Billy Doe’s Lawyer Pushes Back on Newsweek Cover Story

He says he's asked the magazine for a retraction. Newsweek stands by the story; its author says criticism is "shooting the messenger."

Ralph Cipriano, left. Slade McLaughlin, right.

Ralph Cipriano, left. Slade McLaughlin, right.

Billy Doe’s lawyer is pushing back against a Newsweek cover story that questions his client’s veracity in several Philadelphia Catholic Church sex abuse cases.

“I would think Newsweek would do some modicum of investigation of its journalism to make sure it was fair and unbiased,” said Slade McLaughlin. He took particular aim at the story’s author, Ralph Cipriano, a longtime Philly journalist who has covered the case closely for years.

“Ralph has an agenda,” McLaughlin said. “Ralph has his points to make.”

Cipriano this week stood by his reporting. “There’s no reason to believe this kid,” he told Philly Mag. He said criticism of the story amounted to “shooting the messenger” — and avoiding tackling hard questions raised by his reporting.

“My agenda was to expose a suspect prosecution and a fraudulent ‘victim’ who gamed the system,” Cipriano said in response to McLaughlin’s quote. “And he couldn’t have done it without his legal enablers, beginning in the district attorney’s office and ending with Slade McLaughlin.

Newsweek deputy editor Bob Roe also defended the story in an email to Philly Mag, saying Cipriano ” has consistently demonstrated that his loyalty is to the truth, not the players. We stand by the story.”
Billy Doe is the pseudonym of a young man whose testimony helped send Monsignor William Lynn, two priests and a school teacher to prison.

According to Newsweek, 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. The D.A.’s office said last week it stands by its prosecution.

Who to believe?

Among the complaints made by McLaughlin about the Newsweek story

• He acknowledged Billy Doe had had drug troubles and run-ins with the law, but said that was typical for a victim of childhood sexual abuse. That shouldn’t undermine Doe’s testimony, he said.

“The science is clear that this is a common outcome for these people,” McLaughlin said. “All they want to do is forget, all they want to do is bury the memories. … This is not some unheard-of thing.”

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, joined that objection in an email to Philly Mag.

“Traumatized individuals, especially those violated as kids by adults who claim to represent God, rarely recall all the facts and timelines perfectly,” Clohessy wrote. “That’s especially typical of abuse survivors who, tragically, try to numb their horrific pain through drugs or drinking or other addictions and self-destructive behaviors.”

In any case, McLaughlin noted that juries in several criminal cases found his testimony believable enough to vote for convictions in two of the scandal’s trials.

McLaughlin acknowledged dropping a civil lawsuit in the matter — but not, as Newsweek suggested, because he was afraid to put his client on the stand. The decision was made, he said, because the defendants had no money to pay damages.

“It wasn’t like there was a big pot at the end of the rainbow,” McLaughlin said.

A Newsweek editor responded: “What we didn’t say — because it seems self-evident — is that McLaughlin knew the defendants didn’t have any money when he filed … and only withdrew the suit after the psychiatrist’s report came back, on the eve of jury selection.”

The Newsweek story quoted from a psychiatrist’s report suggesting Doe had provided “conflicting and unreliable information” about a number of incidents. McLaughlin, however, said the psychiatrist ultimately was unable to draw any conclusion about whether Doe had been abused, by whom, or when that abuse might’ve occurred.

“Ralph cherry-picked sentences here and there that made his point,” McLaughlin said.

And McLaughlin criticized Cipriano for using Billy Doe’s real name in the Newsweek article. (Philadelphia magazine, like many media organizations, tends not to name the victims of sex abuse.)

“I don’t know of any respected publications that use a sex abuse victim’s real name,” McLaughlin said.

“It’s just mean-spirited of him to ‘out’ Billy Doe publicly,” Clohessy added. “That kind of hurtful, irresponsible violation of privacy will help rapists and child molesters by deterring other victims of sexual violence from reporting heinous crimes.

Roe defended the decision. Doe is “an adult, he’s easily identified from the proceedings, and we’ve all seen that hiding the identity of an accuser can make a bad situation worse (see the Rolling Stone rape story).”

Finally, McLaughlin said he had Billy Doe take a polygraph test — and that Doe passed. Cipriano says Doe was asked in his civil deposition, if he’d taken a polygraph test. “And from what I understand, his answer was no,” Cipriano said.


The story is complicated somewhat by the fact that McLaughlin and Cipriano have a history: McLaughlin’s firm paid Cipriano $500 a week to cover trials in the Catholic sex abuse case to keep the firm updated on the details. The two have since fallen out. McLaughlin would not talk to Cipriano for the Newsweek story; he says he would’ve talked to another reporter for the story.

“He’s tried to use that against me,” Cipriano said of his previous relationship with McLaughlin. “I think that helps me.”

“We didn’t feel that relationship prejudiced Ralph,” Roe added, “and nothing changes the facts presented in the piece.”

Cipriano says he didn’t make the final decision to use Billy Doe’s real name — that was the job of an editor — but he did argue to do so. “I have considerable doubt at this point that he’s a victim of sexual abuse,” Cipriano said of naming Doe, and said that refusing to name him amounted to “self-censorship.”

As for the other allegations, Cipriano said Billy Doe had too many contradictions in his record to be believed. “In every avenue you go down with (Doe) — his medical records, his drug records, his school records, all the witness interviewed … his teachers, his priests at the church, his brother, his mother, his father, church records, records his mother kept … everything refutes (Billy Doe),” he said.

McLaughlin, however, said he has asked Newsweek for a retraction. “This,” he said of the story, “is nothing more than victim-shaming.”

Roe said the magazine had received no retraction request. “We are proud of Ralph’s work here,” he said, “and stand by the story.”

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