Thomas A. Bergstrom, the lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, is so mad at The Philadelphia Inquirer that he's threatened to sue the paper for libel. He's also planning to ask a judge to bar an Inky reporter from covering the upcoming retrial of his client.
Here's what set Bergstrom off:
In an April 1st photo caption that ran on the front of the local section of the newspaper, next to an update about the latest pretrial hearing in the case, the Inquirer wrote: "Msgr. William J. Lynn is accused of sexual misconduct."
That isn't true. Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former secretary for clergy, has never been accused of sexual misconduct.
Msgr. Lynn is accused of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, for allowing a priest with a history of abuse -- Edward V. Avery -- to be placed back in ministry. Where he allegedly raped a 10-year-old altar boy named Danny Gallagher, AKA Billy Doe, an alleged victim whose story has since been shot full of holes and revealed to be fake news.
At 11:16 a.m. on April 1st, Bergstrom promptly fired off an angry email bomb from his iPhone to Inky reporter Joe Slobodzian:
"The caption below my client's photo is outrageous and u know it. He has never been accused of sexual misconduct. You and your paper are poisoning the jury pool. I can't fathom why u would knowingly do such a thing. This is the reason people don't trust the press, because u rarely get it right.You and your paper have just bought yourselves a law suit; in addition I intend to ask Judge [Gwendolyn] Bright to bar u from any further proceedings in this case."
Slobodzian, who did not write the caption, nevertheless apologized for it in an email sent at 12:26 p.m. that same day:
There is no question that the caption in the paper is incorrect. I had nothing to do with writing the caption and did not see it before it was published in Saturday's paper. It will be corrected in Sunday's paper. I checked the story's online presentation. The caption there was correct.
I think you've known me long enough to understand that I care deeply about getting it right. When I make a mistake, I correct it as soon as it's brought to my attention. I don't believe my articles about Msgr. Lynn have been unfair or inaccurate. No one has asked me to correct any errors. And though this caption was not my error, I will see that it is corrected.
"OK, thank you for that," Bergstrom wrote back at 1:05 p.m.
Seven minutes later, Bergstrom wrote the reporter another email.
"I have sent your response to Monsignor," Bergstrom wrote the reporter. "I am certain it will be appreciated."
"Thanks for the reply, Tom," Slobodzian wrote back. "I am sick over this. Joe."
As the reporter promised, the Inky promptly ran a correction the next day that said:
"Clearing the record: A caption below a picture of Msgr. William J. Lynn in Saturday's Inquirer incorrectly described the criminal charge he faces in his upcoming trial. Lynn is charged with child endangerment involving his supervisory role over priests accused of sexual misconduct. He is not charged with sexual misconduct."
Asked for comment, Amy Buckman, a spokesperson for Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the Inquirer, released a statement Sunday from PMN Editor and Vice-President Gabriel Escobar that said:
"The caption below a photo that accompanied Saturday's Inquirer story about Msgr. William J. Lynn was wrong. As soon as we were made aware of the error, we checked the caption on the online photo that accompanied the story on Philly.com. That caption was correct. In today's print edition of the Inquirer, we acknowledged the mistake and corrected the record.
We are sorry for the error."
Sadly, this mistake didn't happen in a vacuum. The Inquirer has been guilty of slanting news coverage against Lynn and the church since the day the 2011 grand jury indictment was released.
The alleged victim in the Lynn case is Danny Gallagher, AKA "Billy Doe." He's the former altar boy who improbably claimed he was viciously raped as a 10 and 11-year old by three different assailants at St. Jerome's Church in Northeast Philadelphia. The alleged perpetrators, Gallagher claimed, were two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher.
To buy Gallagher's story, however, you would have to believe that despite the horrific abuse, nobody, including Gallagher's father the Philadelphia police sergeant, his mother the registered nurse, his older brother, who went to the same school and was also an altar boy there -- as well as all of the priests, teachers and nuns at St. Jerome's -- never saw a thing.
Even though the Gallagher family lived less than a mile away from the church, and the parents were so conscientious they drove their altar boy sons to and from Mass.
The alleged facts in Gallagher's stories have been contradicted by police interviews with Gallagher's own mother, brother, and the teachers, priests and nuns at St. Jerome's. In addition to church records, and calendars kept by Gallagher's mother that included all the dates her sons served as altar boys.
On this blog, in a long analysis for National Catholic Reporter and in a cover story for Newsweek, I have outed Gallagher and documented the many holes in this legal travesty including:
-- More than 20 factual mistakes in the grand jury report, including blatant rewrites of grand jury witness testimony to fit preconceived story lines cooked up by the D.A.'s office.
