|Sabrina Rubin Erdely|
Before a writer for Rolling Stone ran with an alleged gang-rape story told by a student named "Jackie," she bought an alleged multiple-rape story told by a former altar boy named "Billy."
On Nov. 19th, Rolling Stone published an article claiming that "Jackie," a student at the University of Virginia, had been allegedly gang-raped by seven men at a fraternity party. ["A Rape on Campus; A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice At UVA."]
The fraternity was tried in the media and found guilty. Bricks were thrown through the windows of the frat house, the cops in Charlottesville were called in to investigate, and the university president shut down all fraternity and sorority events on campus.
Then, The Washington Post, citing factual discrepancies, cast doubt on the victim's story. Rolling Stone rolled over almost immediately, issuing an apology that said their trust in Jackie had been "misplaced."
There's lots of irony here folks for readers of this blog. The writer of the story in question, Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, is from Philadelphia. Before she ran with Jackie's story, she fell for a story told by a former altar boy dubbed "Billy Doe" by a grand jury.
In Rolling Stone, it seems rape is bigger than rock. On Sept. 15, 2011, Erderly wrote a story for Rolling Stone that accepted as gospel Billy Doe's fantastic claims about being passed around as a rape victim among two priests and a school teacher. [The Catholic Church's Secret Sex-Crime Files.] In Erdely's defense, she, like many other members of the media, made the mistake of relying on an intellectually dishonest grand jury report containing more than 20 factual errors.
Attention Rolling Stone: if you think the factual discrepancies in Jackie's story are "deeply unsettling," wait till you read all the factual discrepancies in Billy's story, documented for the past two years on this blog. Sadly, the stakes here are a lot higher than in Virginia, where none of the alleged attackers have even been outed. In Philly, three priests and a school teacher wound up going to jail over Billy's story, which has since unraveled. One of those priests died in prison last month after he spent his last hours handcuffed to a hospital bed while suffering from untreated coronary disease.
|The D.A.'s Star Witness|
Just because a victim tells his or her story over and over again, with all the sensational details, it doesn't make it true. Especially after Jackie's friends noticed that the details were changing.
In the Erdely store about Billy Doe, the writer referred to the former altar boy as "a sweet, gentle kid with boyish good looks" who was "outgoing and well-liked" before the brutal attacks turned him into a sullen, drug-addicted loner.
In the Billy Doe case, what Erdely didn't know [or bother to find out] was that Billy had already told his story to the archdiocese, police, and a grand jury, and would subsequently retell it to two different juries in two criminal cases. And every time he told his story, the details kept changing.
In the case of the alleged University of Virginia gang rape, The Washington Post discovered that although the victim claimed she had endured three hours of rape, which supposedly left her blood-splattered and emotionally devastated, no event was held at the frat house the day of the alleged rape.
Jackie's defenders also reported that "key details of the attack" had changed over time and that they were not able to verify those details. For example, one alleged attacker belonged to a different fraternity. The fraternity also reviewed a roster of employees at the university's swimming pool where the alleged ringleader of the attacked supposedly worked. The frat discovered that the swimming pool roster did not include the frat member cited by Jackie, or anybody else who matched the physical description that Jackie gave.
But when it comes to details that keep changing or don't add up, Billy's got Jackie beat by a long shot.
In the Billy Doe's case, Billy initially claimed that he was:
-- Anally raped for five hours by one priest in the sacristy and afterwards the padre threatened to kill him.
-- Punched in the head and knocked unconscious by another priest, after which Billy came to and found himself naked and tied up with altar sashes; after which he was anally raped so brutally he supposedly bled for a week.
-- Punched in the face by a school teacher and strangled with a seat belt before he was raped in the back seat of a car.
Then, Billy dropped all those details about the anal rapes, being punched in the head and knocked unconscious, being tied up with altar sashes, getting punched in the face and strangled with a seat belt, and being threatened with death. And then he invented a whole new story about being forced to perform strip teases, oral sex and mutual masturbation with the same trio of assailants.
This was the story reported as gospel by the grand jury and Rolling Stone.
The details, however, kept changing. In the case of the school teacher, Billy gave three different locations for the alleged rape -- in the classroom, in the back seat of the teacher's car, and in a park.
