Read more about Philadelphia priest molestation lawsuits. This post is cross-posted on the Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog.

On Thursday, after the prosecution closed their case, Judge Sarmina swiftly dismissed the conspiracy charges against Monsignor Lynn and Father Brennan.  Although the move caught some observers by surprise, it was likely not a surprise to the prosecutors.  To prove a criminal conspiracy, the Commonwealth has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants had a “shared criminal intent,” defined by Pennsylvania law as “the common understanding that a particular criminal objective is to be accomplished.” Commonwealth v. Lambert, 795 A.2d 1010 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2002). Whatever Monsignor Lynn’s crime was, the evidence did not show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he intended for children to be molested.  Thus, the conspiracy charge was plainly difficult to prove from the onset, and the dismissal is not surprising given the actual evidence presented.

Which brings us to the core question of this case:  What was Monsignor Lynn’s intent?

For centuries, the English common law, and subsequently the American common law, has required that criminal convictions include proof of two separate elements:  the mens rea (the guilty mind) and the actus reus (the guilty act).  In Lynn’s case, he is charged with endangering the welfare of children, and I don’t think anyone can genuinely dispute that Monsignor Lynn’s actions in fact endangered the welfare of children within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s parishes and schools.  There is no denying that, as of at least February 18, 1994, when Lynn drew up the list of 35 sexually abusive priests, Lynn’s acts — such as his involvement in transferring priests around once allegations were made — and his inactions — such as his failure to ever report any of them to the police — allowed abusive clergy to keep preying on children in the community.  But it is a fundamental premise of our criminal law that the magnitude of the damage caused is not by itself enough to prove that a crime occurred, the prosecution must also prove he had the mens rea for the crime.

Proving mens rea is inherently difficult; “for who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him?” 1 Corinthians 2:11. It is only on television that defendants suddenly concede at trial their own guilt and malicious intent.  In real courtrooms, defendants never confess on the stand, and they also typically have not left behind “smoking gun” emails or letters outlining their wicked plans. Mens rea is thus typically proven through circumstantial evidence, and that’s why the prosecution put on the case they did, which at many times looked more like an indictment of the Catholic Church itself than of Lynn personally.  
Continue Reading What Did The Prosecution Prove About Monsignor Lynn?

Read more about our law firm’s Philadelphia child molestation lawyers. This post is cross-posted on the Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog.

As Ralph Cipriano reported, the defense attorney for Father Brennan spent a lot of time cross-examining the prosecution’s chief witness against Father Brennan by going into the alleged victim’s reaction to the molestation, including why the alleged victim — an adolescent boy at the time — did not call out to his mother afterwards, why the alleged victim took a subsequent motorcycle ride with Father Brennan, and why the alleged victim didn’t report the assault to authorities sooner.

Father Brennan’s attorney, coincidentally named William Brennan, has an important job to do — safeguarding his client’s constitutional rights and challenging the testimony of his accuser — so I don’t fault him for going into those issues, but these types of questions raise a common problem in both criminal sexual assault prosecutions and civil sexual abuse lawsuits:  the persistence of rape myths in society and in the courts. The term “rape myths” was coined by psychologists as a means of describing false attitudes and beliefs that serve to deny allegations of sexual abuse and to thwart accountability for abusers.

Some of these rape myths are easy to spot.  For example, many people will thoughtlessly say a victim “asked for it” by wearing the wrong clothes or by drinking alcohol, or they assume that victims are lying for attention or to cover up an affair.  Myths like these are so pernicious and pervasive that the people perpetuating them don’t realize it. Thus, even people acting in good faith can end up applying rape myths to treat allegations of sexual abuse differently from other allegations of criminal conduct and to demand more proof from sexual abuse survivors (such as corroborating evidence in addition to testimony) than they do from other crime victims.

The testimony by Father Brennan’s alleged victim, and by many of the alleged clergy abuse victims, raises one of the more common rape myths: that a victim of rape, sexual assault, or molestation will resist an attacker forcefully, will cry out for help during the attack, and will immediately report the assault to others.  
Continue Reading There’s No “Normal” Way For A Clergy Abuse Or Sexual Assault Victim To Act

Read more about our Pennsylvania clergy abuse lawyers. This post is cross-posted on our Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog, where investigative reporter Ralph Cipriano is covering the criminal trial of Monsignor Lynn.

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. 
Continue Reading Monsignor Lynn And The Duty To Prevent Child Abuse

Learn more about sexual abuse and child molestation lawsuits.

One of the points I stressed when writing about the Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State was the role of the statute of limitations: due to the timing of the last change in Pennsylvania’s childhood sexual abuse statute, some of Sandusky’s victims may be outside the time in which they can file a claim, while others can still file. Putting aside the efforts to extend the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania — long stalled thanks to the efforts of the Catholic Conference — there’s the simple question for lawyers representing those victims: how do you advocate for a client whose case has expired?

The issue has come back into the press with the recent accusation by two former batboys for the Orioles, both now in their 30s, who allege they were victimized by Red Sox clubhouse manager, Donald Fitzpatrick, who died in 2005 and has been accused of molesting nearly two dozen former batboys. The lawyer representing most of the victims has openly conceded many their claims are outside the statute of limitations, but the Baltimore Sun reports he’s demanding $5 million for each nonetheless.

The idea of “trying cases in the press” has a storied history of severing the legal community into two camps, the first believing the tactic to be at best jury tampering and at worst extortion by public relations, the second seeing the tactic as yet another tool in the lawyer’s toolbox that has to be used by the zealous advocate when circumstances demand it.
Continue Reading The Ethics Of Fighting An Expired Case In The Press

Read more about our law firm’s Catholic Priest Abuse practice.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think the motivations that compel lawyers to deny reality while defending some clients are varied and complex, but it cannot be denied that, in many cases, the defense is premised not on providing explanations or raising genuine doubts, but on burying the truth.

Lest we forget what brought us to the ongoing criminal trial of Monsignor William Lynn, here is how the grand jury report against him begins:

In September 2003, a grand jury of local citizens released a report detailing a sad history of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. That abuse was known, tolerated, and hidden by high church officials, up to and including the Cardinal himself. The previous grand jury was frustrated that it could not charge either the abusers or their protectors in the church, because the successful cover-up of the abuse resulted in the expiration of the statute of limitations. Now, measures taken in response to the previous report have led to new information about more recent abuse, which this grand jury was empaneled to investigate. The fact that we received that information, and from the church itself, is some sign of progress; and this time there will be charges.

The present grand jury, however, is frustrated to report that much has not changed. The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again. The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers – dozens of them, we believe – remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey.

And so we come to the latest, but not the last, controversy in the criminal case, this time over the remarks made by presiding Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. A week ago, before the trial began, the lawyers for the Catholic Church wanted to ask potential jurors, “Do you believe child sexual abuse is a widespread problem in the Catholic Church?” Judge Sarmina struck the question, answering “Anybody that doesn’t think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet.”


Continue Reading Do Lawyers Defending The Catholic Church Live On Another Planet?