-- Formerly confidential police records, grand jury testimony, and depositions in a civil suit. And the alleged victim's own medical records that show the defendant was telling radically different stories, complete with numerous contradictory allegations of rape, which he later admitted weren't true, against neighbors, teachers, and an older boy. Allegations that a defense lawyer characterized as a "fantasy of sexual abuse."
When questioned about all of this in a civil deposition, Gallagher responded by admitting that many of his past allegations weren't true, such as being sexually abused by neighbors, teachers and an older boy, as well as claiming to being a former professional surfer and a paramedic. And when questioned about other discrepancies in his stories, Gallagher responded by saying he couldn't remember more than 130 times.
-- The reports of two forensic psychiatrists, who examined Gallagher extensively and concluded he wasn't credible, that he had lied to his doctors and psychiatrists. One of those forensic psychiatrists plowed through Gallagher's extensive medical records from more than 20 doctors, drug clinics and hospitals. And he concluded that the medical records disproved all of Gallagher's claims made in a civil suit of various physical and mental injuries resulting from the alleged rapes.
Despite this avalanche of factual material, the Inquirer has kept its head buried in the sand, blindly clinging to the original but completely discredited story line. As told by Gallagher and immortalized in the mistake-filled grand jury report that's still posted online at the website of our corrupt district attorney, Seth Williams. He's the guy who has refused to resign from office after he was hit with a 23-count federal indictment for allegedly taking bribes, committing extortion, honest services fraud and wire fraud.
Throughout Lynn's legal ordeal, the Inquirer has:
-- Refused to out Gallagher, whom they have habitually identified as "Billy Doe" and "the victim," before they started calling him "the accuser."
-- Said thanks but no thanks when I offered them all the confidential records in the case, with no strings attached, so they could do their own investigation.
-- Turned down a $58,000 ad from the Catholic League that called attention to the factual problems with the case.
-- Published 43 articles in the past seven years that passed off the claims of Billy Doe and that intellectually dishonest grand jury report as gospel, without ever mentioning any of the problems with the case and the mistakes in the grand jury report.
-- Refused to report on a legal challenge filed by Lynn's lawyers that showed how the original state law that Lynn was charged with breaking -- endangering the welfare of a child -- didn't apply to Lynn. It's an argument that the state Superior Court agreed with when they overturned Lynn's conviction for the first time, in 2013. But when an Inquirer reporter was shown the original brief outlining the problems with the child endangerment law, he told Lynn's lawyers my editor isn't interested in this.
-- Cited the Billy Doe case on the editorial page as a reason for expanding the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania so that alleged victims of sex abuse can file more civil lawsuits against the church.
The most recent development in the case that further proves Billy Doe is a fraud who sent four innocent men to jail for imaginary crimes: Joe Walsh, the retired detective who led the D.A.'s investigation into Billy Doe's claims, has come forward to testify about prosecutorial misconduct. On the witness stand in pretrial hearings in the Msgr. Lynn case, Walsh has testified about numerous factual discrepancies in Gallagher's stories and the many falsehoods that he caught Gallagher in.
And, Walsh testified, when he told Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen about it, she allegedly replied, "You're killing my case."
Last week, I wrote on this blog about another highly publicized case of sexual abuse, the scandal at Penn State.
What's new is a previously unknown 110-page report done in 2012 by a special agent investigating whether a high-level security clearance should have been renewed for Graham Spanier. He's the former Penn State president accused of endangering the welfare of a child by not reporting a 2001 incident where Jerry Sandusky was spotted naked in the showers cavorting with a boy.
In his report, FIS Special Agent John Snedden concluded that Spanier's security clearance should be renewed because the alleged shower incident was reported to Spanier by two administrators as merely "horese play." There was no evidence that a sex crime was committed at Penn State, Snedden concluded, and no evidence of a coverup. Because, Snedden said, there was nothing to cover up.
I asked PMN spokesperson Amy Buckman and Editor Escobar, why the Inquirer didn't cover the Snedden report, or the avalanche of facts that have come to light in recent years in the Billy Doe case.
"We aren't commenting on that," she wrote.
Back when I went to Journalism School, we were told it was our job to hold everyone accountable. There were no sacred cows.
But when it comes to sex abuse, as far as the Inquirer is concerned, alleged victims are granted anonymity, even when their story has been exposed as a hoax. While the newspaper simultaneously hangs defendants out to dry.
When it comes to sex abuse, as far as the Inquirer is concerned, only the alleged victims and the prosecutors and the plaintiff's lawyers can tell the truth.
If there's any evidence to the contrary, it's the Inquirer's policy is to willfully ignore it.
Whether that evidence is plastered on the website of the National Catholic Reporter.
Or on the cover of Newsweek.
Or in 110 pages of a formerly confidential report written by a special agent for the feds.
There is only one truth. And don't bother anybody at the Inquirer with any evidence to the contrary. Because they don't want to disturb the sacred cows grazing in the newsroom.