Sunday, April 29, 2012


As I mentioned in the immediately preceding Post, I have been doing some posting of comments on a site set up by a Philadelphia law firm, on which a reporter files pieces summarizing the events at each day’s session of the this trial.

It has given me an opportunity – somewhat unexpected but certainly useful – to explain some of my thoughts and positions as I have developed them and expressed them on this site in the past 3 years.

Just a few days ago some commenter(s) discovered that I also had this blog (they probably Googled me and up came the blog – the wonders of the internet). (Coincidentally, this past week the Blogger host implemented a new template which automatically put the Followers of any blog right on the blog-site page for – apparently – ease of access. I dislike bells-and-whistles since they distract from the essays, and for that reason, once I realized what had happened, I disabled that option.)

At any rate, my comments on this and that daily Post on the Philadelphia trial site [hereinafter ‘the Phil site’] extended into a number of mini-essays (they currently take up 47 pages on a Word document).

I hadn’t really paid much attention to the Philadelphia case, just looking at whatever occasional article appeared here or there. But I came across the Phil site and put in my two-cents and things sort of took on a life of their own from there.

I am going to discuss some of the material here since as things have played out, both a) the case and b) the comments seem to me to be of larger relevance to general SO and national concerns, as well as of interest to persons who follow the sub-variant of the SO Mania that has developed around the Catholic Church.

Readers so inclined might want to follow the case on the Phil site.* (It may just be my computer, but my experience is that the site loads rather slowly; once you have the home-page, it takes a while for all the other info to load. If you get that page, quickly click on something, and your browser advises you that ‘the site is not responding’, just wait 10 or 15 seconds and things will work themselves out.)

So to the case. It is brought by the Philadelphia DA’s office after two Grand Jury reports (2005 and 2011). It revolves around two priests (although one pled Guilty just before the trial and is no longer a Party) who are charged with abusing or molesting post-pubescent young males in the 1990s (oddly, the remaining priest Defendant’s charge was suddenly reduced from Rape to Attempted Rape just before the trial began).

A third Defendant is the monsignor who served as personnel director for the Archdiocese in those days. He is charged with Conspiracy, presumably to commit child-endangerment. I believe there had been prosecutorial hopes to involve the Cardinal-Archbishop from that era as well, but that prelate died at age 88 just before the trial began.

Several points about the case itself catch my attention.

First, the charge against the remaining priest was suddenly downgraded just before the trial, as I mentioned above. It had been Rape – although apparently this putatively accomplished rapist had layers of clothing on when the charged-act was committed, which had to be something known to the investigators and prosecutors well before a Charge was decided upon. So why the case was initially allowed to be billed as a clerical ‘rape’ case raises concern. The thought suggests itself that this was for ‘hype’ purposes, and to fit into the general framing of the case as part of the priest-rape or pedophile-rape trope.

Second, the Charge against the monsignor is Conspiracy. It seems a difficult route for a prosecutor to take. One might have charged Accessory or Criminal Negligence with perhaps more probability of success. But again, ‘Conspiracy’ is a word with a certain emotional load to it, and that perhaps drove the Charge. That the monsignor and the priests, or the monsignor and the Archbishop, sat around and deliberately arranged matters in order to assist errant priests in furthering their molestations of children or minors is going to be difficult to prove, and it is also going to be somewhat difficult to solidly establish in the mind of jurors.

Prosecutors go into cases to win with as much probable chance of success as possible, so this choice of Conspiracy seems odd to me. It runs a much greater risk for the prosecutor’s office, if after all the expenditure of time and resources there is an uncomfortably significant chance that by over-Charging they will wind up with a lot of resources expended and a lost case to show for it.

Interestingly, the case seems to me to bear no little similarity to the recent filing of a Complaint (by the same victim-advocacy organization that appears connected to the behind-the-scenes connections in this case) with the International Criminal Court (ICC)some months back; I did an extended essay Post on that filing here.

