Ralph Cipriano: Catholic Abuse Convictions Don’t Add Up

Well, this is interesting. Ralph Cipriano—the same reporter who once sued his bosses at the Philadelphia Inquirer for libel over his aggressive coverage of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia—has a piece in the National Catholic Reporter, suggesting that Msgr. William Lynn, convicted last year of helping cover up the abuse of children by priests in the Philadelphia diocese, was wrongly convicted.

At the center of Cipriano’s case is this: Lynn was convicted of covering up the abuse of a boy—known at trial as “Billy Doe“—by then-Rev. Edward Avery. But Avery, now defrocked, still denies committing the crime. He says he pleaded to charges in the case in order to avoid dying in prison if convicted.

Cipriano, who has also contributed to PhillyMag writes:

It was Avery’s guilty plea that led to the June 22, 2012, conviction of Lynn for endangering the welfare of a child, namely Billy Doe.

It was the first time in the nation that a member of the Catholic hierarchy had been convicted and sent to jail, not for touching a child, but for transferring a known abuser priest from one parish to another, while failing to adequately supervise him.

But if you believe Avery, Lynn is sitting in jail for a crime that never happened. And he’s not the only one.

Billy Doe was also the victim in the case against another priest, Charles Engelhardt, and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, who both await sentencing for their respective convictions.

Cipriano writes:

All four are in prison because of the testimony of one witness, Billy Doe. In my opinion, Doe was the least credible prosecution witness at both trial, and the one who told the most incredible story: a story that even some in the district attorney’s office didn’t believe; a story that changed every time he told it.

Doe’s allegations, Cipriano says, weren’t properly vetted. “He has everything to gain legally and financially by telling his varying versions of his story,” Cipriano writes.

The story is too long to be properly excerpted here. (In other words: Go read the whole thing.) The nut of Cipriano’s case, though, is that Doe’s testimony about his abuse varied from telling to telling; that he discovered 20 factual errors in the 2011 grand jury report on priestly sexual abuse that shocked Philadelphia; and that the juries in the trials never heard exculpatory evidence that might’ve resulted in “not guilty” verdicts.

Cipriano, who sat through the entirety of the trials, concludes: “What I witnessed was a couple of show trials shrouded in official secrecy and staged for political benefit. While Lynn became the main focus of the prosecution, the men at the top of the church hierarchy who gave Lynn his orders were given a pass.”