Monday, July 22, 2013

Filmmaker Sees Parallel Between Red Purges And Local Prosecution Of Catholic Priests

By Ralph Cipriano

Ken Gumbert, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, chronicles the lives of people who have fought back against historic injustices.

His 1990 documentary, Saving Grace, was about the survivors of a Communist social experiment to exterminate religion in Czechoslovakia, particularly the Catholic Church. His 1992 film, Between Two Worlds, was about a family of Ute Indians struggling to retain their native culture on a Utah reservation, amid rampant alcoholism and drug abuse. His 2003 documentary, Red Terror On The Amber Coast, was about the resistance movement in Lithuania, where people fought to the death against a Soviet campaign of mass arrests, property confiscations, and deportations to forced labor camps in Siberia.

Gumbert was in Philadelphia this week to begin shooting his latest documentary about another group of people fighting historic injustice -- Catholic priests in America falsely accused of sex abuse.

It's a subject that Gumbert is passionate about. He's a Catholic priest of 28 years, and a member of a Dominican order. He's also a film studies professor at Providence College in Rhode Island.

The origin of Gumbert's latest film project dates back to 2002. Gumbert was in California, doing research on Saving Grace, when the Catholic sex abuse scandal exploded in Boston. The priest was getting ready to fly to Europe, to interview survivors of the Communist campaign in Czechoslovakia to eliminate religion.

Saving Grace was built around interviews with people who took the church underground during the  Communist purges. A bishop Gumbert interviewed was imprisoned with Vaclav Havel, the playwright and dissident who became the first president of the Czech Republic. In jail, the bishop taught Havel, an agnostic, how to pray the rosary. Dissidents in Czechoslovakia employed the same Christian principles of passive resistance and non-violence used by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Saving Grace won the Gabriel Award in 2005 for the best documentary broadcast on national TV. Gumbert sees parallels between how the Communists behind the Iron Curtain treated Catholics in Czechoslovakia, and how America has treated Catholic priests accused of sex abuse.

"I noticed some shocking similarities," Gumbert said. The media's treatment of the Boston sex abuse scandal did not seem like journalism, he said, but was more of a "witch hunt."

"Catholic priests have lost their constitutional rights in America if accused of sex abuse," Gumbert flatly declares. When a Catholic priest is accused, "it is generally assumed that it's true."

"There's a historical trail that reveals that the best way to discredit the Catholic Church by its political opponents is by accusing its clergy of sexual immorality," Gumbert said. "It's the oldest trick in the book when the objective is to discredit the institution."

"That's what the Communists did" in  Czechoslovakia, Gumbert said. "They involved themselves in witch hunts with people that they thought disagreed with them. And they put them into show trials which I believe is what happened with Boston."

And possibly Philadelphia as well?

"I'm still studying it and I'm still gathering the facts," Gumbert said. "But I have this sense that what's happening in Philadelphia is the same thing that happened in Boston in 2002."

In Boston, Gumbert is chronicling the lives of two priests accused of sex abuse. 

"They were put on the shelf, their names were published as being accused, and they lost their reputations," Gumbert said.

The two accused priests, however, decided to fight back. They hired their own detectives to investigate. The detectives proved that the priests had indeed been falsely accused, Gumbert said.

But even though "it was determined that the accusations were false, and even though the archdiocese concluded that the priests were falsely accused, they're still on the shelf," Gumbert said. "Their reputations have been tarnished, their good names have been taken away from them. At the end of the day, that's all a priest has."

"I just seen this huge injustice and that's what my films are all about," Gumbert said. "This is my ministry."

Gumbert was in town to interview this reporter about the local district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Gumbert, who has done research nationally on the topic of Catholic priests falsely accused of sex abuse, says that BigTrial is doing something unique.

"You're the only serious reporter that I know that is aware of the situation, and is honest enough and is interested in the issue of fairness and civil rights to report on it," Gumbert said.

                                    *                       *                         *

Gumbert wasn't the only journalist visiting BigTrial recently. Also in town the week before were Jennie and Jacque Day. According to an email from Jennie Day, the two sisters are doing a research project "examining changing news environments in American cities" where newspapers suffer from "declining content."

Jennie Day is a native Pennsylvanian, engineer and lecturer in urban planning at the University of Melbourne. Her sister, Jacque Day, is a reporter who has won 11 Associated Press awards for her work with NPR affiliate WKMS-FM in Kentucky. Jacque Day has also worked as a producer for the Discovery Health Channel, and as a staff reporter for Leader Newspapers.

In Philadelphia, the Day sisters interviewed former Philadelphia Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney, former Inquirer cartoonist Tony Auth, and former Inky columnist Tom Ferrick, among others.