In that ICC filing, having read the Complaint, it seemed to me that the Complaint was somewhat of a pretext for putting out in public an accumulated store of allegations. Additionally, in order to qualify for ICC jurisdiction, the Complaint had to frame its charges as Crimes Against Humanity and as Torture. Which are powerfully emotional-loaded terms, although – again – the idea of the Church as primarily a world-wide conspiracy organized for the specific purpose of furthering such a criminal and anti-humanitarian agenda is something of a stretch. But it does grab one’s attention at first glance.

I also noted about the ICC filing that in order to introduce material about events or acts prior to 2002 (the date of the ICC’s erection as a Court) the complainant advocacy-group had to insist that it had plenty of evidentiary material to establish a ‘pattern’…  so long as one presumed the veracity of the collected allegations it had culled from its files. Which is – charitably – a mighty big presumption for a Court to make.

Third, while one accuser has given testimony and been cross-examined, the background of the accuser is littered with assorted elements of a criminal record and of other unsavory characteristics.

Two aspects of current SO-Mania law come to mind here. One is the now-statutory requirement in many jurisdictions that juries simply determine the credibility of the accuser, rather than the credibility of the actual criminal event alleged to have happened. Just how that plays out in this case remains to be seen.

But this dovetails with the larger victimist-driven ‘reform’ that prevents consideration – though only in sex cases – of the accuser’s own background. In other criminal cases an accuser with a past criminal record, for example, would not receive such a free pass. And yet in the SO laws and jurisprudence the accuser’s relevant background and ‘patterns’ are protected from scrutiny while the accused’s own background or ‘patterns’ are not so protected from scrutiny.
Second, there remains as always the question – even though not a direct issue here – as to whether a greatly troubled accuser’s life problems were provably the result of some form of abuse, or whether they pre-existed the abuse. In the insistent demand that one focus only on the ‘harm’ that is evident, questions as to the etiology of the harm are often ignored.

Thus an alternative explanation might be that the accused priest became involved in the life of an already-troubled person in the first-place – which is something that priests often do. (Yes, there is also the possibility that a priest might have purposely selected ‘troubled people’ precisely in order to further purely sex-abusive designs, but that is hardly the only explanation and it can hardly legitimately be presumed in all cases.)

Frankly, some of the priestly behavior – if the allegations be true – fall on a spectrum from pathetic to reprehensible.** But again, this is a ‘historical’ case in the sense that all the events took place a dozen to 18 years ago and there has been much reform going on, especially in the past 10 years. In the entire country in 2011, there were only 7 credible allegations of current abuse of minors by priests, and ‘credible’ is still not ‘proven’. More on that in a bit.

Another area of interest, besides the case itself, is the comments on the site. (You can never tell for sure, in the webverse, who folks really are, so all my ‘identifications’ are provisional, working off however the commenters identify themselves. Also, I am of course presuming that you can, if you wish, proceed to the Phil site and look at any of the comments if you wish.)

I want to look at the comments for the purpose of giving readers here my thoughts as to what might go on in commenting in this area of interest.

Input seems limited to a smallish number, and those break down into two groups. In the smaller group – kicking the tires of this case – there is me and there is the owner of the Media Report site. In the larger group, there is a finite assortment of commenters who all share an enthusiasm for the trial for an assortment of the usual reasons; some rely on more or less one-liner comments and one particularly who comments at much more length, about which phenomenon more below.

The overall impression – and it is a strong one – is that commenters who support this type of trial, as so often much else of the Mania matters, are rigidly focused on their preferred interpretation and no other. They are not interested in alternative views, or rational arguments that complicate their simple (simplistic, often) beliefs, or anything else that detracts from the ‘clarity’ they enjoy (one thinks of Bush’s ‘moral clarity’ about the then-upcoming Iraq invasion).

Further, that any ideas which complicate their views must – cartoonishly – ‘prove’ prima facie that the person proposing such ideas must be a ‘pedophile’, a ‘defender of pedophiles’ and rapists, and is probably one him/herself.  

Further, that any ideas that complicate their views must be an attack on them and their views, even if those ideas merely try to gain a larger and deeper comprehension of the matter under discussion.

