Thursday, November 27, 2014

Trying To Peddle The Ultimate Contrarian Story

By Ralph Cipriano

When I was a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer and had a story to pitch, I used to go editor shopping.

Back in the 1990s when the newspaper had 600 journalists, there were so many departments to shop in -- news, features, sports, the projects desk where they did long, boring investigative stories, and the Sunday magazine. And so many different editors to pitch a story to. If one editor said no it was on to the next one until I made a sale.

Sadly, one rule applied to too many editors I dealt with. If you told them something they already knew, something that squared with the prevailing wisdom, you were in good shape. But if you told those same editors something new, especially something that might challenge the prevailing wisdom, that's when the trouble started.

On this blog for the past two years, we've been dealing with the ultimate contrarian story. A junkie criminal scheming to get out of prison poses as a victim of clerical sex abuse. A politically ambitious district attorney drafts that junkie criminal as his star witness to put men in collars behind bars while the media and public cheer him on. Even though people in the D.A.'s own office privately agreed with defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern's assessment of star witness Billy Doe as a "lying sack of shit."

It's the story nobody wants to hear because it runs counter to the cult of victimology and current, pervasive prejudices against Catholic clerics. But in Philadelphia, with three courts prying into the local district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the truth is lurking out there. Especially in the civil case beginning next month when certain current and former members of the district attorney's office are placed under oath and have to answer some tough questions about a bogus investigation rigged from day one.

Remember My Cousin Vinny, the 1992 movie starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei?

In the movie, would-be lawyer Vinny Gambini, played by Joe Pesci, brags to his girlfriend that he just fleeced the local district attorney out of all of his prosecution files in the murder case against Vinny's cousin and his best friend.

It's the Marisa Tomei character, Mona Lisa Vito, who explains to Vinny that he's legally entitled to those files because of the discovery process. In a criminal trial the prosecution has to turn over all its files to the defense lawyers, so they know exactly what they're up against.

It's the formerly confidential grand jury transcripts and police records in the D.A.'s historic prosecution that have fueled the stories on this blog for the past two years.

Reporters usually love documents, especially confidential ones, because court documents are privileged and carry a legal protection. If you're a reporter, you can quote from those documents without fear of anyone being able to sue you for libel. We also have a shield law in this state that protects a reporter from having to give up his or her sources.

I figured out a while ago that if I remained the only reporter in town chasing this story the search for truth wouldn't get far. Especially when you're dealing with a district attorney, Seth Williams, who has been stonewalling you for two years, refusing to answer any questions.

Seth Williams may be able to stiff this blog, but could he afford to ignore the Inquirer, or the Daily News, or the local TV stations? How about 60 Minutes? I decided to give it a shot by going editor shopping.

I began pitching the formerly confidential records in this case to other media outlets, no strings attached, in hopes that they'd jump on the story. But they wound up looking a gift horse in the mouth.

A high-ranking editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer said thanks but no thanks. A columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News didn't even respond.

A writer for a magazine said hey, that sounds like a great story, but I have to talk to my editors first. Bet you can guess how that worked out. A star reporter for a local TV station said don't bother giving me any documents. Her news director looked at the stories I wrote and couldn't figure out how to present that kind of material to a TV audience.

At the height of editor shopping, I had a day-long audience in New York with a producer for 60 Minutes. He took me in for a brief meeting with correspondent Scott Pelley. Pelley, munching on a bowl of granola at his desk, succinctly summarized the problems with the Billy Doe story by saying, hey, you've got two contrary jury verdicts going against you. How do you scale that mountain?

At the time, the state Superior Court hadn't overturned the conviction yet of Msgr. William J. Lynn. That same Superior Court is currently mulling the appeals of the convictions of the late Father Charles Enghelhardt and Bernard Shero. Hey Scott, if the Superior Court overturns the convictions of Engelhardt and Shero, can I get a do-over?

The only news media outlet that bit on the story was the National Catholic Reporter, famous for decades of exposes about sexually abusive priests. The editors at NCR correctly figured that they had a moral obligation to look at the other side of the story, and the possibility that one alleged victim of sex abuse might be lying.

But as far as the rest of the news media is concerned, nobody wants to hear a story about three priests and a Catholic school teacher accused of sexual abuse who might be innocent. I can't give it away, and they won't even print it if you offer them money. The Inquirer, the city's paper of record, turned down $58,000 to print a couple of ads from the Catholic League that would have quoted the reporting on this blog raising questions about the D.A.'s historic prosecution.

