Friday, March 30, 2012

Detective: Lynn Worried About Hierarchy, Not Victims

Detective James Dougherty is a silver-haired former Philadelphia police homicide investigator now assigned to the district attorney's Special Victims Unit. He's an expert on the archdiocese's "secret archive files" that detail the sins of pedophile priests.

This week, prosecutors in the archdiocese sex abuse trial had Dougherty take jurors on a two-day excursion through 160 formerly classified documents regarding the 40-year career of one offender, Father Raymond O. Leneweaver.

Father Leneweaver was identified in the 2005 grand jury report on archdiocese sex abuse as a "chronic abuser" of altar boys. The priest had special T-shirts printed up for his victims that identified them as  "Philadelphia Rovers."

The details in the grand jury report are sickening.

Monsignor Lynn And The Duty To Prevent Child Abuse

This post by Max Kennerly is cross-posted on his Litigation and Trial blog.

From the war on drugs to criminal copyright infringement, a number of commentators, legal scholars, politicians and even sitting judges have criticized the breadth of American criminal law, like the prevalence of non-violent or “victimless” crimes that don’t have a direct victim, and the Draconian mandatory penalties that are meted out, even where the judge and jury applying those laws think that less severe penalties would be appropriate. As a consequence of this “overcriminalization,” the United States has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, so that, with only five percent of the world’s population, we nonetheless have twenty-five percent of its prisoners, most of them imprisoned for non-violent offenses, typically drug offenses.

Historically, and continuing to the present, there have been two glaring exceptions to this expansion of criminality: abuse within the family (whether spousal abuse or child abuse) and criminal conduct by large institutions (like corporations, universities, or churches), both of which have generally gone unpunished, without prosecution, and without even investigation. Child abuse was not considered a crime until the 1870s, when Mary Connolly was prosecuted for “attacking her foster child with a pair of scissors and repeatedly beating her with a rawhide whip and cane.” (Quote from the Logan article discussed below.) She was convicted, and after that various “children’s guardian” boards were created. The prosecution of child abuse, however, remained rare until the 1960s, when new mandatory reporting laws were enacted that required healthcare professionals to report suspicions of child abuse to government authorities.  Similarly, in the 1980s, public awareness of the sexual abuse of children increased dramatically, so that today child abuse prosecutions are no longer the rare, newsworthy events that they once were.

Prosecutions of crimes that occur within the context of a large institution are even less common than prosecutions for spousal abuse or child abuse, and they even more rarely result in a conviction. Outside of a handful of prominent examples — like Bernie Madoff and Jeffrey Skilling — financial institution fraud prosecutions have fallen over the past 20 years, down to under 1,400 a year across the entire country. Many prosecutions of alleged crimes that occurred inside a corporation with the knowledge of other employees, like the prosecution of GlaxoSmithKline associate counsel Lauren Stevens, ended in failure, dismissed prior to a jury ruling.

Clergy abuse implicates both tendencies in American law — the reluctance to prosecute child abuse by people close to the family and the preference for letting institutions resolve problems “internally” — by virtue of the church’s role in society, in communities, and in families. In a law review article published in 2003 in the Harvard Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review, Professor Wayne A. Logan of Florida State University’s College of Law tied these issues together under the framework of “criminal law sanctuaries,” going all the way back to the role of the church in the middle ages in serving as a “sanctuary” that would shield accused criminals from prosecution.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Archdiocese Priest Fondled 13-year-old Girl in Rectory

It was a job that she never applied for. The victim was 13 years old when her mother accepted the position on her behalf. The victim's mother went to Mass every day; sometimes twice a day. The only thing that mattered to Mom was that the church was in need.

The victim, the parish cook at St. John of The Cross in Roslyn, had phlebitis, so she needed help serving meals to priests on weekends. The victim was the help. For a weekly salary of $5, she served dinner on Saturday nights to the priests in the rectory, and then she came back on Sunday mornings to serve breakfast.

Sunday mornings were the worst. That's when Father Albert T. Kostelnick waited at the end of a long mahogany table. The priest would hold the girl's hands in his, and make small talk. Meanwhile, the priest's hands would wander up to the girl's chest.

On Thurday, the victim, now in her 50s, told her tale of long-ago abuse to the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case. Monsignor William J. Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for the clergy, is on trial on felony counts of endangering the welfare of children, and conspiring to endanger the welfare of children. He is the first Catholic administrator in the country to be charged for his role in the pedophile priest scandal.

"He was groping my breasts," the victim told the jury. "It happened every time he was alone."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Archdiocese Priest Wrote Love Letter to Seventh-Grade Boy

Father Joseph Okonski had a pained look on his face. The veteran priest was telling a jury how back in 1995, he walked into the bedroom of his rectory roommate, Father Michael Murtha, and discovered a trove of pornographic magazines and videos.

"Certainly, I was disturbed by it," the priest told the jury Wednesday. The porn was being mailed to the rectory of St. Anselm's Church in Northeast Philadelphia in plan wrappers. The priest played one video. "It was sado-masochistic male-on-male pornography," he testified.

The priest reported the porn to the pastor of St. Anselm's, but he didn't do anything about it, Father Okonski told the jury. Then, Father Okonski made a second visit to Father Murtha's bedroom and discovered in a closet a love letter Father Murtha had written to a seventh-grade boy.

Altar Boy Stalked By Pedophile Priest

A former altar boy told a jury Wednesday how he was stalked by a pedophile priest.