Further, that the expression of any ideas that complicate their views must be the result of either evil intent or of being ‘paid’ to complicate their views and cast doubt on the one framing narrative or 'spin' to which they are - apparently - unshakeably committed..

Further, that in the (apparently desperate) need to ‘protect’ their preferred version of matters and because they do not habitually pay attention to the flow of ideas in a rational discussion, they will mis-quote or create ‘straw-man’ positions putatively held by their interlocutors, and then proceed to demolish – in their mind – that phantasm that they themselves have created … considering it, apparently, a successful job when they have done so.

Further, that the expression of any ideas that complicate their views must make the tire-kicker a ‘Judas’ (the implication being that this type of mindset is also the mindset of Christ, to Whom these commenters – in the logic of their own imagery – hold themselves comparable). In the priest-abuse sub-variant, this also creates the odd dissonance that while they are deeply hostile to either the Church, or religion generally, or at least to any current instantiation of the Church, yet these types are quick to use religious imagery to grab the ‘moral high ground’, as it were, and on that basis dismiss (and perhaps in their mind to justify dismissing) all complicating views without actually engaging them.

Further, as implied immediately above, that their default approach to any such complicating views is not to engage them and deliberate or argue (in the classic sense of the word) them, but rather to simply toss out some myah-myah comebacks in an effort to dismiss or discredit those views – much as one would encounter such expressions around a school lunch-table among students.

Further, as implied immediately above, that their default approach to the expression of any ideas that complicate their views includes a ready resort to ad-hominem slurs in an effort to discredit the proposer of those views.

Further, that they do not so much read to comprehend alternative or complicating views, but rather they simply scan for familiar words or phrases which apparently trigger an already-held stock of ‘come-backs’ in some file-card collection in their mind – and they then proceed to parrot the contents of that particular file-card, with no apparent concern for the relevance of what they are saying to what is actually being said or discussed in the comment that piqued their ire.

They then proceed – when they bother to engage ideas at all – to assemble various factoids (so often gleaned selectively and by Googling) into their own preferred position, much as a bird builds its nest out of whatever bits and pieces appear useful for the job.

In this regard this mindset strongly conforms to the ‘fundamentalistic’ thought-process (which can exist in a secular as well as a religious variant): there is a corpus of beliefs rigidly but robustly embraced like mantras or slogans, without much comprehension of the ideas or chains of reasoning beneath them. If any supportive quotations or references are provided, they are provided in the manner of ‘proof-texts’, simply to trump (in their mind) any views to which they take exception. One thinks of trying to discuss rationally with a genuine religious fundamentalist, and simply being given a quick quotation or cite from Scripture with no further effort to explain the relevance of the quote/cite to the discussion at hand.

And further in that regard, that such come-backs are delivered with a palpably haughty and assertive and sort of global or universal confidence that is almost ‘in your face’ in its brash dismissal of further thought. As if such complicating thought were not even worthy of notice or engagement. Thus neatly, both the complicating ideas and the person who proposes them can be conveniently dismissed with a put-down that is apparently supposed to pass for actual thoughtful engagement.

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that, especially in the matter of mindset and the manner of processing thoughts, this approach is characteristic not only of individual commenters but also of the general level of thought (or lack of it) that governs the content of whatever exchanges they have among themselves, in their groups or meetings or in conversation.

To the extent, I would say, that this process and mindset governs the minds of advocates who – in the current atmosphere of “advocacy group liberalism” (recall my recent Posts discussing Theodor Lowi) and ‘deal politics’ whereby advocates are allowed to submit the actual wording of the laws they wish to see legislated – currently enjoy a substantial influence granted by legislators who do not so much evaluate such proposed SO-relevant  legislation but rather merely accede to it, with no serious concern for consequences or ill-effects on the problem the legislation is intended to solve or on the wider but utterly vital matters of the integrity of the legislation, the legislative process, the judicial and law enforcement processes or on the general integrity and efficacy of the national (and governmental) grasp of the fundaments and first principles of American law as Shaped by the Framing Vision and the Constitution.