So the citizenry should be cheering about three courts simultaneously examining the convictions in the investigation of the church because it could use some scrutiny. For the past several years, the local D.A. has been conducting a witch hunt in this town masquerading as justice. It's so out of whack  that local prosecutors are using tactics that were protested during the Salem witch trials.

I kid you not.

During the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693, Cotton Mather, a leading minister of the day, wrote a letter to one of the magistrates while the courts were in the process of hanging 19 witches. Mather, a former medical student, urged caution in the court's admission of "spectral evidence" because he didn't think it was reliable. Spectral evidence was defined as dreams and visions where the alleged perpetrators appeared to the victims in bodily form. Think that's far-fetched?

Here in Philadelphia, the alleged victim in this year's "Father Andy" sex abuse case was permitted to tell the story on the witness stand about the nightmare he had that prompted him to come forward and publicly accuse the priest.

The alleged victim told the jury he was watching the news on TV when he saw a picture flashed on the screen of Father Andy. That night, the alleged victim testified, he had a dream about the priest, Father Andrew McCormick. In the dream, Father Andy was sexually attacking the victim's five-year-old nephew and the victim couldn't do anything about it.

Father Andy's case ended on March 12th, 2014, with a hung jury, but the D.A. has already announced the case will be retried. How much you want to bet that the alleged victim gets to tell another jury about his nightmare starring Father Andy?

In the Father Andy case, the victim came forward 15 years later after the alleged crime. As in the case of Billy Doe, there was no physical evidence, no corroborating witnesses. I have no idea to this day of whether the alleged victim was telling the truth about Father Andy. But it's scary when you're on a witch hunt, you don't necessarily need any evidence. As in the case of Billy Doe, you can just make it up as you go along.

[Update: The second Father Andy trial also ended in a mistrial. The alleged victim, John Doe, who said at both trials that it wasn't about the money, promptly filed a civil suit against against Father Andy and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, seeking money.]

But the good news is that the state Supreme Court is now deliberating the fate of Lynn, and whether to uphold the reversal of his conviction. We could have that decision in a few months.

Meanwhile, at the funeral of Father Engelhardt, the leader of Engelhardt's religious order, Father James J. Greenfield, announced from the altar, a few feet away from Charlie's coffin, that the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales would continue their appeal of the priest's conviction  in state Superior Court. Even though Father Engelhardt was dead, the oblates, Greenfield pledged, would do everything legally possible to clear his name.

The other defendant convicted with Engelhardt, former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, is still in jail and pursuing his appeal. So the Superior Court may have to weigh in on the various allegations in the case involving judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.

And, in the Lynn case, if the state Supreme Court decides to send Lynn back to jail, the Superior Court would then have a second crack at all the other appeal issues raised in the Lynn case. Such as whether the defendant had any chance of ever receiving a fair trial after the trial judge, M. Teresa Sarmina, allowed into evidence 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse dating back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born.

But the most interesting legal battle is going on in the civil courts, where Billy Doe is suing the archdiocese, Lynn, Engelhardt and Shero for alleged pain and suffering. The other two defendants in the case, originally filed in July 2011, are the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and Ed Avery. He's the former priest who pleaded guilty to conspiring with Lynn to endanger the welfare of a minor, and raping Billy Doe, only to publicly recant in court.

At the Engelhardt funeral, a lawyer for Avery told the Engelhardt family this was why he had urged Avery to plead guilty to something he didn't do just to get a sweetheart deal of a plea bargain. The lawyer told the Engelhardt family it was better for "Eddie" to take the plea bargain rather than suffer Father Engelhardt's fate of dying in jail.

The proceedings in the civil case are being fought under a voluntary confidentiality stipulation that has had the effect of gagging the participants. The docket in the case, however, as well as court filings, sheds some light on what the litigants have been fighting over.

Lawyers for Billy Doe have repeatedly sought summary judgment against the defendants in the civl case, only to be denied by the court.

Lawyers for the archdiocese successfully argued that the archdiocese was not a party to the first criminal case against Lynn and Avery, and the second criminal case against Shero and Engelhardt. Lawyers for the archdiocese also argued that when Lynn was tried in 2012, he had "no managerial or supervisory responsibilities of any kind" with the archdiocese. So Lynn didn't represent the archdiocese.

During the trial, Lynn "took a position adversarial to the Archdiocese, claiming he had been 'hung out to dry'" by colleagues and superiors who had been part of "an overarching Archdiocesan conspiracy ... in Philadelphia during the 1990s," lawyers for the archdiocese argued.

