Friday, July 19, 2013

Fantasy vs. Reality among Super-Catholics

Most of this is just a teenage girl's fantasy.

... so said a commenter on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website, dismissing in the most brutal manner possible a teen-aged girl in Old Monroe, Missouri who claims to have been molested by a St. Louis priest, whose crime her parents insist Archbishop Carlson enabled and tried to cover up.

As I said before, this case has yet to go to trial (and I strongly suspect it never will, that it will now be plea bargained away).  And while we don't know many things, nor can we pre-judge the guilt or innocence of the accused cleric, we do know some things for certain.

  • The priest was a favorite of Archbishop Carlson's, actually living with the archbishop in the archbishop's mansion, and having been brought by Carlson to St. Louis from Saginaw, Michigan, where Carlson was last assigned.
  • The priest became a very close friend of the alleged victim's family, and would often spend the night at the family's house - even though it was only an hour from his room in the archbishop's mansion.
  • The parents became concerned about inappropriate contact between the priest and their 15-year-old daughter - stroking, physical displays of affection.  When they confronted the priest about this, he stopped seeing the family, asked for a transfer from St. Louis for "personal reasons", but eventually ingratiated himself back into the family, visiting them frequently.
  • The family claims that they discovered emails of a sexual nature the priest was secretly sending the daughter.  If these emails actually exist, their content will be revealed in both the criminal and the civil trials - if either case comes to trial.  Since the DA in Lincoln County is prosecuting this case, it is almost certain that these emails do in fact exist; a case like this would not be prosecuted on the victim's verbal claims alone, if the claims were not somehow substantiated with hard evidence.
  • Speaking of hard evidence, the family claims that the priest tried to buy off their testimony against him with a $20,000 check, which he placed on the windshield of their car.  The family also claims that Archbishop Carlson intervened to try to get this check back.  The family took the check to the police.  The check has led to an additional charge against the priest - tampering with a witness.  The check must exist, or this additional charge would not have been raised by the prosecutor.  (Incidentally, another Post-Dispatch commenter said the family is suing the archdiocese because they're in desperate financial straits and they need money - if that's their motivation, why didn't they keep a $20,000 check?)
  • There is supposedly an eye-witness who saw the priest kiss and fondle the alleged victim.

So it really sounds as if this is anything but "a teenage girl's fantasy".

It seems much more like a tale of abuse and "depraved indifference" - to use a term from the lawsuit.


But I may be wrong.  Perhaps Fr. Jiang has been falsely accused and the archbishop maligned.

I may be wrong about that.  But I'm not wrong about this - "Super Catholics" have a "negative charism of discernment" as Mark Shea says.  They always back the wrong horse.  From Fr. Maciel to Fr. Corapi to Fr. Euteneur to Bishop Finn - if a clergyman is "orthodox", he's our guy and we're gonna go to the mat for him, regardless of the evidence.

Sadly, orthodoxy does not equal sinlessness.  It doesn't for me, and I'm a worse person than any of the players in this drama.  And it doesn't for priests or bishops.

To attack a 15-year-old girl for accusing an orthodox priest who happens to be your favorite and the archbishop's favorite, without regard to the facts - this is hardly something orthodox Catholics should be proud of.  If we should refrain from prejudging this case, then that means we should suspend judgment against both the priest and the girl.

And let us pray, not for Fr. Jiang's "exoneration", as the Super-Catholics are suggesting we do, but for justice.  Exoneration for Fr. Jiang if he's been falsely accused; conviction for Fr. Jiang if he is indeed guilty - and the full truth regarding his ordinary's participation in the crime.

My photograph of a stained glass of Mary in the church at Old Monroe, Missouri

Our Lady of Victory, Pray for us!


Elisabeth Kenney said...

Mr. O'Brien,

I agree that picking sides in a case like this simply because one is a "super-Catholic" and the accused is a priest would certainly be foolish and even wrong. Most of the comments you are seeing, however, are from residents of St. Louis who are personally acquainted with Fr. Joseph. It is our knowledge of his character and other facts surrounding the case that are sparking our response.

I do agree that it is important not to attack the alleged victims in these types of cases, because doing so can discourage true victims from coming forward. While that does mean that any conversations or public statements should be measured and charitable, it does not mean that those of us with moral certainty that the accusations are false should be silent.

