Closing arguments will begin on Thursday in the high-profile Catholic criminal abuse trial in Philadelphia, and the media is not giving some important facts the attention they deserve.
1. The two trial defendants have already scored significant victories in their cases.
The prosecution went into the trial that began on March 26 with the astonishing charges that Msgr. William J. Lynn and Rev. James J. Brennan actually conspired together with the intention to abuse children.
The charges were so wild and so far off base that even Judge Teresa Sarmina – who has sided with the prosecution nearly every step of the way in this ordeal – outright dismissed most of these charges from the bench two weeks ago. This was even though the jury had already sat for nearly two months of testimony!
Sarmina's ruling prompted journalist Ralph Cipriano to note:
"Observers were left to wonder why Father Brennan was even in the courtroom most days, as the vast majority of evidence in the case, and some 43 out of 48 prosecution witnesses, had absolutely nothing to do with him … With no connection between Father Brennan and Msgr. Lynn, it made absolutely no sense to try the two together."
2. Prosecutors have essentially admitted that an important episode in last year's grand jury report was largely a work of fiction.
The much-cited report chronicled in stomach-turning detail the story of Rev. Brennan committing a brutal, all-night rape of 14-year-old Mark Bukowski in 1996. (Mark's full name is in the report, and he has given permission for his name to be public.)
By the time the trial started, however, prosecutors claimed that Brennan "almost raped" Mark. That's a big discrepancy. In addition, the defense has argued that Mark has notable credibility issues, which include a lengthy criminal record of fraud and filing false police reports.
In addition, as Cipriano has reported,
"[N]o other victim has come forward to say that Father Brennan had abused him, despite a massive search by law enforcement authorities and the archdiocese. The campaign included articles in area newspapers, television ads, and 10,000 letters mailed to former parishioners and children formerly supervised by Father Brennan."
We'll see how this plays out.
3. Judge Sarmina has allowed the charges of endangering the welfare of children (EWOC) to continue against the clerics despite the fact the her ruling appears ripe for an appeal.
The priests' attorneys have forcefully argued that Pennsylvania law is quite clear that prosecutors have only two years after alleged EWOC offenses to file criminal charges. A look at a Pennsylvania statute appears that the defense is entirely correct on this.
Meanwhile, prosecutors did not file their charges until just last year, several years after the alleged offenses.
Not surprisingly, Judge Sarmina has sided with the prosecution (again) in its claim that the charges should still stand. (See Cipriano's excellent post for more on this.)