The civil case is still in discovery. According to the docket, Engelhardt, Shero and Avery were deposed in prison. So whatever Father Engelhardt had to say has been preserved for the record on videotape.

Msgr. Lynn has already been deposed. So has Billy Doe, several times, as have his his father, mother and brother.

Meanwhile, as a public service, I'd like to suggest some questions to ask the D.A.'s guys when they're placed under oath.

Why not ask Detective Drew Snyder why he allowed Billy Doe's father, a Philadelphia police sergeant, and his mother, a registered nurse, to sit in on Billy's initial interview on Jan. 28, 2010 with the district attorney's office, even though Billy was 21, and not a minor? The usual policy in the Philadelphia police department and the district attorney's office would have been to interview an adult complainant and his parents separately.

Why not ask former Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen, who sat in on the initial interview with Billy, what became of her notes, which were never turned over to defense lawyers?

While you're at it, why not ask Sorensen, author of that 2011 grand jury report, why there were so many factual errors in it, and why the D.A.'s office rewrote the facts to fit their theory of the case.

For example, here's what the grand jury report had to say about when Billy's mother noticed a personality change in her son:

Billy’s mother also told us of a dramatic change in her son’s personality that coincided with the abuse. His friends and their parents also noticed this personality change. Billy’s mother watched as her friendly, happy, sociable son turned into a lonely, sullen boy. He no longer played sports or socialized with his friends. He separated himself, and began to smoke marijuana at age 11. By the time Billy was in high school, he was abusing prescription painkillers, and eventually he graduated to heroin. [page 17].

If only that were true. Here's what Billy's mother actually told the grand jury on Nov. 12, 2010:

 Q. Did there come a time when you noticed a change in [Billy's] behavior?

A. Yes. At age 14, as he entered high school, freshman year at high school, he wasn't the same child. He was very troubling to us.

Q. Ok. Prior to that, what was his personality?

A. He was basically a very pleasant, active, happy person prior to that and he was defined by some people as either Dennis the Menace or the All-American boy up to that point.

Q. Ok. So he's leaving St. Jerome's and entering into high school?

A. Uh-huh.

So which is it? Did poor little 10 and 11-year-old altar boy Billy Doe turn into a dope-smoking, anti-social loner in grade school as the grand jury report says? Or was he Dennis the Menace or the All-American boy, as his mother testified before the grand jury and his former teachers testified at trial?

In the civil case, we finally have a forum to get some answers to the questions that the D.A. has been stonewalling. Questions about his witch hunt that has ruined countless lives and already taken the life of one defendant. Questions that the rest of the news media doesn't want to ask him.

Ralph Cipriano can be reached at


  1. That paragraph talks about Billy's mother, his friends and his friends' parents. It doesn't say which person saw what when. That paragraph ends with " By the time Billy was in high school," So there's no conflict whatsoever between the Grand Jury paragraph and the few sentences you quote from the mother's testimony at trial. Sounds like the friends and their parents saw marijuana usage and other behaviors developing at age 11 and the mother saw a complete transformation by the time he entered high school.

    Your list of factual errors in the Grand Jury Reports is similar to the above. They're not clear-cut errors at all. If this is the kind of examples you're pitching to editors, along with references to My Cousin Vinny and the Salem Witch Trials, no wonder you're not getting any bites. The D.A.’s office had no duty to hand over to the defense the deposition of the social worker’s assistant because they weren’t using it. The defense failed to depose her. Defense counsel failed in so many ways that there may be a valid comparison of them with Vinny. Many victims do block out what happened and then have nightmares which shock them back into reality. Nothing to do with the Salem Witch Trials. None of your claims comes close to overcoming the fact that two separate juries in two separate trials with two different judges brought convictions.

    Another part of your pitch seems to be that in order to win election in Philadelphia, one must be anti-Catholic. That probably seems implausible to editors.

    Your only hope is if the Pa. Supreme Court affirms the lower court's reversal of Lynn's conviction. If that happens, your story has legs and Scott Pelley may call you back. But even then, why would he? It would take too long a story to explain that even though these men did all kinds of questionable things regarding children (Lynn admitted as much, Avery plead as much, Shero got rocks thrown and tried to kill himself, etc.), they didn't do bad things to this particular kid and therefore should be vaunted as heroes or martyrs or whatever. It's just a bad story about men who did bad things.

    What Scott Pelley might jump on is why did a priest mysteriously die in prison right after being released from the hospital? Either the doctors saw symptoms of heart disease or they didn’t. Either they gave proper care to the inmate or they didn’t. Either the cause of death is cardiac arrest or it isn't. That’s a story for 60 Minutes. “What happened to Fr. Engelhardt?”