The Day sisters asked more than an hour's worth of questions about my former battles with Tierney during the early 1990s, when I was the religion reporter for the Inquirer, and Tierney was the public relations guru for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Day sisters also questioned Tierney about the subject.

"He was really open with us," Jennie Day said. The sisters are doing similar research in San Francisco and Cincinnati.

"I am beginning to suspect that every city has a journalist who is outspoken, independent and absolutely critical to know for our research," Jennie Day wrote in an email. "These are people who seem to know every corner of the city and who care deeply about it; people who are willing to say the unpopular thing and do the hard yards and back it up. In Philly, I think that's you."

The Day sisters hope to turn their research project into a book.


  1. Another excellent post by Ralph. I hope that this documentary blows the lid off of the D.A.'s office.
    I can not concur more readily with Fr. Gumbert: innocent priests have suffered at the hands of malicious accusers and prosecutorial zealots. May the truth win out. These innocent priests are suffering in a way that we cannot even begin to comprehend. These intelligent, gifted and generous men have given their lives in service to God and his people. To see them so mistreated is a cause of genuine sorrow to all who believe in the rule of law and justice.

  2. Congratulations, Ralph. I'm so glad to hear, that after all of your intense research and dogged reporting, that you are getting some of the credit and accolades that you so justly deserve! I hope that more will follow!

  3. One of Fr. Gumbert's statements that he made during an interview in which he played himself in the movie Me,myself and Irene was "I certainly hope my fifteen minutes of fame isn't up," he said with a laugh.

    Is this all part of Fr. Gumbert plan to keep his fifteen minutes of fame from ending ? Will he tell the whole story and be objective in his documentary or will it be one-sided that all victims are liars and those individuals are only out for one thing that is the Big Pay-out as some here on this blog suggest ?

    The Dominican priest who can also be quoted as saying one of his favorite movies is Carrie. A movie that mimics the crucifixion of our Lord. A movie that most likely sent Bill Donahue into his office with his VHS camera condemning all those who watch it to hell.

    I'm sorry Fr. Gumbert but your fifteen minutes of fame is coming to an end, when you make comments such as"Theres' a historical trail that reveals that the best way to discredit the Catholic Church by its political opponents is by accusing its clergy of sexual immorality," Who are these opponents you speak of ? The church has deserved the image they now have. No one else can be blamed for their mistakes.

    In closing, I read nothing that others should be giving Ralph a pat on the back for. He interviewed one man that outside of his circle 98% of people on this earth never heard of him. I only hope that Philadelphia catholics do not put all their eggs in one basket as they did with Bill Donahue when he came to town preaching what he will do. Where is he at now ?

    1. Dennis, You display your historical ignorance. Garibaldi in order to instill hatred in the hearts of his soldiers toward the catholic clergy in Italy told these men that they should not trust the clergy because the priests desired to "sleep with" their wives thus fostering anti-clericalism. The Nazis and communists also charged the clergy withn sexual immorality of all types so as to make the people no longer trust their priests. History demonstrates the accuracy of Fr. Gumbert's statement: "There is a historical trail that reveals that the best way to discredit the Catholic Church by its opponents is by accusing its clergy of sexual immorality."

  4. I find this article to be an important first step into possibly bringing some much needed attention to this travesty of justice. Just imagine being a priest such as Father Engelhardt with over 45 years of humble service to your religious order and to your fellow man being accused of a heinous crime you didn't commit, exactly four years later after being put on the shelf, having your reputation ruined, your face plstered in every newspaper and TV news market in this country, you are wrongly convicted of that crime after a trial with no physical or corroborating evidence, mountains of testimony that the assault could not have happened in that sacristy as offered by this alleged victim, nothing but at least four bizarre wildly different versions that Danny Gallagher offered of those assaults, first to the archdiocese social worker, then to the investigating detective, a third story presented to the grand jury and ultimately a different version related in that courtroom. Perhaps an investigative documentary might bring this case into the limelight that it most certainly is deserving of. And may others in the media follow this lead to get to the truth.

  5. That is why we have boundaries between student and teacher, priest and the rest of his flock. We train young teachers and seminarians on what to do when doing your professional duties. Among things taught is not to get too close personally to one of your students or parishioners and to have a neutral personna toward all people.

    Some follow the advice well and conduct themselves appropriately, but some do not. And they become ripe for false charges lodged against them by those seeking a payout from the school or the Archdiocese the priest works under. Underneath the swarm of humanity, there are those devious souls who seek to take advantage of a situation to their advantage and to ruin an innocent teacher or priest's life.

