SNAP fact sheet on innovative legal moves against Catholic wrongdoers
--A Massachusetts priest, Fr. James R. Porter, was successfully prosecuted after moving across state lines to Minnesota, using an obscure law that dated from the 1800s. (He was one of the nation's most prolific predators, with more than 100 victims, in Texas, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Minnesota.)
--A Missouri priest, Fr. Thomas Graham, was convicted because then-Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce found and took advantage of an old and obscure legislative error. State lawmakers re-codified the criminal code and mistakenly did not include a statute of limitations on "crimes against nature." The next year, legislators corrected their mistake. But for that one year, Joyce successfully argued, the omission meant that offenders could still be charged decades later. (The state Supreme Court later reversed Graham's conviction, but the victim, Lyn Woolfolk, nonetheless felt validated. And through media coverage, Catholics learned more about abuse in the St. Louis archdiocese.)
--A Ohio priest who was a credibly accused abuser, Fr. Thomas A. Kuhn, was convicted of giving alcohol to kids. (The statute of limitations prevented the cleric from being charged with child molestation.) He at first avoided jail but was given tight parole restrictions. Later, Fr. Kuhn was imprisoned when he violated one of them.
--Around 2002, Bristol County Massachusetts district attorney Paul Walsh investigated abuse and cover up in the Fall River area. He was unable to charge any one. But for public safety, Walsh took the unusual step of publicly disclosing the names of 21 credibly accused child molesting clerics who had successfully run out the statute of limitations on their crimes. In some quarters, he was criticized for this move but victims, advocates and Catholics applauded his courage.
--The attorney general of New Hampshire convened a grand jury but was unable, again because of overly-restrictive statutes of limitations, to charge priests or bishops. But he was able to secure a one-of-a-kind binding agreement giving his office unprecedented access to information about abuse cases in the diocese for the next five years and some degree of oversight. It stipulated that the attorney general would audit the diocese annually to assure better policies and practices with regard to sexual abuse by priests.
-- An Illinois priest, Fr. Norbert Maday, was accused of molesting several Chicago area kids. Prosecutors were not able to pursue him. But a few times, he took youngsters across the state line into Wisconsin, and an Oshkosh county district attorney there successfully prosecuted him.
--A California priest was convicted of abuse after an undercover detective, wearing a wire, approached him in a grocery store parking lot, claiming to be one of his child victims. The cleric was recorded admitted his crimes.
We're convinced that "where there's a will, there's a way." We believe that if police and prosecutors are more assertive and creative, even under out-of-date, predator-friendly laws, they can find novel ways to pursue those who commit or conceal assaults on children.
We applaud Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, other attorneys general and law enforcement officials in Philadelphia and elsewhere who have used grand juries to shine sorely-needed light on long-hidden church secrets. Those efforts have succeeded in bringing some change by political and church figures.
But we also believe that more can and should be done by law enforcement across the US to go after these wrongdoers. With thousands of police, prosecutors and victims, we find it very hard to believe that only two complicit current church officials have been convicted of complicity (Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City and Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia) We are confident that dozens of others who concealed child sex crimes can still be charged with obstruction, fraud, perjury, destroying evidence, intimidating witnesses, endangering children or similar offenses.
Again, where there's a will, there's a way. Remember: Al Capone was nailed for income tax evasion.
Prosecutors sometimes argue "What good is it to try some risky approach and fail? Won't that make victims feel doubly victimized?" In our experience, no. Victims are most hurt by inaction, not failed action. Victims would rather have allies try to expose or punish wrongdoers instead of doing nothing.
For more info: Tim Lennon, tlennon@SNAPnetwork.org