Seth Williams, a Philadelphia prosecutor who sent Msgr William Lynn and the late Fr Charles Engelhardt to prison, now faces a 23-count federal indictment of his own.
Some of the mighty have fallen from their public ruse as self-proclaimed champions of truth, justice, and the American way. The entire landscape of the Catholic Church in America was altered by the work of David Clohessy, Barbara Blaine, and “SNAP,” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
SNAP’s snappy acronym, and Clohessy’s and Blaine’s relentless media assault about sexually abusive Catholic priests, made the organization a Catholic household name. SNAP’s manipulation of the media helped launch the mediated settlement process that, to date, has siphoned over $3 billion from Catholic institutions, insurance carriers, and Catholic ministries in the United States
SNAP also made the American Catholic bishops shudder, spawning policies that, in the quest to assuage SNAP and satisfy lawyers, brought great harm to the priesthood and the relationship between bishops and priests. The damage was summed up in a single sentence by Canadian Catholic blogger, Michael Brandon, in an assessment of These Stone Walls:
“The Catholic Church has become the safest place in the world for young people and the most dangerous place in the world for Catholic priests.”
Now, ever so slowly, much of the media and prosecutorial spin woven by SNAP has begun to unravel. While most Catholic leaders were cowered into accommodating silence, the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights led by Bill Donohue, published “SNAP Implodes” in a recent issue of Catalyst.
It’s a stunning summation of SNAP’s seismic fall. A lawsuit against SNAP by one of its top officials has unmasked all that Bill Donohue suspected to be true. SNAP officials now stand accused of fraud and a financial kickback scheme with personal injury lawyers. SNAP is alleged to have used the plight of victims – real and fraudulent – to pad its own bottom line. (See “David Clohessy resigns SNAP in Alleged Kickback Scheme.”)
David Clohessy, SNAP’s Executive Director, and Barbara Blaine, SNAP’s President, have since quietly resigned. How SNAP built its empire of fear and loathing regarding priests is a study in the tactics of media manipulation. SNAP created a media bias – called an “availability bias” in the psychology of marketing – that presumes the guilt of any priest accused and underwrites a prejudice that priests are a suspect class. I described this bias in “How SNAP Brought McCarthyism to American Catholics.”
You can see the results of this bias throughout all media as it spills over from its treatment in the news to multiple other venues. Even as I type this post, I came across a TV replay of ventriloquist, Jeff Dunham. As he manipulated one of his famous dummies with great skill, the dummy proclaimed to raucous laughter, “Get your hands off me! You’re not my priest!” Any number of TV sitcoms now carry similar lines.
A THIN LINE BETWEEN PROSECUTION AND PERSECUTION
Among the most widely read and shared posts on These Stone Walls was one I wrote in January, 2016, entitled, “The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy on the Cover of Newsweek.” Readers found it to be shocking and compelling, and shared it over 2,000 times on Facebook. It profiles the story of Father Charles Engelhardt, a Catholic priest who died chained to a gurney in the hospital wing of a Pennsylvania prison.
As the story that landed him in prison was sensationalized in the press, facts became lost in the national coverage. Rolling Stone magazine’s now-infamous former crime reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, hyped the story of lascivious Philadelphia priests molesting innocent youths while bishops looked the other way.
This was two years before Ms. Erdely was deposed for vastly irresponsible journalistic ethics and practices. After her lurid account of “Billy Doe” molested by Father Engelhardt and then “traded” to other priests, Ms. Erdely went on to be conned by another fraudulent claim brought by “Jackie.” This time the accused were fraternity students at the University of Virginia.
Unlike the Catholic targets of Rolling Stone, UVA and the students sued for defamation. The result was a multi-million dollar judgment against Rolling Stone for Ms. Erdely’s “Rape on Campus” story, described by jurors as “reckless disregard for truth.” Ms. Erdely was quickly and quietly dropped from the Rolling Stone editorial staff. I wrote more of this story in “The Path of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Rolling Stone.”
Meanwhile, journalist Ralph Cipriano took the story of Father Engelhardt to the cover of Newsweekmagazine. Every objective observer of this story is now convinced that Father Charles Engelhardt was an innocent man falsely accused and wrongfully convicted.
The accuser’s history, kept from the jury, leaves little doubt that conducting such a scam was well within his reach. “The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy on the Cover of Newsweek” – his real name is Daniel Gallagher – received $5 million dollars for his claims against Father Charles Engelhardt and other priests.
The story made Daniel Gallagher a millionaire, and then he became the face of false witness and fraud. It made Sabrina Rubin Erdely an icon of investigative journalism, and then the face of journalistic disgrace. It made Fr Charles Engelhardt a prisoner, and then a martyr for the truth.
HOW PHILADELPHIA CRACKED THE LIBERTY BELL
This story also made Philadelphia prosecutor, Seth Williams, a rising star reaching for ever new career heights in the world of Pennsylvania tough-on-crime politics. But now that, too, has imploded. Mr. Williams now finds himself before the same bar of justice through which he dragged some innocent priests.