As I have said in prior Posts here, there has existed now for several decades in this country an attempt to graft ‘revolutionary’ or ‘emergency’ law (pleasingly cloaked as ‘victim-friendly’ law) onto the constitutional conception of law and Law embodied in the Framing Vision. And I don’t think the graft is working, if indeed it ever was possible that it could have worked in the first place. But I do think that the graft, to continue the medical image, is creating infection and derangement along a broad and deep spectrum of vital governmental functioning.

And it is especially alarming – and not simply for SO matters – that the public has been induced or manipulated to see all of this as mere ‘reform’ and as utterly and indubitably and purely Good ‘reform’.

Which, in my opinion, it most certainly is not.

We have reached a point now where such cartoonish and fundamentalistic and frankly primitive thought-process has come to be accepted as the normal level of discourse in public discussion of all sorts of vital matters (the Bush/Cheney ‘justifications’ for the Iraq war being only the most obvious).

And while the internet, with its many sites that offer ‘comments’ options, can be a marvelous and truly valuable medium of public deliberation and thinking-through of issues and matters, it also affords great opportunity for that type of dismissive, cartoonish one-liner delivery that only masquerades as serious engagement with thought and deliberation and mutual exchange.

Some commenters – and you should have no difficulty noticing the phenomenon on the Phil site – actually do seek to mimic a competent and deliberative approach, creating extended performances that yet incorporate all of the above characteristics.

All in all, the above approach is not at all conducive to furthering comprehension of matters, but rather serves to squelch any dissonant views or information that threatens their own preferred and rigidly-embraced take on matters. And to squelch not only individual interlocutors who so offend them, but also to squelch any other readers’ possible consideration of such alternative views and ideas.  

The last general area of interest is the bringing of this case itself by the prosecution.

Why, in an era of dwindling state funds and areas of current and active criminal activity, would a prosecutor go to all the trouble and expense of bringing such a case in the first place?

As I have said, the matters in the case at bar go back 20 years, they can be handled in a far simpler trial process (although not guaranteed to secure a conviction, but that’s the American legal system – it’s not a guaranteed sort of affair), and in the intervening period significant reforms have been put into place that – by all extant and reliable indicators – have had no small success in getting control of the problem.

In this regard I invite your attention to the Archdiocesan Response to the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report. The prosecutor’s office apparently had ample opportunity and even invitation to suggest reforms and become involved proactively in the formation of desirable reforms, but did not opt to do so. And instead, half a decade later, chooses to bring this case, rather suspiciously mischaracterized as a ‘Rape’ case and rather riskily brought as a Conspiracy charge as well.

In the manner of an astrophysicist trying to figure what unseen force is exerting an observable and deforming gravitational pull on some planetary body or phenomenon (think of Einstein investigating why light seems to be bent when travelling through space), I look at this case and wonder what unseen forces are bending the praxis of the prosecutor’s office such that this case is being brought and is being presented in such a way as it is being presented.

This approach of mine (not that I invented it) has evoked strenuous negative response from certain commenters who rigidly insist that the focus be on ‘the stories’ presented by the accusers, to the exclusion of any larger consideration or analysis. This is, of course, a standard gambit in victimist praxis, seeking to engage the limbic system of observers (the public, the media, the jury, the pool of potential jurors comprised of all citizens who read or hear about these ‘stories’) and move them to the desired ‘outrage’ while quickly and rather completely bypassing their pre-frontal cortical capacities to critically assess and consider.

I never trust efforts to engage my emotions to the exclusion of my deliberative and analytical capacities. I don’t think it is wise for anyone who is responsible as a Citizen to do so in a Republic where the Citizens individually and as that collectivity known as The People are the ultimate governors of the government and upon whose authority that government exercises its Sovereign Authority (especially the coercive police and military power).

Perhaps the prosecutors hope that such a flood-tide of emotions will help float their case over the treacherous legal rocks and shoals of the channel they have chosen to sail through by bringing this case in the first place.