It might be foolish to take sides without knowing anything of either party. It would also be foolish to imagine that the media and SNAP won't take the side of the alleged victim and attempt to destroy the reputation of the accused before all the facts are known. Because of this bias, we feel it is especially important that we speak out.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Elisabeth, I understand. And it is a good thing that Fr. Jiang has loyal supporters.

But how can you have "moral certainty that the allegations are false" in the light of what is known about the case, as I detail above? Honestly, I'm asking. Are there no emails? Was there no $20,000 check? Is there no eye witness? Was Fr. Jiang not sleeping over? Seriously - for you to be morally certain that the allegations are false, then all of the above facts must be wrong. Is that indeed the case? If so, is there a way for the truth to come out - especially if the cases do not get to trial, as I suspect they never will?

Please realize as well that I have personal experience with the Bishop Finn case in Kansas City. In that case, an independent investigation, paid for by the diocese, revealed that Bishop Finn enabled and covered up abuse and saw to it that evidence was destroyed. Bishop Finn spent $1.4 million of diocesan funds to defend himself from two misdemeanor charges that, practically speaking, would have resulted in only a few thousand dollars in fines - misdemeanor charges that he was convicted of despite his pricey defense, and rightly so.

And yet Bishop Finn was, and continues to be, defended with vigor and an enthusiastic disdain for the facts of the case by orthodox Catholics in Missouri and Bill Donohue nationally - Donohue himself spinning the story with appalling half-truths and hate mongering.

The fact is that there has been a pattern of abuse by priests and criminal neglect by bishops for decades - a pattern that continues even today, more than ten years after the scandal broke. And the worst part of all of it is how the orthodox laity refuses to support Jesus Christ and His Church by acknowledging the sin and reforming the problem.

So I am glad you are supporting a man you admire. But our loyalty should be to Christ and to His Church, not to "princes or the sons of men".

Do you not know the sin that each of us is capable of? Have we really underestimated Satan to such an extent that we forget how badly even the best of us is in need of a savior, clergy and laity alike? If Fr. Jiang is guilty, he certainly needs our prayers and support - but he does not need denial. He needs the Severe Mercy of confronting the reality of his sins - so that he may repent and be saved.

Meanwhile, if someone can present me with evidence to counter the bullet points above, evidence that indicates that this case is spurious, I will be more than happy to blog about it.

To conclude: I am glad you recognize that the alleged victims should not be attacked. But by the same token the accused priest should not be hailed as falsely accused in the face of credible evidence to the contrary - merely by asserting a moral certitude based upon secret factors.

Tom Leith said...

Well, Brother Kevin, I'll pray you receive mercy no more severe than strictly necessary. And frankly, the term makes you sound very like the self-styled Super-Catholics you're criticizing: almost like you're getting into the Williamus character, only he'd want Severe Mercy for a priest whose maniple was crooked at Holy Mass.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Tom, what I want here is the truth.

You would do well to reflect a bit upon the relationship between mercy and truth. In the same way that you can't have peace without justice, you can't have mercy without truth. I am not arguing for minimialist mercy. I am arguing, as I always do on this blog, that we need to know the truth - for in either case, if the girl is lying or the priest and the archbishop are lying - it's a very ugly truth.

MBinSTL said...

Kevin, there are several inaccuracies in your post which I would like to point out, with all due respect and intending none of what I say as a slight against your person or your concerns:

Fr. Joseph Jiang was not simply a "favorite" of Archbishop Carlson. Joseph Jiang was a very young seminarian in China when he got into some political trouble with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the communist government agency which holds frightful sway over daily life in the Catholic Church in China. I don't think many details of that situation are public at present, but what is known is that after Fr. Jiang fled his homeland, he was shortly thereafter placed as a seminarian in the Diocese of Saginaw, and his needs were attended to by Bishop Carlson himself. When Carlson was named Archbishop of St. Louis, Joseph Jiang was given the choice of continuing his formation as a seminarian for Saginaw or "following" Carlson to St. Louis. He freely choose the latter.

At the time of the alleged abuse, Fr. Jiang was in residence at the rectory of the Cathedral Basilica, and had been for some time -- he was not living in the Archbishop's mansion.

I fully agree that denigrating the accuser and/or her parents is not appropriate. On the other hand, I think the it's entirely possible to publicly and unabashedly defend Fr. Jiang's reputation and the presumption of innocence as it applies to his case without denigrating the alleged victim or her family members.

