Sunday, April 15, 2012

Reporter's Notebook: Did Mom's Testimony Help or Hurt Son's Case?

"I will never really know what happened."

Those were the last words uttered on the witness stand Wednesday by the mother of Mark Bukowski, when she was asked for the final time what happened back in 1996, when Father James J. Brennan was alone in his apartment with her son, who was only 14 at the time.

The reason why the defense lawyers in the courtroom were smiling was you could almost hear the man who asked that last question, Father Brennan's lawyer, William J. Brennan, already rehearsing his closing statement.

If the victim's own mother has reasonable doubt about what happened that night in the priest's bedroom, how can you, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, also not have that same reasonable doubt?

That's the way some people in Courtroom 304 saw it, the people who think that Father Brennan and his co-defendant, Msgr. William J. Lynn, are being railroaded by an anti-Catholic prosecution and press.

But fans of the prosecution say that the mother of Mark Bukowski was just being honest about her inner turmoil over what happened between her son and her favorite priest. The prosecution's fans see as a more telling quote what Mark's mother said when asked why she didn't just end her friendship with Father Brennan immediately, no matter what went down in the priest's bedroom.

"I can't answer that and I'll never forgive myself."

There were other facets to the pscho-drama. Listening to Mark's mother talk about her infatuation with Father Brennan, it seemed like she was still enthralled. "He's got a beautiful singing voice," she told the jury. Father Brennan was estranged from his family, she said, so that's why she invited him over for Sunday dinner so often, because she wanted to create a surrogate family for the priest. "He was the cool young priest on the staff," she told the canonical court that investigated the alleged attempted rape of Mark Bukowski, words that were read back to the jury in Courtroom 304.

Other hardened law enforcement types in the courtroom see a side benefit to the mother's testimony. They think the jury will see she was so blinded by her infatuation with Father Brennan that she didn't figure out what the priest was really up to while he was pretending to be her drinking buddy: Father Brennan was grooming Mark as a target for sex abuse.

Indeed, Robert Kane, a former Little League coach, may have reinforced that view with his testimony. Kane came forward last week to talk about an incident he witnessed more than 20 years ago but never reported until a couple of months ago. Back when Mark Bukowski was 8, and a player on Kane's traveling all-star team, the team was hanging out at the Bukowski house. Kane told the jury he saw Father Brennan in the kitchen massaging the shirtless boy's bare shoulders.

Kane thought the incident was weird, but he also testified, so was Ms. Bukowski's infatuation with Father Brennan. More than 20 years later, it was still fresh in Kane's mind. She was always telling everybody about her priest and how we all had to meet him, Kane told the jury.  She "seemed to talk about him [Father Brennan] all the time."

Other telling moments from last week:

Most unbelievable witness: He wore a collar. Hands down, it was Bishop Robert Maginnis, former vicar of Montgomery County. Maginnis was the archdiocese administrator who had to deal with Father Edward DePaoli, the priest who collected kiddie porn in his rectory bedroom. The priest's porno stash was raided in 1985 by the feds. If that happened on your watch, you would think it would stand out in your memory

 Yet the feds raiding the rectory and finding $15,000 worth of kiddie porn under the priest's bed didn't seem to make much of an impression on Bishop Maginnis.

"I just don't remember," he told the prosecutor.

The prosecutor was so incredulous he kept asking the bishop why he couldn't recall such a scandalous incident.

"If I did remember it, I'd tell you that I remembered it," the bishop said dismissively.

The bishop was also the guy who was presiding over the county when Sister Joan Scary got canned in 1996 by the pastor of Father DePaoli's new church, after she got upset that the priest was still receiving porno at his new church rectory. Sister Joan made the mistake of complaining about Father DePaoli to the pastor of Father DePaoli's new parish, Father James Gormley, whom, she said, told her to shut up or "get the hell out."Sister Joan also sent an anonymous letter of complaint to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Bishop Maginnis sided with Pastor Gormley, saying in a 1996 letter to the archdiocese that the nun was aware of Father DePaoli's "past problems" and she was using the absence of the pastor, who was getting a knee replaced, "stir up some conflict" to "cast doubt on Father DePaoli's credibility."

But try as it might to delve into the controversy, all Blessington could get out of the witness was: "Sister was uncomfortable with Father." When pressed for more details, the bishop told the prosecutor, "I don't recall."

After Maginnis left the witness stand, Jeff Lindy, one of Msgr. Lynn's defense lawyers, stood up and complained to the judge that the prosecution was treating current employees of the archdiocese as hostile witnesses. Maybe he was attempting to work up some sympathy for such a lousy witness. But the bishop came across like somebody who was stonewalling.