The former altar boy, now 36, took the witness stand to testify in the Catholic sex abuse trial. The victim told the jury how back in 1991, when he was a 15-year-old sophomore at Bishop John Neumann High School, he was in a book store browsing through gay pornographic magazines when he realized he was being watched.

The victim described himself as a "tiny" five-foot-one, 110-pound kid "with big hair and a moustache" who was wearing his Bishop Neumann jacket. Father Francis X. Trauger was at least 6-foot-3, the victim testified, dressed in black, but not wearing a collar.

"He taps me on the shoulder and confronts me," the victim recalled. He had a half-dozen mags rolled up in his hand. "What are you buying?" the priest wanted to know. "I just have some magazines," the victim recalled saying.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"The Avery Files"

"Father Ed" Avery liked to hang out at Smokey Joe's and drink beer with college kids. He was into sleepovers with altar boys. He also preferred to spin records as a DJ rather than say Mass.

In Common Pleas Court over the past two days, the prosecution opened up "The Avery Files" -- more than 100 confidential documents dealing with accusations of sex abuse against Father Edward V. Avery.

The priest, a defendant in the archdiocese sex abuse case, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old, and faces a prison sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years. But that guilty plea didn't end Father Ed's role in the ongoing archdiocese sex abuse case. The Avery files were introduced by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington while he examined Detective Joseph Walsh, a Philadelphia police officer investigating archdiocese sex abuse since 2002.

The Sins of the Past — Evidence Of "Prior Bad Acts" By The Archdiocese May Be A Daily Issue

Although many Catholic priests have been prosecuted and then convicted of abusing children, this trial is unique because Monsignor Lynn is the first Catholic official prosecuted and brought to a jury trial on criminal charges of endangering the welfare of children by failing to investigate and report allegations of child abuse.  The only similar case in the United States involves Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, and that case is still in its early stages, with a judge poised to rule on whether the prosecution can continue at all.

The prosecution of Monsignor Lynn thus raises a number of novel legal issues that do not arise in a typical child molestation prosecution, even one involving religious figures. In many ways, the prosecution is closer to a white collar fraud prosecution than a molestation prosecution, because Lynn's relationship with the rest of the church is central to the case. In his opening statement, Lynn's lawyer confirmed months of speculation that Lynn was going to defend himself by conceding that he knew about the allegations, that he tried to act on them, but that he was stymied in his efforts by others in the Archdiocese, including Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. As Lynn's lawyer told the jury in his opening statement, "You're going to see that Msgr. Lynn did his damndest to get a handle on this awful issue." To tell if that's true or not, the jury is going to have to see inside the Archdiocese.

The Prosecutor's Opening Statement: Whispers in the Dark

She came out whispering, and left behind a confusing pile of facts. But there weren't any objections, mainly because even the lawyers seated nearby in the courtroom had a hard time hearing what the prosecutor had to say in her opening statement.

Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho took center stage Monday as the archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case opened on the third floor of the Criminal Justice Center. The courtroom was packed with 30 journalists, including representatives from the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN. Four courtroom artists were ready to slap down paint and chalk. Several priests also showed up wearing collars, presumably to support their accused brethren.

But for more than an hour, as Coelho rambled, the biggest challenge was hearing what she had to say. She spoke in a barely audible tone that had the press and courtroom clerks scrambling around the room and straining their ears, in a vain attempt to figure out what was going on.  It's not as if the district attorney's office can't be eloquent about the subject of pedophile priests; a 418-page grand jury report released by the DA in 2005 was a literary masterpiece.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

About the Author

Ralph Cipriano was the first reporter to take a critical look at the Catholic archdiocese of Philadelphia. Writing in the early 1990s as the religion reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and subsequently, as a freelancer for National Catholic Reporter, Cipriano examined secrecy and lavish spending under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. He also explored the findings of the grand jury that investigated sex abuse in the archdiocese.

His work has been recognized by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, which includes The Catholic Standard & Times, the official newspaper of the archdiocese of Philadelphia. In 1999, the Catholic Press Association awarded a First Place for Investigative Reporting for Lavish Spending in Archdiocese Skips Inner City, published June 19, 1998 in National Catholic Reporter. In 2006, the Catholic Press Association awarded a First Place for Best News Writing for a national event for Grand Jury Findings, published on Oct. 7, 2005 under the headline: “Philadelphia cardinals ‘excused and enabled abuse, covered up crimes.’ ”

Cipriano is the author of Courtroom Cowboy, The Life of Legal Trailblazer Jim Beasley, who was Cipriano's lawyer in a historic libel case against The Philadelphia Inquirer over the veracity of his coverage of the archdiocese, a battle recounted in Chapter 21 of the book. His most recent book is The Hit Man, A True Story of Murder, Redemption and the Melrose Diner, about the life and crimes of former Mafia hit man John Veasey, also available on Kindle.

About This Blog

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William J. Lynn, Edward V. Avery and James J. Brennan is an important case. Everybody can't be in the courtroom, so The Beasley Firm asked veteran reporter Ralph Cipriano to blog the trial. He is one of 30 journalists accredited by the Philadelphia district attorney's office to cover the case, unfolding daily in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center.

We pledge to be an independent voice. That means we will chase this story where ever it goes, and not follow any predetermined plot line. And because we are intimately aware of the Constitutional rights and protections afforded to all, including the accused, we are not going to censor our accounts.

What happens in Courtroom 304 is often raw, upsetting and obscene. We are not going to clean it up, and we are going to play it straight down the middle. That's why both defenders and critics of the Catholic Church, as well as victims' advocates, say our site is the only voice in the media that's telling it like it is at the archdiocese sex abuse trial.