Landmark Philly Abuse Trial Nears Completion, What the Media Missed

Philadelphia's St. Jerome Church

Awaiting the verdicts: Philadelphia's St. Jerome Church

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.)

Stay tuned.


  1. Edward.Fullerton says:

    I promise to pray,IHS.

  2. Publion says:

    Followed your link to the Philadelphia site and that article is a good one.
    But there's something funny going on with that site. With the exception of Mr. Pierre and one or two others, the only commenters are all pro-prosecution types and they all seem to be working off the same script – as if they knew each other.
    And that reporter seems to go out of his way to compliment the most outspoken and suspiciously insistent one of the bunch.
    I don't think that site exists primarily for the purpose of open and clear discussion, let alone any sort of real debate. I don't think it was set up for that (although nobody's going to admit it).

  3. Publion says:

    I just came across the fact that Ed Rendell, former Philly mayor and PA governor is now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
    I have been wondering for quite a while just what hidden pressures or forces  might have driven the Philly DA's office to bring such a deeply complicated – almost torturously complicated – case in the first place. DA's don't prosecute every suspected or alleged crime, money is tight, and there are no doubt plenty of more urgent and current criminal problems demanding increasingly scarce time, money and resources. So why go to all the risk and trouble of bringing this weirdly cobbled-together case?
    What the Rendell bit suggests – although it is only a possibility – is that Philly was a place where the DNC, bastion of secularism in a difficult upcoming election cycle, has enough personal connections to get such a case brought for whatever PR value it might have and in order to play to this or that 'base' among the Party's many assorted interest-groups.

  4. Publion says:

    I have just come across a piece by William Galston on his blog at ‘The New Republic’: in Galston’s (and one commenter’s) analysis, PA is now slipping out of the Dems’ safe-category and into the status of a contested or dubious state. This is especially true in the Philadelphia suburbs, where state government has brought budget cuts in primary and secondary education (a major Philly suburban concern) while refusing to impose taxes on the shale-gas industry (sited mostly in the West and North of the state).
    If Galston is accurate, then the Philadelphia trial is not only connected to Rendell, but to electoral strategy: a) playing simultaneously to the ‘base’ of feminist-‘progressive’ concerns (anti-Church) while avoiding antagonizing public-education unions while b) capitalizing on appeal to the law-and-order Right Republican types in those suburbs who may also swing Democratic if given some attractive development (and going after sex-offenders, and especially ‘pedophile priests’ and their episcopal bosses might very well fit that bill nicely).
    This once again indicates, I think, that the Philly DA’s office was driven to undertake this oddly cobbled-together case by pressures that had more to do with politics than the viability and urgency of the case itself.
    I also note that early in the Philly trial, when somebody raised this idea of outside-forces in comments on the Philly site, some loudmouth commenter led  an insistent charge of the herd to insist that comments not ‘distract’ from the stories in the case with any thoughts about why the DA brought the case to begin with.
    This may also explain the truly extraordinary nasty showboating that the prosecuting ADA’s allowed themselves to engage in during the trial against the accused priest, the Church, and especially Msgr. Lynn (and which now seems to have backfired on them – see recent analysis on that site).
    I also think that this gives some indication that the people making ‘victim-friendly’ comments – if they are not in on this scam, which they probably are not – are being used as political pawns. Although many of these types seem to take to a Karl Rove brand of commenting against what they don’t like, I don’t think they understand just how devious high-level political strategizing can get, especially in an electorally threatened venue.
    And, as I have said in an earlier comment here, I think it also explains what I sensed as “something funny” (in the bad sense) going on with that whole Philly trial site: set up by a powerful tort-attorney firm that no doubt has a) political connections and b) makes money from representing plaintiffs in abuse  lawsuits; the daily reports are written by a reporter with definite anti-Church leanings (sued his own employer, ‘The Philadelphia Inquirer’, that tried to sack him for biased reporting on the Church abuse site; has done pieces for the NCR site); the reporter had previously written a fawning biography of the head of this tort-attorney law firm; and – what quickly caught my attention  – the bulk of comments on the site are not thoughtful comments by serious professionals but rather, with the exception of a couple of commenters such as Mr. Pierre from this site and a few others, the bulk of comments make the site a playpen for anti-Church comments and range along a spectrum from the weird-thinking and nasty to the truly and venomously whacky. Feel free to go to the site and read them for yourself.