    1. SarahTX2 needs a seeing eye dog

  2. Ralph, excellent summation of all that has transpired as well as quite an indictment against the DA and the news media which have given a pass to Seth because of what you rightly describe as "pervasive prejudices against Catholic clerics." How sad for so many reasons.

  3. I always thought when reporters did a story the one unwritten rule they must follow is to remain objective. Clearly not the case here.

    The reporter here clearly has some type of witch hunt towards this possible rape victim and the DA who successfully prosecuted the accused and along the way he was able to obtain a small following of old school Catholics who feel because they wear a collar priests can do no wrong.

    Keep looking maybe a high school newspaper may pick up your story with no questions asked.

    1. Objectivity, yes; blindness to a fraudulent story, no. Ralph has demonstrated time and again how fair and objective he has been. He has pursed the truth which is the hallmark of journalistic integrity.

    2. Journalistic objectivity is a myth. Was the media objective about Bush? Obama? Pick a social issue and ask yourself whether media's objective about it. Good luck with that.

      When I began covering the archdiocese sex abuse trials I was actually biased against the archdiocese for all the evil they have done, as catalogued in the 2005 grand jury report. I covered that grand jury report for National Catholic Reporter and the DA's office under Lynne Abraham used to hand out copies of the story I wrote to people who wanted a synopsis of the grand jury report.

      Then the sex abuse trials started and I saw how biased they were. In the opening moments of the Engelhardt-Shero trial, the defendants stood for the reading of the charges, so they could enter their pleas in front of the jury.

      The court crier read a charge against Engelhardt, rape of a child, that nobody had accused him of. The court crier read a charge against Shero, conspiracy, that Shero had never been charged with. The defense lawyers went nuts but the judge said no big deal, we'll eventually get it right. And the railroad job was on.

      I sat through every minute of both sex abuse trials, Lynn, Brennan & Avery, and Engelhardt Shero, which lasted a total of 16 weeks. I've read through the grand jury transcripts, police records, filings in the appeals. I've talked to defense lawyers in the two cases, prosecutors, witnesses. I've talked to many people in the DA's office, some of whom no longer talk to me.

      The critics on this blog often fall into two categories: people with a stake in the outcome who pretend to be anonymous readers, and ideologues wedded to a particular viewpoint who have never been in the courtroom and never done any independent investigation.

      My conclusions may be disturbing but they are the product of a search for the truth by somebody who came from the opposite viewpoint. So don't waste people's time talking about something that doesn't exist, journalistic objectivity. It's more important to have an open mind.

  4. Awwww... it's just SOOOO unfair. Convicted pedophile priests, their sleazy "enablers" (Lynn, Rigali, Bevelacqua), the mean old DA. etc., etc... There should always be prejudices against pedophiles, even if they happen to be "Catholic clerics." Too bad there is so little concern for the damage done to countless innocent children, going back decades in many cases, by these monsters... er, I mean these "Men of God."

    1. "little concern for the damage done to countless innocent children???" That is NOT what this case is about and you know it. Stop dis honoring the real victims of child sexual abuse by equating them with Gallagher who is a transparent fraud.

  5. "WHEN I WAS A REPORTER." Remember those words.

    Once again we see Ralph use those colorful adjectives to describe a possible victim of torture. Junkie, criminal. Although they maybe true if I was a parent of an abuse victim I would consider myself lucky because so much worse can happen. The victim could end up being an abuser themselves and at the very worst my child could end up taking their own life to escape the pain and memories inside. Drug addiction can be stopped with the right treatment and rehab. Pedophilia on the other hand cannot and nothing short of it being said on a court document is what these three men have been convicted of being.

    This article here is why so many main stream media want nothing to do with your writing and I applaud them for it. You are truly one reason why so many victims male or female, young and old do not come forward and report their abuse. The fear of being looked at as the criminal because of what they said or did not say, or by wearing a certain piece of clothing. Your own buddy Bill Donahue has been documented as saying "the victims seduced the priests.

    Speaking about that lunatic Bill Donahue were has he been in all of this ? Did he jump ship like many of your commenters ? He rolled into town with HIS money trying to be the tuff guy on the block and as quick as he rolled in he was even quicker to move out.

    I sure hope the Shero family reads this article because it shows without you coming out and saying it you could care less about Bernie so I hope when you call them they slam the phone down or if you go knocking on the door they slam it in your face.

