Deadlocked or not, the priest sex-abuse jury did its job

The Rev. James Brennan (right) chuckles with his lawyer, William Brennan.
The Rev. James Brennan (right) chuckles with his lawyer, William Brennan.
Posted: June 22, 2012

SO IT'S still not over. After an 11-week trial, with almost 2,000 documents, 60 witnesses, multiple references to a dead cardinal and a defendant's suggestion that taking a 14-year-old to bed after watching porn with him was "borderline inappropriate" and not wrong, wrong, wrong, the jury has yet to reach a verdict in the landmark trial of Philadelphia Archdiocese Monsignor William Lynn and the Rev. James Brennan.

Did or didn't Lynn engage in child-endangerment and conspiracy in moving predator priests around the Archdiocese like party chairs?

Did or didn't Brennan endanger that 14-year-old and attempt to rape him after a lively discussion about penile erections?

On Wednesday, the jury reported to Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that they were deadlocked on all but one charge. Sarmina ordered them to keep talking and they will resume deliberations Friday. It's anyone's guess whether more time will yield anything different.

But honestly? Whatever the jury decides, this trial will still be a win for justice.

Because, for once, accusations in the Archdiocese sex-abuse scandal have played out where past allegations should have: publicly, in a court of law, before a jury that has weighed all sides and come to a decision based upon its best understanding of the case.

The system isn't always perfect. But it recognizes the inalienable right of both accuser and accused to be heard.

What a far cry that is from the way decades of sex-abuse allegations were handled by the Archdiocese.

Those in-house "investigations," never shared with law-enforcement, were conducted in secret by scheming toadies who lied to protect the Catholic Church, forgetting, if they ever knew, that the church is its people.

As a result, children were treated like sex toys, and mothers and fathers were deprived of their right to the most important job parents have, which is to keep their kids safe.

Meanwhile, closing arguments are under way Thursday in the Jerry Sandusky sex-crimes trial, in which Penn State higher-ups allegedly knew of Sandusky's alleged predilections for abusing children but did nothing to stop him.

It also follows on the heels of last week's astounding $28 million jury verdict in favor of an Oakland, Calif., woman who was sexually molested as a child by a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, whose national policy was to keep sex-abuse allegations secret.

And it's come in the recent wake of an explosive New York Times story alleging hushed-up sex abuse at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx.

In all four cases, institutional loyalty blinded those in charge from doing the right thing.

And institutional power protected them from any consequences for their inaction.

Those days are not over. If they were, all 50 states would have lifted the statute of limitations on childhood sex crimes. Or at least opened temporary windows during which victims might file lawsuits no matter how much time has passed since their alleged abuse.

But we are inching toward a future in which institutional leaders may finally fear prison time for keeping quiet more than they'll fear the loss of their employer's prestige if they squeal. That should give pause to company men like former Penn State president Greg Spanier, who outrageously decided it would be more "humane" to let a monster like Sandusky roam unchecked than to protect potential victims

The trial of Lynn and Brennan would not have happened without the 2005 grand-jury investigation ordered by former Philly District Attorney Lynne Abraham. At the time, many criticized Abraham, who is Jewish, of being anti-Catholic, given that no charges could result from the investigation because the statutes had lapsed on the criminal behavior the investigation uncovered.

But the truth is, information in the report was referenced time and again in the Lynn/Brennan trial. Without that past, sworn testimony, the cases never would have made it to trial.

Abraham is gratified by that and, no matter how jury deliberations play out, she said, the good news is that the Archdiocese "can't lie any more about what they did. We now know, for a fact, that they transferred perverted priests to unsuspecting parishes where they found new kids to sexually abuse, molest and engage in every other kind of perversion. And the coverup went all the way to the top."

The daily immediacy of this trial, in which a high-ranking church official never argued over whether a coverup occurred but instead protested his complicity in it, has erased any public doubt that abuse and a coverup happened.

Such certainty may move the public to support the reform of sex-abuse laws that are currently so inadequate. They allow for the stalking, grooming and violation of children and for coverups that ensure the public is never the wiser.

Still, finally, here in Philadelphia — and in State College and in Oakland — powerful institutions that once appointed themselves as judge, jury and executioner are being called to task for what happened on their watch.

Not by one of their own. But by 12 of ours.

Regardless of the outcome, that is the way it should be.

Contact polaner@email@phillynews.com. Call 215-854-2217. Blog: phillynews.com/ronnieblog. Twitter: @RonniePhilly.

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