months in 2003, before Lynn was apparently rewarded and made pastor of one of Rigali’s top Philly area parishes. With the issuance on Rigali’s watch of the 2005 and 2011 Philly priest child abuse criminal grand jury reports that covered some of Lynn’s priest personnel decisions, among other matters, it is very likely that Rigali and Lynn often discussed various priest predators, both directly and indirectly through Rigali’s new priest personnel chief and through Archdiocesean lawyers.
Cardinal Rigali was in charge in Philly for almost a decade, including in 2006, when the copy of the “smoking gun” Bevilacqua document shredding memo was “discovered”, only to be inexplicably kept under wraps for another five years while Rigali was top man. In February 2011, Rigali first tried to claim slickly that there were no suspected priest predators still working in Philly. He then announced shamelessly several weeks later that almost two dozen previously undisclosed Philly priests were now to be suspended. Rigali turned these suspected priests’ cases over to a former Philly sex crime prosecutor working then at a major law firm, with a law partner who had been previously a Philly DA and mayor, PA governor and US Democratic party chairman.
The chairwoman of Rigali’s Philly Child Protection Review Board, Ana Maria Catanzaro, a few months later indicated in a Commonweal magazine article linked below, that Rigali and Bevilacqua, in effect, had conned her and withheld information on many suspected predator priests.
A few months later, Susan Rubin Erdely, a well-repected freelance Philly writer, did a thorough Philly Archdiocese expose in Rolling Stone magazine, for which she was attacked apparently on Archbishop’s Chaput’s behalf by the US bishops’ sympathetic $400k a year “bulldog”, Bill Donohue. Bishops play tough.
Donahue also attacked Susan Matthews, Philly native Chris Matthews, MSNBC’s Hardball’s niece, for her bold but honest statements in her significant new Philly blog. This threatening message was clear–journalists, you mess with Chaput at your peril. Thankfully, neither the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Associated Press nor some other intrepid souls, like the NY Times’ ”anti-bulldog” columnist, Maureen Dowd, paid much attention to the threats.
Bill Donohue has been busy. He tried recently almost to take down the Kansas City Star with a massive publicity effort to punish the Star for its excellent and persistent reporting on another Riglai St. Louis protege, Kansas City’s Opus Dei Bishop Robert Finn. Bishop Finn has been indicted for failing to report to governmental authories about an alleged child pornographer priest, Fr. Shawn Ratigan. Major motions in Finn’s case are scheduled for judicial resolution by a Kansas judge later this week.
Donohue is also fully involved, as reported on March 12, 2012 by Laurie Goodstein in the NY Times, in Cardinal Dolan’s recent efforts to destroy the priest sex abuse victims support network, SNAP. For almost a decade, SNAP has been a thorn in the side of the US bishops. Since SNAP recently filed criminal charges against the pope with the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging a worldwide child abuse cover-up orchestrated from Rome by the pope and a curial cabal, SNAP has been subjected to a significantly greater attack from the US bishops and their well funded apologists and advocates, especially Bill Donohue. Many victims are being re-victimised by this attack’s tactic of seeking the release of their SNAP abuse files, which most victims had assumed would stay confidential. If SNAP were to be destroyed by this attack, the ICC criminal complaint might die on the vine before the ICC prosecutor gets to question the pope under oath and to obtain access to the Vatican’s secret priest child sex abuse archives.
It seems clear that Philly DA, Seth Williams, inherited this case from Lynne Abraham’s earlier grand jury investigation when he took office in 2010. Even after Lynn was indicted and Rigali suddenly suspended 21 priests, Seth talked up Rigali on Chris Matthews’ March 16, 2011 Hardball show on MSNBC linked below. In his UC Review remarks on July 20, 2011 linked below about Rigali’s departure, Seth seemed almost to suggest that the Philly abuse cover-up was disclosed voluntarily as a result of Rigali’s good efforts! It appears to be just the opposite, of course.
Williams, a Democrat, is young and appears to be destined for higher office. This was alluded to favorably by a leading PA Democrat and former PA governor on MSNBC last year in a gratuitous, and as a lawyer, I think, an inappropriate remark, since this ex-governor’s law partner is currently one of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s main lawyers on priest abuse matters. He did not disclose this connection when making this favorable remark about Williams. Why did he compliment Williams on a national television show?
