By Ralph Cipriano
He was a Catholic priest with a secret life, posing on the Internet as "Katie Caponetti," a teenage girl.
The priest would email a photo of a girl's naked torso, or a video of a naked girl masturbating, and claim it was "Katie." Then he would ask the girls he met online to send back naked photos and videos of themselves.
"A predator" who sexually exploited both teenage girls and boys was how Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella described Father Mark Haynes in federal court today. "He surrounded himself with children," the prosecutor said. Throughout his 30-year career as a priest, he used his position to "sexually exploit and sexually abuse children."
Defense Attorney Alan J. Tauber had a more entertaining explanation. He described the 56-year-old priest as a "woman occupying a man's body." According to Tauber, Father Haynes was a troubled soul who, while demonstrating an "extraordinary record of community service" as a priest at eight different parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, never came to terms with his own "gender identity issues."
In the end, U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick decided that although there was "no question he did a number of good things" as a priest, Father Haynes's crimes against children were so "outrageous" that his victims would spend "the rest of their lives" trying to recover. So the judge gave the priest a 20 year sentence, a $15,000 fine, and, upon his release, 10 years of supervised probation.
Father Haynes pleaded guilty in June 2015 to seven federal counts of child pornography and destruction of evidence. In court today, prosecutor Rotella said that while posing as "Katie," Father Haynes interacted with 28 children online.
Shortly after his arrest, the archdiocese suspended Father Haynes. In court today, defense attorney Tauber said that Haynes was voluntarily cooperating with a laicization process that would strip him of his priesthood.
After he was arrested, the prosecutor said, two adults came forward to claim that more than 30 years ago, Father Haynes had sexually abused them. But no charges could be filed as the crimes had exceeded the statute of limitations.
The former victims included a woman who said that when she was a teenager, she went to see Father Haynes for counseling, and confessed that she had performed oral sex on her boyfriend. The priest counseled the victim by having her demonstrate oral sex on him.
Another victim was a former altar boy who told the FBI that on his first assignment as a new priest at St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church in Phoenixville, Father Haynes repeatedly asked the boy for oral sex. When he didn't get it, he whipped out his genitals and climbed on top of the boy, who responded by kicking the priest so hard he bled in his urine, the prosecutor said.
The priest's crimes over a two-year period "sexually destroyed that man's life," prosecutor Rotella told the judge.
When it was his turn to speak, defense attorney Tauber told the judge that a 30-year-old allegation was "virtually impossible to defend." He also mentioned that in three prior interviews, the alleged victim had made other accusations, but had never accused the priest of asking for oral sex.
The alleged former victim, now 46, testified in court that the "horrible experience" he suffered at the hands of Father Haynes had a "devastating" effect on his life. He said at the time he was an altar boy, he was too scared to confront the priest. "I don't want this to happen to anybody else," he told the judge.
In pleading for mercy, defense attorney Tauber cited the priest's "zeal and commitment to serve" Catholics at eight different parishes. Father Haynes always volunteered to visit the sick while leading "a life of service, a life of sacrifice and austerity," Tauber said. The priest's good deeds included agreeing to serve as legal guardian to two elderly priests who had no family members to look after them.
"He worked 24/7," Tauber said. At every stop on his career path, the priest would extoll the virtues of a merciful God, Tauber said. All the while he was leading a double life, and fearing that because of his own sins, he was "beyond the pale of redemption," the defense lawyer told the judge.
When Father Haynes was arrested, it was a "cathartic experience" for him, Tauber said. The priest's secret life was finally exposed. He no longer had to hide a "life full of contradictions." The priest immediately began to avail himself of every type of therapy he was eligible for, Tauber told the judge.
To counter such arguments, the prosecution had a mother from Vancouver, WA, testify about the effect Father Haynes's emails had on her 12-year-old daughter.
"She started becoming more withdrawn," the mother said. Then she began cutting her arms and legs. She failed eighth grade. She became agoraphobic and wouldn't leave the house for two years.
The daughter was supposed appear in court as a witness, the mother said, but at the last moment, she decided she couldn't go through with it. "She's still in therapy," the mother said.
Next to testify was the mother of the 46-year-old man who claimed he had been abused by Father Haynes. Thirty years ago, the mother said, it was a different world. When she had the new parish priest, Father Haynes, over for dinner, "I thought it was wonderful" that he was paying so much attention to her son the altar boy.
After the abuse, her son "lost his self-confidence, he lost his self-respect," the mother said. What really galled her was when she realized that while the priest was abusing her son, "he would still show up and eat food off my table."
The prosecutor described Father Haynes as an incorrigible abuser. On his first assignment at St. Ann's, she said, his "immediate" reaction was to begin "grooming" an altar boy for future abuse.
And when the priest completed six months of "intensive therapy" at a mental hospital, "immediately he began distributing child pornography," the prosecutor said. She also dismissed the priest's gender conflicts by saying that being transgender "doesn't make you a pedophile."
When it came time for the defendant to speak, Father Haynes recited the 51st Psalm, written by King David, after he was accused by Nathan the prophet of committing adultery with Bathsheba, and trying to cover it up by killing her husband:
For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.
The priest, who had his head down during most of today's prosecution testimony, apologized to his victims, to the archdiocese, to his fellow priests, and to his family, including four of his five brothers who showed up in court today to support him.
The sentencing guidelines for the crimes Haynes pleaded guilty to ranged between 235 and 295 months. The judge gave the priest 20 years, or 240 months.
After the sentencing was over, and Father Haynes was on his way back to jail, the mother of the adult male victim who testified in court said she was satisfied with the sentence.
But a minute later, when asked if the sentence was justice, she had tears in her eyes.
"There's never justice," she said.