    Just this week, an African American music teacher from William Tennent High school was found guilty of two charges of inappropriate conduct by a jury which dismissed the majority of charges than were serious enough to keep the teacher in jail for decades. What happened was this teacher had a touchy feely personality and used that to encourage/comfort his music students. Some liked his approach but others were creeped out. The sex he fawned on were the white girls in this predominately white high school. Coincidentally, he had a white wife and they had children. He will be sentenced in 30 days on the two charges. Most likely he will be fired from his job. Point is had he followed common sense on boundary issues and kept personal contact to himself, he would still have a job.

  6. James, I agree boundaries need to be maintained but there were no boundary issues breached in this particular case, the entire set of accusations is a lie, with money being the ulterior motive of this accuser and his family. The prosecutors in this city have specifically targeted the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and it's clergy as if this organization is the only one where sexual boundaries were breached. I don't doubt for a moment that abuse occurred decades ago, those situations have been documented.

    However, there is now a predisposition in this city that every accused clergy member is "automaticaly guilty" before trial, deemed guilty in spite of a complete lack of evidence that would lend even a hint of credence to the accusation. The end result is anyone can make a false accusation as was the case here and an innocent priest with an impeccable reputation built up over 45 years of service to his religious community can be convicted for political and financial gain in the city of Philadelphia

  7. Ralph

    Those who thirst for justice - most especially the unjustly accused and their families - are most appreciative of your insights and dogged tenacity. So please continue.

    I'm hoping that the Sorensen resignation is the first of many within the Phily DA's office.

    I believe that it's only a matter of time before one or more ADA's break their code of silence and come forward with the unvarnished truth. For all we know, this may already be happening.

    God Bless!

    1. If God is for us, who can be against us?

      Romans 8:31

  8. Ralph,

    Congratulations on these interesting stories ... thank you for sharing them. Fr. Gompert's diverse projects seem to have appeal. (I am personally very familiar with Providence College as well). I know this latest unraveling will mean more coverage of the injustice that has taken place as well as more (hopefully) exposure for you here in Philadelphia.

    In the meantime, I hope that you are mulling around the idea of a book by non other than yourself. I have mentioned before that it would be neat to include historical background (like the know-nothing party of mid 1800's, the burning of Churches, etc.) There is so much history of the Church in Philadelphia (much already written by Msgr Connelly). As my husband and I are ready to celebrate the great feast of St. Anne at the great Church of St Anne in Kensington (or is it Port Richmond?), with a stop at the Aramingo Diner, I have gotten sidetracked. Taking a journey on the map and recall how great these neighborhoods are/were-what great street names, Rising Sun, Seltzer, Tioga, Hunting names such as Harrowgate and Fishtown, the great city parishes of old. I am only looking at one small area of the city where the Catholic population has become smaller-(St. Anne, eg. was founded for the vast Irish population. You could incorporate the trial (although now an appeal pending) into a historical novel about Philadelphia Catholics. So many components now-the economy, lack of jobs, unemployment rate ,decline in number of churchgoers (all denominations, frankly). , exit to the suburbs, smaller Catholic families. Obviously, I love the idea (wish that I had the talent and the discipline).

  9. Pope gives advice on stemming 'exodus' from Church.

    By Philip Pullella, Reuters

    Pope Francis, in a stunningly candid assessment of the state of the Catholic Church, said on Saturday it should look in the mirror and ask why so many people are leaving the faith of their fathers.

    On the penultimate day of his trip to Brazil, Francis delivered a long address to the country's bishops in which he suggested elements of what could become a blueprint for stopping what he called an "exodus."

    "I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?" he said in a speech remarkable for its frankness about the hemorrhaging of the Church in many countries.

    The Church has been losing members throughout the world to secularism and to other religions, including in Latin America, where evangelical groups have won over many converts.

    I wonder if Fr. Gumbert will add these latest statements by the pope into his story line, or will the words of the leader of the catholic church go ignored ?

    1. Hmmmm...I'm impressed that you are following the great 2013 WYD addresses by the Pope (I'll assume that you have read/heard more than the one you site to the bishops of Brazil. Sounds like you were impressed with what the Pope said to them. However, I really cannot see what Fr. Gompert's writing/filmmaking would have anything to do with that.

      Keep watching/reading, Dennis. There were 3 million on the beach for the closing Mass this AM. What a joy to watch the young, energetic, inspired (and inspiring) crowds!!! It will all be repeated this evening and probably during the week if you missed it or go to EWTN or plenty of other sites for the coverage that was done. If you like music, you will be soothed as well.