In a 23-count federal indictment in March, Seth Williams stands accused of soliciting and receiving bribes in the form of cash and gifts – including a Jaguar convertible and trips to Florida, California, Las Vegas, and the Dominican Republic. He is accused of using his office to alter plea deal offers in exchange for money, and multiple other fraud efforts.
The indictment contains a set of text messages between Williams and a business owner in which the prosecutor agreed to lower terms of a plea deal in exchange for cash. Mr. Williams – whose annual salary is $170,000 – is accused of receiving more than $54,000 in bribes that the grand jury ordered him to forfeit. The indictment also alleges that he channeled for his own use a relative’s retirement funds intended for nursing home care.
Before the federal indictment was issued, Seth Williams sought to end an investigation by Philadelphia’s Board of Professional Ethics by agreeing to pay $62,000 in civil penalties. It was the largest penalty ever imposed by the Ethics Board in its 10-year history.
The big target of Seth Williams’ Philadelphia prosecutions was, of course, Monsignor William Lynn. Accused of child endangerment for assigning the priests who were later found guilty in tainted trials, Msgr. Lynn has spent three years in prison only to have his conviction overturned and reinstated twice. In “Justice for Msgr. Lynn Delayed Again” in Catalyst (May 2017), Bill Donohue wrote:
“[Prosecutor Seth] Williams’ war on Msgr. Lynn is the most unethical assault ever conducted by a D.A. against a high-ranking member of the Catholic clergy in America. Worse, the corruption extends beyond Williams.”
In the same week that prosecutor Seth Williams was indicted on federal corruption charges in Philadelphia, Msgr. William Lynn was once again denied justice in Philadelphia. His contrived “child endangerment” conviction was overturned by a previous court because prosecutors failed to tell his defense attorneys that the lead detective in the case had serious doubts about the veracity of “Billy Doe” – aka Daniel Gallagher.
Philadelphia Detective Joseph Walsh was assigned to investigate the wild claims of Gallagher, the prosecution’s star witness against both Father Charles Engelhardt and Msgr. William Lynn. The conclusion was that every witness statement the detective took – including ones from Gallagher’s own family members – entirely contradicted Gallagher’s claims.
The detective could corroborate none of Daniel Gallagher’s story. Then the prosecutor hid that fact from the defense, accusing the detective of “killing my case.” Now, in the latest legal debacle, Judge Gwendolyn Bright has denied a motion to dismiss the case against Msgr. William Lynn stating that a decision to hide evidence is not “intentional” misconduct.
Despite having his conviction overturned twice, Msgr. Lynn remains under a legal cloud pending multiple appeals. Despite his claims being thoroughly debunked, Daniel Gallagher remains a millionaire with no one in the Justice Department showing any interest in looking into his fraud. Despite being indicted on 23 criminal counts, D.A. Seth Williams remains in office and retains his $170,000 annual salary. [See: Judge in Seth Williams Case Has Conflict of Interest]
The American Liberty Bell housed in Philadelphia cracked when it was tolled upon the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835. This champion of liberty and justice for all would find no justice in Seth Williams’ office in the Philadelphia of today. The moral demise of SNAP has shown us that it is real victims of abuse who should be most affronted by the injustice of false, money-driven claims. As Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote:
“People have to come to understand that there is a large scam going on with personal injury attorneys, and what started as a serious effort (to help genuine victims) has now expanded to become a huge money-making proposition.” Dorothy Rabinowitz, The Wall Street Journal).
Editor’s Note: If you subscribe to the WSJ, watch and hear this brief video interview with Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal.
THE LAST WORD
After the above post was written, Catholic League President Bill Donohue released a statement about D.A. Seth Williams and the Philadelphia prosecutions of Msgr William Lynn and Father Charles Engelhardt. Philadelphia detective Joseph Walsh, now retired, has issued a 12-page affidavit in the claims against Msgr William Lynn, Father Charles Engelhardt, and another priest brought by accuser, Daniel Gallagher.
The detective’s new affidavit exposes Gallagher’s claims as a series of lies and describes how D.A. Seth Williams and other prosecutors ignored his warnings about Daniel Gallagher’s credibility – or lack thereof – in their zeal to nail priests. As Bill Donohue concludes:
“The detective’s statement exposed not only the flagrant lies of the prosecution’s star witness, but also the depth of corruption in the Philadelphia judicial system.”
Does this story raise your ire? It should. In fact, it must! It is time for a revolution against the tyranny and deceit that turns innocent priests into prisoners and martyrs while con men and their lawyers turn into millionaires. If liberty and justice for all still mean anything to you, then share this post. If your friends are people of conscience, share this with them. Many a revolution has begun in just this way.
(Note from Father Gordon MacRae: The above post contains exactly 1776 words. That is also the year America fought for its independence to become the land of the free.)
For more on this story, also see:
- “Due Process for Accused Priests,” an article by Father Gordon MacRae in Catalyst, which was expanded from his commentary entitled “Crime and Punishment” published in the November 2008 issue of First Things.
- Trophy Justice: The Philadelphia Monsignor William Lynn Case
- Msgr William Lynn is Free and a Prosecutor is “Disgusted”
- Our Catholic Tabloid Frenzy About Fallen Priests
- A Rolling Stone Gathers No Facts, Just Dirt