Philly’s Last Catholic Church Bust
I’m sure the apology is coming any day now, though I don’t think she’s holding her breath. Back in 2002, Lynne Abraham started noticing reports in newspapers all over the country—often small items—about sexual abuse of parishioners by priests in Catholic churches. There were vague rumblings locally about the same thing. Then the sex-abuse scandal broke in Boston. It seemed strange to Abraham that in 11 years as D.A., she had not gotten any reports, not one, about sexual misconduct of priests. Not from the Archdiocese, not from anyone. She started probing. A grand jury was convened.
What shocked her, she says now, “was the breadth and depth of the cover-up. It’s simply breathtaking. An elaborate cover-up of foisting predatory priests on children and other parishes.”
[SIGNUP]Not to mention the horrendous abuse itself that the grand jury report, released in ’05, took pains to detail: “We should begin by making one thing clear,” the report stated. “When we say abuse, we don’t just mean ‘inappropriate touching’ (as the Archdiocese often chooses to refer to it). We mean rape. Boys who were raped orally, boys who were raped anally, girls who were raped vaginally.” The report got the ball rolling, into the big public mess the Archdiocese created, and continues to create.
It might seem almost funny now, what their lawyers had to say way back then, in 2005: That the grand jury report was “a vile, mean-spirited diatribe” that sought “to convict the Catholic church and its leadership in the court of public opinion, if not in a court of law, based upon an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of facts.” The grand jury and prosecutors were “inquisitors,” the whole deal was an “anti-Catholic” smear.
And Lynne Abraham—this point was a footnote in the lawyers’ response to the report—was like the Know-Nothings. Citing the Know-Nothings was a reach all the way back to the 1840s; they were a sort of proto-Ku Klux Klan group, and didn’t hold back on an anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, and, for good measure, anti-black stance.
Now, Lynne Abraham—small and Jewish and female—is, as Frank Rizzo once pointed out and we all know, a tough cookie. Also, not that this matters, she spent a chunk of her childhood, when her father was working long hours and her mother got sick, living with a Catholic family, and attending mass at St. Gregory’s in West Philly, and she thinks the Catholic Church is, in many ways, a wonderful place. Not that that matters.
But tough cookie or not, “I felt deeply wounded,” she says now, about the attack on her. “I was not sodomizing pre-pubescent boys, I was just bringing it to light. Somebody with the temerity to uncover a monstrous hoard of secrets, name names, create a picture. That was deemed a terrible thing.”
Of course, because she is a tough cookie, Lynne Abraham wasn’t going to shut up and go away. Those Know-Nothing-referencing lawyers also claiming the report was inaccurate got her calling a news conference in ’05:
“If the Archdiocese believes that what we have said in the grand jury is false, then I call upon them to release the documents that they have been forced to turn over to us. Open it to the light of day. No secret archives, no papal nuncio, no separation of church and state. … That’s what [the Archdiocese] can do to show that they are turning a page.”
So here we are. The page is turning regardless. Abraham, of course, is no longer D.A. “But [sexual-abuse] victims still contact me. Absolutely.” Meanwhile, the Archdiocese is pretty busy, and an apology to Lynne Abraham is such a small thing.