  10. Great news. Congratulations, Ralph.
    I hadn't heard of Fr Gumbert's documentaries, but will be seeking them out.
    His analogies between the anti-Catholic witch hunts under the Soviets in Czechoslovakia and those playing out in cities like Philadelphia and Boston, complete with their show trials, are interesting.
    And, most importantly for anyone who claims to believe in justice and the constitution, he is absolutely right when he states:
    "Catholic priests have lost their constitutional rights in America if accused of sex abuse."
    Unfortunately, and to the shame of the US justice system, there are many examples from which to choose for Fr Gumbert's work.

  11. There may be Catholic priests who were falsely accused, by what about the thousands who were credibly accused and were protected by the hierarchy of the church. I will wait to celebrate Gumbert's movie until I see the actual historic FACTS!!! Simply showing that two priest were falsely accused is not enough. What about the priests who molested hundreds of innocent children and vulnerable adults? Who will make sure that they don't ever do this again? And that the bishops, archbishops, cardinals AND popes who covered up and lied for them will never do it again? Let's get our priorities straight. At least the Boston Globe uncovered this horror and brought it to light. If Gumbert doesn't like the way it was done, then maybe he could do it better.

    1. Did you just come to this site? Have you been absent from places where the true facts are actually discussed and make sense or have you been following only the newspapers that must appeal to the masses and sell papers as they are hanging on by a thread.(Boston Globe was just sold for a mere $70 million, a lot less than it had been bought for).

      You seem quite removed from the reality of the present. The programs to protect children that the Catholic Church has in place for years rival none than any other organization has in place. Where have you been? Look at the stats for the allegations recently -nationally 6 credible per year recently. Compare that to the allegations against public school teachers-come on lady-get the facts yourself. Every day in the paper there is a different incident and it DOES NOT INVOLVE a Catholic priest. I hope that you aren't not just one of the anti-catholic haters that just drops in with no real constructive or truthful observation.

      Are you stuck in 2002 with the Boston Globe remark? Priests have been falsely accused everywhere and it is finally coming to light. There are plenty of people who are not just faithful-they have the truth about the injustices that have taken place. Read back on this forum and check out as well.

  12. Josie, she pretty much represents the mainstream. The mainstream's not going to read the Media Report. They probably are watching Ray Donovan though. And the reason that Ray Donovan works is because so many people know of someone who was molested by a priest. It is now the central theme of the Showtime series. On the other hand, not too many people know someone who was molested as a child in public school. That's because if it is known about at all, it is prosecuted.

    As for the "stats," this isn't a sport. It's possibly the most heinous crime known to man short of murder. It's a waste of time to repeat to you that children don't report abuse for many, many years if at all. If 6 current cases got reported, I would guess that the parents somehow fell upon the abuse and actually called police.

    Of course out of thousands of priests accused, it is a given that at least a few are falsely accused. But Shero did not declare his innocence in his suicide note, nor did he take the stand to tell the jury he's innocent. Lynn made "head-slapping" admissions of negligence and failure to protect children. Avery is a perjurer with a history of child molesting. And Englehardt, I don't remember what his case was. He might be one of the falsely accused.

    Let's just hope that the rising consciousness of this terrible crime will help to eliminate it from all sources, including the biggest source of all which is not schools or churches, but families.

    1. what mainstream, are you speaking of the mainstream bias promoted by the media in this country including Philadelphia that automatically deems any accusation against a catholic priest as "absolute truth" before their day in court. Do either of you, Gabrielle and/or SarahTX2 know anything about this particular case, such as the bizarre 5 hour long assault reported to the archdiocese caseworker "JANUARY 30th, 2009" later recanted on the stand by that same accuser this past January. Oh, that's right, he was conveniently high on heroin that day, he didn't remember.

      Version #2 by this accuser vastly different as given to the investigative detective JANUARY 2010, a statement given in the presence of his parents, against normal protocol when the accuser is now a 23 year old "adult"

      Version/tale #3 as testified to the grand jury of the alleged assault by Fr. Engelhardt differs from the first 2 versions as does the eventual testimony in court.

      That kind of sums up the particular case involving Father Engelhardt, a priest with close to 50 years of service to his religious order, there was no crime here, no assault, just a vicious series of wild accusations that your "mainstream media" deemed credible.

      A man whose reputation was described as "impeccable, "above reproach" by more than 2 dozen witnesses in court, unfortunately, all to no avail.

      I'll stack this priest's reputation against Danny Gallagher's 23 rehab stints, his numerous arrests in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for theft and drug possession including intent to distribute anyday of the week. Every drug addict has not been abused, they are just looking for a quick payout.

      Yes, Fr Engelhardt is one of the falsely accused.


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