Newsweek Questions Credibility of “Star Witness” in Church Sex Abuse Scandal

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A new Newsweek cover story[1] claims that the “star witness” in the Philadelphia sex abuse scandal that sent Monsignor William Lynn, two priests and a school teacher to prison has credibility problems that undermine his testimony.

According to Newsweek, that witness — known publicly by a pseudonym, “Billy Doe” — offered conflicting stories about the incidents at the heart of his testimony, “bombed out” of a psychiatric test on the eve of a civil trial in the matter, and is a “former heroin user and dealer who had been kicked out of two high schools and been in and out of 23 drug rehabs over a 10-year period.”

Newsweek’s story — “Catholic Guilt? The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy Behind A Lurid Rape Case” — also suggests that District Attorney Seth Williams ignored the conflicts in testimony and errors in a grand jury report on the matter in his zeal to prosecute the case.

“Yes, we do continue to stand by the prosecutions and witness,” Cameron Kline, a spokesman for Williams, said via email Friday afternoon. Doe’s attorney did not immediately respond to a Philly Mag inquiry for comment.

The story was written by Ralph Cipriano, the former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter known more for his clashes with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia[2] rather than his defense of it. But the Newsweek story is the culmination of several years of reporting — much of it aggressively challenging Billy Doe’s testimony — at the local legal blog, BigTrial.net,[3] National Catholic Reporter[4], and other outlets. Indeed, Cipriano has followed the story so closely he was subpoenaed by Doe’s attorney in 2013.[5]

Doe, now reportedly 27, first reported his accusations in 2009, that he had been serially raped as a fifth- and sixth-grader at St. Jerome’s parish school in Northeast Philadelphia by two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher. His testimony led to the imprisonment of each man — the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, former priest Edward Avery and former parish teacher Bernard Shero — and was also critical in the prosecution that sent Lynn to prison. (Engelhardt later died in prison.) His story also featured in a Rolling Stone article [6]on the scandal, written by former Philly Mag writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who in turn has come under fire for a separate article on rape at the University of Virginia that turned out to have an unreliable source at its center[7].

Cipriano’s story suggests Doe’s testimony is similarly unreliable. Among the (long list) of apparent contradictions documented:

Doe, the story notes, has received a $5 million settlement from the archdiocese, and is free despite having been busted for drugs several times.

The archdiocese did not respond to request for comment.

Follow @JoelMMathis[8] on Twitter.

Endnotes:
  1. Newsweek cover story: http://www.newsweek.com/2016/01/29/billy-doe-altar-boy-sends-four-men-prison-philadelphia-rape-case-417565.html
  2. clashes with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: http://ajrarchive.org/article.asp?id=798
  3. BigTrial.net,: http://www.bigtrial.net/2015/07/the-pope-billy-doe-msgr-lynn.html
  4. National Catholic Reporter: http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/star-witness-story-philadelphia-sex-abuse-trials-doesnt-add
  5. subpoenaed by Doe’s attorney in 2013.: https://www.phillymag.com/news/2013/10/22/reporter-ralph-cipriano-subpoenaed-catholic-sex-abuse-case/
  6. Rolling Stone article : http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-catholic-churchs-secret-sex-crime-files-20110906
  7. unreliable source at its center: https://www.phillymag.com/news/2015/04/06/columbia-journalism-schools-damning-report-uva-rape-story/
  8. @JoelMMathis: http://twitter.com/JoelMMathis

Source URL: https://www.phillymag.com/news/2016/01/22/newsweek-billy-doe-church-abuse-scandal/