The current trial judge, Teresa Sarmina, has reportedly informed PA’s US Senators of her interest in being appointed by President Obama as a Federal judge. She used to work as a Philly Assistant District Attorney for the former ex-PA governor previously mentioned, who has close ties to Obama. This is worth keeping an eye on. I am especially perplexed by Judge Sarmina’s inexplicably sudden acceptance recently of the puzzingly lenient plea deal for Fr. Avery. Moreover, her continuation of the anti-democratic gag order on parties and their lawyers raises questions as to tranparency, so important for building public acceptance of judicial decisions involving powerful defendants as in the current case.
My main fear about the current trial is that when it is over, the Philly District Attorney will mainly end the investigation. If that occurs, it would be extremely unjust, especially to Philly’s defenseless children and to the many abuse victims who have been denied justice, especially by application of PA’s arcane and short statute of limitations which PA’s legislature, under pressure from lobbyists for Chaput and other PA Catholic bishops, so far have refused to fix as legislators in other states and in Europe recently have recently done.
If this happens and Seth Williams were then to seek higher office and/or Judge Sarmina were then nominated for a Federal judgeship, I will weigh in appropriately as best I can, and hope you do as well.
Separately, I hope the Philadelphia Inquirer expands its “abuse story players list” to include the other former and current Philadelphia bishops and the ex-governor and his law partner, as well as the Archdiocese’s top outside lawyer for years, so prominent in PA Republican politics, as well as his former associate, whom Chaput inexplicably just suspended as the Archdiocese’s long time general counsel.
Please also consider adding a descriptive timeline, similar to that used recently both by the Boston Globe and the Irish Times to help explain the Boston and Irish priest child abuse scandals’ histories.
Finally, as the PA 2012 election season heats up, please consider, as appropriate, asking candidates from both parties to give their views on the Philly abuse scandal and what they would do, if elected, to make sure this never occurs again. Catholics cannot currently control their bishops as they did before Constantine commandeered the Church in the fourth century leaving us with the current imperial papacy. But Catholics can try to control their political leaders and get them to apply the American rule of law to bishops. Ours is a democracy, not a theocracy.
None of the prominent national Catholic politicians have addressed priest sexual abuse of children, not Biden, Boehner, Pelosi, Santorum nor Gingrich. This abuse epidemic is a national problem requiring a national legislative solution, including mandatory Federal reporting of abuse claims promptly to the police (like the 1994 Megan’s Law and the Federal child pornography prevention law) and a full Federal prosecution effort with severe penalties for violators. This has succeeded in some European countries and can succeed here. The difficulty of getting local legislators and prosecutors to act, for example, in respect of Philly and Pittsburgh priest abuse cases, as well as in Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky case, shows that this problem will not and cannot be addressed only at a local level.
In the presidential election year, national Democratic candidates appear to cower at the pope and US bishops’ power, while national Republican candidates appear to have reached an accord with the pope and bishops. In exchange for helping to elect a “lower taxes on the wealthy” candidate, the hierarchy apparently is seeking to elect a presidential candidate who will replace the soon to be retiring three 80+ year old US Supreme Court Justices with more Opus Dei-leaning Justices.
Presumably, this stacked US Supreme Court would then (1) reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision that legalized contraception and undergirded the Roe v. Wade decision, and (2) expand the Catholic Church’s purported “religious liberty” First Amendment protection from judicial investigation of bishops’ allegedly negligent failure to oversee properly priest child predators. Two week ago, the current US Supreme Court let stand a Missouri state court decision to this effect relating to the St. Louis Archdiocese, but that decision is limited to Missouri. A nationwide mandate would require a broader Supreme Court mandate which may come if more Opus Dei-leaning Justices are added to the Supreme Court.
For additional background on the Catholic hierachy’s accord with Republicans, please click here.
For more information about Rigali’s earlier career in Rome and St. Louis, please read the article entitled, “The Reluctant Archbishop,“by Jeannette Batz, former writer at the National Catholic Reporter.
For the articles (1) on Riglai and the Philly Archdiocese by Philadelphia Magazine‘s Robert Huber, (2) by Rigali’s former chairwoman, Ana Maria Cataranzo, of the Philly Child Protection Review Board, (3) on the Philly Archdiocese’s secret archives and Monsignor Lynn by Susan Rubin Eardely, and (4) the recent Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, please see the links to my March 6, 2012 memo available at the Catholics 4 Change site.
To see Seth Williams’ favorable remarks about Rigali on the March 16, 2011 Hardball show, please click here.
For Seth Williams’ favorable remarks about Cardinal Rigali upon Rigali’s retirement, please click here.
For the detailed and horrendous 2005 and 2011 Philly grand jury reports about the pervasive Philadelphia Archdiocese priest sexual abuse scandal, please click here.
Cross-posted at Bilgrimage, 2 April 2012.