    You have a problem of not being recognized because of your writings on this blog so here are some suggestions:

    1. Gather up what ever money you may have left over from that lawsuit.
    2. Buy a building
    3. Hire a bunch of so-called reporters like yourself
    4. ....and start your own newspaper or media outlet

    This way you get to be the boss. YOU get to pick and choose what articles you want to have in your paper.

    I am sure that small group of Catholics who follow you would buy a copy , priests, bishops and cardinals would like it too but you would be a hit in the prison system amongst the pedophiles and rapists.

    I even have two great names for your new newspaper:


    1. Sounds like Ecker spouting off again.

    2. Thank you Dennis! You've been missed.

    3. WRONG, but close.

      THAT's A REAL HERO although he does not consider himself to be one. Raped at the age of thirteen by someone he thought he could trust and he is still fighting the fight 40 years later. Therapy three days a week, medication and whatever else it takes to end the nightmares.

      You people are not man or lady enough to lick the dirt off his shoes.

    4. p.s. Ralph don't flatter yourself thinking Dennis gives a damn right now on anything you write.

    5. "The critics on this blog often fall into two categories: people with a stake in the outcome who pretend to be anonymous readers, and ideologues wedded to a particular viewpoint who have never been in the courtroom and never done any independent investigation."

    6. I lay awake at nights wondering what Dennis is thinking.


  6. Spin it anyway you want the DA Seth put his career on the line for the lying Junkie Billy Doe who has changed his recollection of the incidents like Broadway actresses change there clothing during a show. As for SETH great career move. This clowns days in the bussiness are numbered just like uncle barrack in the oval office.

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  8. Ralph, totally agree you've uncovered a great deal about Billy. I wonder how much you could uncover on the other side if you spent 1/10th the time looking in that direction as you have looking into Billy's past!

    1. You may want to actually READ Ralph's words before you spout this nonsense: Ralph used to be on the other side!

    2. Who on the other side should he look into? Think his previous articles covered all of it.

  9. It is said that the truth is what will set you free. For a habitual liar and fabricator like Danny Gallagher who cannot get his stories straight and put three priests and a teacher in jail while spinning stories of such without a care for the fate of those innocent men, he will be destined for a life spent in the bowels of hell without any mercy shown him as he had no mercy for others while spinning such stories of fantasy. For DA Seth Williams, his conception of justice is nowhere what it should be and questions of his competence and character are emerging at a time when mayoral candidates are emerging from the shadows for the May primary. Seth knows fully well he is not competent to serve as Mayor given what he did at the trials of the priests and teacher aided and abetted by Judges Sarmina and Ceisler. The sooner the Supreme Court rules on Lynn before Christmas will serve as a pointed rebuke to DA Seth and their minions for their careless application of the law at those trials. Billy Doe will be destined for a special place in hell for putting innocent people in jail. The media has already lost its credibility as nobody believes the bs they troll out on their newspapers.

    1. Hopefully a few good things come of this is the correct reversal by the Supreme court.
      And SETH DONT TELL THE TRUTH WILLIAMS and his Merry Misfits in the DA.s office pay for there poor Judgement here. And we all know Junkies do what Junkies do hopefully he ends up in jail or the best thing would be he takes his own life with his next fix either way he.ll get his. As for SETH DONT TELL THE TRUTH WILLIAMS running for office that ship is looking more and more to be leaving port soon with him facing the music for his incompetence as a DA .

    2. Please excuse some spelling i meant through

  10. I hear they got Christmas Tree Specials
    at 9th and passyunk in SoPhilly all proceeds go to the commissary fund for the boys in college

  11. And out of the nine lawsuits filed, five were summarily dismissed and one withdrawn voluntarily with three left to be heard in January, March and May 2015.

    1. Hi James,

      Very interesting. Could you tell us the names (accused) of those that have been dismissed as well as the ones that are still pending. I believe that Father Andy McCormick's case is still pending, but I'm not sure.

      Thanks, Joe.

  12. Didnt know that James

  13. Right now what we have had in Ferguson is very similar to what we had in Philadelphia during the priest abuse trials. Ferguson grand jury got it right by choosing not to indict and now the DOJ having had the very same materials to work with the grand jury had is faced with a situation of what will happen if the very same conclusion is drawn by DOJ as the grand jury concluded - riots. Thus, DOJ will probably indict in order to have a show trial and they will still run the risk of riots if the police officer is acquitted again.

    Bottom line - societal politics can influence decisions to prosecute or not and the local media in Philadelphia is no different from the national media which is too cowed easily by race advocates.


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