But again: Why bring this case at all, especially in the form it has been given by the prosecutors? What unseen influences are driving this? (To simplistically assert that there are no such extraneous hydraulic pressures working to shape (and derange and deform) this case is to raise more questions than it purportedly answers, since there appears then no serious and sufficient reason why the prosecutors decided to bring it.)

My own thoughts as to possible influences are as follows.

First, advocacies for this sub-variant of the SO Mania who are seeing a dwindling number of the allegations so vitally necessary to keep their Cause alive and viable.

This is part of a larger threat to what I have termed Victimism, which – under the intensifying pressure of serious and immediate economic hardship experienced by increasing number of citizens – sees its concerns and issues fading into the background of public concern.

This is also reflected – as I have noted in prior essays here – in the efforts of certain Beltway pols to ensure continued public funding of such advocacies and movements and agendas, even as the supply of available tax-monies continues to dry up at the national and State levels.

Second, advocacies for larger socio-cultural movements: here I would list radical feminism (as distinct from moderate or liberal feminism); secularism (seeing the Church as an irritating and threatening proponent of a Beyond that might obstruct desired agendas of social and cultural change);  some vocal elements within the Church who want to see the hierarchy discredited and consequently reduced in power; and even government (eager to discredit a potential ‘judge’ of the increasing government descent into ‘positivism’, wherein there exists no Higher Law to judge the actions of government – leading, as I have often said, to a situation embodying Mussolini’s pithy definition of Fascism: nothing outside the state, nothing against the state, nothing above the state).

And We are in the midst of a major national election cycle (I am not familiar with the election cycle in the State of Pennsylvania or any more specific electoral jurisdictions) in which ‘keeping the bases happy’ is a vital and urgent necessity for assorted political interests.

 Any or all of these may be exerting an unseen gravitational pull that might explain the derangement in the trajectory of normal prosecutorial praxis.

None of this is irrelevant. Because what I think is happening in Philadelphia bears too many of the characteristic marks of a ‘show trial’ as the world has seen such trials unfold in – to mention but the most egregious – Nazi and Communist jurispraxis during recent history.

The real and primary objectives are to ‘send a message’, to manipulate public opinion and induce public acquiescence in governmental activity, and to generally ‘make an example’.

The actual determination of guilt or innocence or of any proportional adjudication of the instant charges are all secondary.

A show trial is an ominous phenomenon in any polity committed to the rule of law, and it is and must be especially a cause for concern when it appears in a constitutional democracy such as Ours.

As I have often said in essays on this site, it is an unhappy consequence – intended or not – of the Victimist approach to law that legitimate concern for crimes against persons can be used pretextually to mask the show-trial and all the lethal and noxious dynamics that drive such phenomena.

This is in no way meant to ‘minimize’ or ‘re-victimize’ genuine victims and their experiences, but such consequences as I have discussed are very lethal and very real nonetheless and they must be taken into account if any accurate comprehension of the show-trial phenomenon is to be achieved.

Again, in national affairs, We already see these pretextual dynamics at work in the recently-embraced foreign-policy theory called Responsibility To Protect (colloquially known as “R2P”): any time the government considers persons or groups anywhere on the planet and in any other sovereign nation to be in some way in danger of ‘vicitmization’ or ‘oppression’ it can militarily intervene forthwith.  This was an element in the justifications – such as they were – for the Iraq War, and a much more developed ‘justification’ for the recent intervention in Libya (a country now descended back into the lethal political maelstrom of warlord-ism with the elimination of its established (if distasteful) government.

So, as they say in the Navy: no matter how far at sea you are, you are never more than a couple of miles from land. The point being that if you think (more accurately and comprehensively) in three-dimensions rather than two-dimensions, the ocean floor is never more than a couple of miles away.

Thus, We are never far from fundaments and first principles, no matter what is happening on the surface of any event.

And in this case, I would say, fundaments and first principles of the Framing Vision and of American law and of the rule of law are very threatened indeed.


