1. In a truly astonishing betrayal of impartiality and discernment, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina sat in an open courtroom yesterday (1/31/12) and declared in front of Catholic priests and their defenders:
“Anybody that doesn’t think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet.”
Wow. This is from the woman who is supposed to assure that a fair trial is conducted. One cannot help but conclude that a fair trial is nearly impossible with such a prejudiced and ill-informed judge on the bench.
Sarmina’s comment is not only incredibly biased, but demonstrably false. In all of 2010, there were eight credible accusations against Catholic clergy for contemporaneous abuse of a minor. In 2009, the number was six. (See the 2010 CARA Report. Pardon the self-promotion, but I have operated a web site and authored two books explicitly to try to dispel myths such as those aired by Sarmina.)
While any number greater than zero is tragic, this is hardly indicative of “widespread sexual abuse.” Almost all accusations against Catholic priests allege events from several years ago – usually decades ago.
2. Just two days ago (1/30/12), Judge Sarmina actually ruled that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the former archbishop of Philadelphia, was “competent” to give testimony at the upcoming trial in Philadelphia that is set to begin in March.
Cardinal Bevilacqua passed away in his sleep at around 9:30 pm last night (1/31/12).
Cardinal Bevilacqua, at 88 years old, was practically hours away from dying of cancer and dementia, yet Judge Sarmina ruled that this man was “competent” to appear and testify in public at one of Philadelphia’s most publicized trials in history.
Please take a moment to pause and think about that.
Are Judge Sarmina’s rulings emblematic of honest discernment that is characteristic of a fair courtroom judge? Not … even … close.
Some keen observers of the criminal proceedings in Philadelphia have believed that the Catholic Church has been getting a lot of “rough justice” in the past year from judges handling the upcoming trials. Many have come to believe that these upcoming trials are more about bludgeoning the Catholic Church than protecting innocent children from awful abuse.
The latest actions in Philadelphia add even more evidence to this position.
[As I was authoring this post, the Catholic League released a very important press release, “Philly Judge Should Step Down.” Dr. Donohue is entirely correct. Judge Sarmina’s actions should be immediately reported to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.]