A disturbing trend in the media coverage of the Philadelphia clergy cases is that many journalists have already assigned certain guilt to the individuals who are facing trial. Journalists' lack of scrutiny of the actual charges against the men has been frustrating, to say the least.
For starters, journalists may wish to take a closer look at the criminal history and dubious credibility of the accuser of Fr. James Brennan. This single individual – a man by the name of Mark Bukowski – accused Fr. Brennan in 2005 of brutally raping him about a decade earlier.
But who is this man accusing Fr. Brennan? We have to dig deep to learn that this accuser:
- has multiple aliases;
- has two fraud-related criminal convictions; and
- currently sits in jail on theft and forgery charges.
On Tuesday, March 15, 2011, Fr. Brennan and his attorney, Richard L. DeSipio, appeared on the Chris Stigall Show on Talk Radio 1210, WPHT, in Philadelphia.
Near the end of the interview, Mr. DeSipio described a troubling incident in 2005, in which the accuser filed a bogus police report. With excruciating detail, the accuser described how he had been a victim of a violent home robbery. If it were not for an alert and suspicious police detective, the man may have gotten away with his ruse. Here is how Mr. DeSipio described the episode:
"What this accuser did [in 2005], the same year that he accuses Father Brennan, he calls the police, has a detective come over to his house – I have the police report that I brought here with me – where he reports an event that never occurred. He doesn't just say, in general, a crime occurred. He says it was a home invasion, a violent assault, and a theft: That while watching television he was confronted by two men who broke into his home; that one of the subjects assaulted him with an unknown sharp object; that there was a violent struggle that lasted about a minute; that $675 that he received from an employer was stolen, a DVD, prescription medicines, and a wristwatch. He showed the police several small cuts that he inflicted on himself, that he put there. He showed them a t-shirt, that had no cuts or blood.
"Well, the police investigated. He had no employer, no one they could find. He lied about this entire event. His mother was home at the time that he alleged that this crime happened. Nothing happened.
"He pled guilty …
"It's not just a false report. It's a manipulative, deliberate, self-serving lie. What is going on in 2005 that this accuser makes up detailed stories about other people? What is he trying to get? Well, in 2005, this accuser's family filed bankruptcy. This accuser's father lost his job over in Jersey for political reasons. This accuser went to Father Brennan and another family looking for money and looking for a job. There's your motivation … The grand jury left this out of their report. They took this from the press. It's a public document. They had it … Why didn't the [grand jury] present this? All we're asking for is some fairness. Present both sides."
For his part, Fr. Brennan has steadfastly maintained that he wants a criminal trial to clear his name. "I'm not looking for a plea deal, not in any way, shape or form," the priest told WPHT.
The concluding question is this: "Has the media coverage of Philadelphia reflected the tenuous claims of the accusers?" TheMediaReport.com says no, not at all. Journalists may want to stop and reflect upon the harsh lessons learned back in the 1980's in the high-profile McMartin Preschool and Gerald Amirault cases.
We must continue to demand justice and compassion for victims of clergy sexual abuse. The horror and pain of clergy abuse is all too wretched and real for countless people. But let us also demand some fairness and transparency in media coverage of this issue.
(A reminder about the cases facing trial in Philadelphia: One man has accused Fr. James Brennan of rape. Another individual, a reported heroin user, has accused three different men – Fr. Charles Engelhardt, Edward Avery (a former priest), and Bernard Shero (a former schoolteacher) – of raping and molesting him.)
[ADDENDUM, 7/27/11: Here's another factoid that should give pause about the case against Fr. Brennan: Philadelphia does not even have prosecutorial jurisdiction over the case. Chester County does. Chester County looked at the claims against Fr. Brennan and – apparently seeing the dubiousness of the claims and the the accuser – declined to pursue the case. Philadelphia reportedly asked permission from Chester County to prosecute the case.]