You think the details in the Jackie story didn't add up? In Billy's case, the district attorney's own detectives discovered the following contradictions to the story reported by Rolling Stone:
-- Billy claimed the first priest who raped him attacked in the sacristy after an early morning Mass. His mother, however, who kept meticulous calendars chronicling the daily events of her two altar boy sons, never listed an early morning Mass for Billy to serve at during his entire fifth-grade year when the attack allegedly occurred.
-- Billy claimed the first priest attacked him as he was putting away wine in the sacristy. His older brother, however, also an altar boy and a sexton, told police [as did other witnesses including priests] that it was the duty of the sexton to put away the wine after Mass.
-- Billy claimed a second priest raped him when he was a fifth-grader putting away the bells after a bell choir concert at the church. Three of Billy's former teachers at St. Jerome's, including the church's longtime music director, however, told detectives that only eighth grade boys were allowed to become members of the bell choir maintenance crew. The reason why was simple: only eighth-grade boys were strong enough to lift 30-pound tables and carry bell cases that weighed more than 30 pounds. As a fifth-grader, Billy weighed only 63 pounds. The teachers' stories were backed up by the school's yearbooks. No fifth grader was a member of the bell choir maintenance crew, nor any sixth or seventh grader.
-- Billy claimed the two priests who raped him used the code word of "sessions" to describe their sex parties with Billy. The D.A.'s detectives, however, subsequently found a far more likely origin for the use of the word sessions when they began investigating Billy's charges in the grand jury report nearly two years later. The detectives interviewed one of Billy's former drug counselors who told them that "sessions" was the term for one-on-one and group therapies with drug addicts like Billy. As a patient at 23 different drug rehabs, Billy would have been familiar with the lingo.
-- The grand jury report claimed that two books on sex abuse found under Billy's bed proved that when he was in high school student Billy was trying to come to terms with being attacked. Billy, however, told detectives that he kept the books under his bed because they had hard covers, which he used to crush Xanax capsules on before he snorted them. When the detectives checked the covers of the books they found numerous indentations. Another student told detectives that Billy stole the book from her locker.
In the Erdely article, however, she does not mention any possible credibility issues or contradictions regarding Billy Doe, who'd been arrested six times, including one bust for possession with intent to distribute 56 bags of heroin. At the time, there was a gag order in place, so neither the defendants or their lawyers nor any prosecutors are interviewed in the story. The author, however, quotes a former priest, a former seminarian who got kicked out for disciplinary reasons, a former monk who treats abuser priests, a victim of sex abuse and a couple of former prosecutors, all of whom took turns teeing off on the church. It's completely one-sided.
The story dwells on Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for the clergy, whom an appeals court would eventually decide should have never been charged with the crime of endangering the welfare of a child, because the law didn't apply to him. It's a conclusion that a previous district attorney, Lynne Abraham, and a previous grand jury came to in 2005 and put it in writing, but Rolling Stone doesn't bother examining the issue that would ultimately spring Lynn from jail. The monsignor remains on house arrest and has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet while the state Supreme Court decides whether to uphold the reversal of his conviction, or send him back to jail.
In the Rolling Stone article, Erdely repeatedly quoted from the secret archive files formerly kept by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a locked safe. The files, pried loose with search warrants, chronicled the secret history of four decades of sex abuse in the archdiocese involving 169 abuser priests and hundreds of child victims.
Those files repeatedly describe persistent patterns of grooming behavior by predator priests, who often plied future victims with gifts, attention and special privileges. Grooming behavior, however, is entirely absent from Billy's stories.
In the secret archive files, patient predators spent years building up trusting relationships with their victims, and often, parents or relatives, so they can gain access to the victims. In the Billy Doe story, however, three predators who have no relationship with Billy or his family strike without warning.
In short, Billy's crazy stories defied logic, common sense, all the evidence gathered by the D.A.'s own detectives, and established patterns of abuse as laid out in the secret archive files. They were also riddled with endless contradictions. Yet, since Billy's story fit a pervasive media stereotype, innocent victims being victimized by predator priests, it was fit to print.
Erdely did not respond to an email to her website seeking comment.
For more on my adventures trying to wake up the rest of the media about the Billy Doe story read this.
Ralph Cipriano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org