Bullpen disaster of the week: Msgr. Lynn's defense team is composed of four defense lawyers: Thomas Bergstrom, Jeff Lindy, Alan Tauber and Allison Khaskelis, the youngest member of the team. So far in Courtroom 304, Khaskelis' role has been to cross-examine potentially troublesome female witnesses.

Last Tuesday, the defense team called in Khaskelis to cross-examine a former female victim. The victim, a 56-year-old native of Cuba, told the jury that when she was 12, and preparing for confirmation, Father DePaoli fondled her breast.

Khaskelis began her cross-examination by telling her that she understood how she felt as an immigrant to this country, because she was an immigrant too. That drew an objection from the prosecutor that was sustained by the judge.

Khaskelis tried to get the victim to admit that when she called the secretary for the clergy's office, in 2002, she got a prompt response, right? They called her back "almost immediately?"

The victim agrees grudgingly that the response was fairly prompt. But as Khaskelis struggles to get the witness to say something nice about Msgr. Lynn, and his concern for victims, it is becoming dangerously clear that the victim is not impressed with the treatment she received from the secretary for the clergy. And while the young defense lawyer watches, frozen, like the proverbial deer in the headlights, the victim brings the lumber.

"My feeling was that they didn't really care," she declares of her two meetings with Msgr. Lynn and an assistant. "They were going through the motions," she said, adding, "Were they empathetic? No."

During a courtroom break, one of the older defense lawyers attempts to console a red-eyed Khaskelis about that softball that the victim just hit into the bleachers. "You only learn this type of thing by doing it," he said.


  1. Great insight. I'm wasn't there but I felt the same thing when I read the characterization of mom's testimony. She basically corroborated her sons testimony and established that Brennan had an inappropriate relationship with her whole family, including her son. The defense lawyer's reaction showed he was so enamored with himself and his argument about the mom's doubt (and reasonable doubt) that he missed the impact of both witnesses testimony. The prosecution's theory is that mom served her boy up to her drinking partner in return for some attention from the cool priest. Nothing the mom said is inconsistent with that theory. Reasonable doubt assumes a reasonable person. A reasonable person would not have let her son have sleepovers with her troubled drinking buddy. Neither her doubt now nor her confidence then was reasonable.

  2. Any number of expert witnesses can be called to explain how some predatory clergy insinuate themselves into the lives of the families whose children they are grooming for abuse. I hope that happens. Too many believe that abusers are just creepy guys who hang out on the margins of schoolyards. In more cases than not, though, we've found that abusive clergy have been the fun, charming, affable young priest who goes by "Father (first name)," comes to dinner without a collar, takes the kids places, etc., etc. And we know quite a few survivors whose parents didn't believe them when such a priest abused their kids.

    1. Its not just predatory clergy. Parents worry about the mythical "stranger danger" roving pedophile who snatches their kid from the store, backyard, and yes, schoolyards. Pedophiles seek out single moms and troubled families; families where the parents are distracted and the children are starved for adult attention. "Mark's" family met that profile to the "t." And Brennan's grooming of that family was completely consistent with that pattern. What makes the catholic priest story singular is not the fact that some of them are child predators--child predators are in all walks of life. What makes it unique was the institutional enabling and cover-up by the RCC hierarchy. It is difficult to imagine any other institution where child predators were harbored, protected, and assisted. Priests that dissented from church doctrine were promptly disciplined. Priests that molested or fondled children were ignored and protected. It's sickening.

    2. GBullough,

      I have read that Pennsylvania law has some restrictions on the expert witnesses in cases like this that are unique to Pennsylvania, and I believe that they might not allow such witnesses, which is unfathomable.

  3. I did wonder why the prosecution put her on the stand. Her final statement indicating she didn't believe her son certainly seemed damaging. I wondered if she had told the prosecutors that in advance. She did corroborate several facts though. And maybe they wanted the jury to see how entranced she was with the priest and what a precarious setting it was for the 14-year old boy. But whether or not she hurt his case, she most certainly hurt him. And that must have garnered substantial sympathy from the jury. I hope so anyway. And in that event, I'm concluding she helped his case.

    1. She didn't say she didn't believe her son (today). She said she'll never know (for sure, under oath) what went on in that room. That is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

      The only two that know are her son and a Catholic priest, and Catholic priests have been lying about child rape forever, and we have absolute proof of two liars just this year - Cardinal Bevilacqua and Fr Avery.


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