*The Phil site’s pieces, done by a professional reporter, are the only ones that I know of that are actually dedicated to summarizing the evidence presented and the other developments in the trial sessions. I could also recommend a look at this site for background; this site is skeptical of various aspects of the case but always provides explanations and links to documents for its conclusions – and in matters sex-offensual in a time of Mania, an informed skepticism is not a bad thing. The site has established some curious connections among various official and close-to-the-case players that surely give cause for heightened scrutiny.

**Which the Archdiocese of Philadelphia noted as well in its response to the 2005 Grand Jury investigation. That response is well-worth a look, since it raises some relevant and substantive points about the use of the Grand Jury in this case, as well as some cogent points about how the DA’s office did and did not use the Grand Jury as a tool.


I’d like to also point out that there is a significant confusion about ‘history’ that hovers over and around this case, and also lies within it and beneath it.

There is a phenomenon known to the legal profession as “law office history”: an attorney decides upon his/her approach to a case – how s/he will frame it as a narrative and how s/he will present it – and then directs the firm’s elves to hit the books to come up with all the useful statutes, case law, and factual elements that will support this chosen framing of the case.

This is quite literally ‘advocacy’ history since the attorney is advocating a certain position, a certain framing of the events, to support his/her chosen theory of the case.

But this is not genuine history as practiced by historians (at least before the two concepts merged around here in the past few decades). Genuine historical inquiry demands as full a comprehension of the entire matter under consideration as it is possible to achieve: all facts, all contributing factors, all aspects of the matter under consideration, all consequences. And then one’s analysis and conclusions must be drawn on the basis of where all that material takes the matter.

There has been a tendency generally, especially in this decades-long era of advocacy by attorneys on behalf of whatever they are representing, deployed in highly publicized court cases or making a case for the passage of legislation or putting a case before – especially – the Supreme Court.

I would also note that this conflation was precisely what drove the ‘management’ of ‘information’ as it was “stovepiped” in the run-up to the Iraq invasion (in which, by no surprising coincidence, lawyers in the Bush/Cheney administration played no small part).

What should have been a full and free strategic assessment of all relevant actual facts and factors, and of all possible outcomes, and of all possible consequences (desirable and otherwise), was instead reduced – as if by a lawyerly mind – to ‘making the case’ for a pre-determined framing in the service of a pre-determined position (which was precisely the situation, since Bush/Cheney – as we now know – had already decided upon the invasion and were simply looking for whatever material would support what they had already determined to do). The idea – alas – was something like ‘there is only one place to get to, and our way is the only way to get there’.

“And the war came”, as Lincoln put it soberly and simply in his Second Inaugural.

Many zealous types seeking to effect change but not trained professionally in history have – I think – often presumed that ‘advocacy history’ is full and genuine ‘history’. It is not. The two are quite different in objective and in content.

But this explains a great deal the apparently genuine bafflement (and often displeasure) that such committed types express – and apparently genuinely as I said – when what they believe to be a complete ‘historical’ take on their cause or issue is subjected to genuine historical analysis and quite possible (or probable) alternative framing-narratives and larger examination of the consequences of their preferred spin reveals difficulties with facts and outcomes in their preferred spin. The larger genuinely historical analysis, as also the elements of the reality of their cause not likely to support the adoption of their cause, had been conceptually ‘invisible’ to them, since they had followed without knowing it an ‘advocacy history’ (the ‘law office history’ approach) rather than the genuine and much more comprehensive historical approach.

This confusion/conflation is now widely but  unknowingly accepted by many citizens, amplified by a media that itself often seems unaware of the difference (there had developed, of course, an ‘advocacy journalism’ some decades ago, complementing the long-established but carefully limited to the courtroom ‘advocacy history’.

Thus in matters of large national import Citizens are often put at a disadvantage from the get-go, induced into accepting and conducting far less than a full and genuine historical approach as a basis for their deliberations and the formation of a common deliberative and public opinion.

And this cannot end well. And needs to be changed if any actual problems are to be effectively addressed and resolved.

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