The recently cancelled prayer service for all those involved in the case was inappropriately advertised as "for the exoneration ...". A full explanation of how that happened can be found in a comment on an article in the Riverfront Times:

Advertising it that way was a mistake, but it was not a malicious act.

Finally, you are correct about the need for caution and prudence on the part of those who defend and support an accused child molester. Fr. Maciel, Jerry Sandusky, et al. were real life child-molesting monsters, but many of their family members, colleagues and admirers were both deceived about their activities and loudly defended them.

Is it possible Fr. Jiang is guilty as charged? It is not impossible, but we will all have to wait until his trial to learn more about the state's evidence and his defense. In the meantime, his friends and supporters can without moral qualms publicly defend his reputation and his right to presumption of innocence, but ought to do so without denigrating his accusers, and always tempering their statements in prudence and charity.

Peace of Christ be with you.

James Hannegan said...

Kevin, you are right. Just because you are orthodox, does not make you sinless. You can believe the letter of the law and not live it. However, Fr. Joseph not only professes the Catholic faith, but he also takes to heart the mission of the Church and his role as a priest in the Church. This man stood up to the communist government in China when they were appointing bishops and thus usurping authority from the Church. He risked his life, managing to flea China just before the atheist government came looking for him. Now he is in exile for defending the Church from over reaching government. That is not just orthodoxy; it is a deep conviction in the salvific role of the Church and an unwavering commitment to defend it. Fr. Joseph gave up his family, his friends, and his country to live in exile for his faith. He risked possible death in China for that faith. I find it hard to believe that he would set his convictions aside to harm one of his parishioners like that.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Thanks, MB and James for your quite charitable and civil statements.

I hope, whatever happens, that the truth comes out. For the truth will set us free.

Kevin O'Brien said...

I've written about this some more ...

Joey Higgins said...

Am I the only one that pauses at the, "Archbishop's Mansion?" I guess that's just how clergy, "roll."

Regardless, Kevin, I appreciate your dedication to the Truth. I think that a lot of people here (all of the comments) are having a hard time distinguishing between "The Truth" and "a man."

The priest in question may be awesome in many aspects, but that doesn't mean he isn't capable of the same failings as us. I would personally be extremely hesitant to sleep over at a house where there are young girls - not only because of temptation, but because of the abilities to falsely accuse. And although 15 seems very young, 15 year old girls can look much older - although it realistically shouldn't be an issue.

I can see wanting to support a friend or admired member of the community, but that support doesn't necessarily mean that you want them exonerated if they have failed. Love requires truth, so "waiting for the state's evidence," doesn't sound like enough to me. We can say, "We love you, but you can't do this anymore."

Anonymous said...

We keep seeing Jiang's defenders make claims with no evidence: that Jiang was persecuted in China, that Jiang didn't live with the archbishop, etc.

Can someone please provide links to articles or blogs that prove some of these contentions? Thank you.

Kevin O'Brien said...

I don't know about Jiang's background in China, but to clarify his living arrangements: the civil suit claims he had a room in the archbishop's mansion "a few doors down from the archbishop's bedroom" as well as a room in the rectory of the cathedral, which is more or less across the street.

So when a commenter says, "He wasn't living with the archbishop, he was living at the rectory!" that may be right, or perhaps he had a room in both buildings, as the lawsuit claims. In the same way that Fr. Jiang would spend the night in Old Monroe to avoid a one-hour drive back to St. Louis, perhaps he would sometimes spend the night at the archbishop's mansion to avoid a five-minute walk across the street.

As to the claims the defenders are making, I would assume they come from Fr. Jiang himself. Most of his defenders seem to know him personally, as did the family of the alleged victim. So we can't ask his defenders to point to websites to verify their claims, if the claims came first hand from Fr. Jiang, as I assume they did.

To address the claim that Fr. Jiang is not the archbishop's "favorite", it sounds more like the archbishop was his "mentor", taking him under his wing after he left China and taking a personal interest in his career, bringing Jiang with him from Saginaw to St. Louis. This is how one becomes stationed at the cathedral, for example - one gets mentored by a powerful clergyman (in this case a bishop) and good things happen in one's career.

This "mentoring" is a common process with seminarians, it seems.

Anonymous said...

It's always called "The Archbishop's Mansion" even if it's nothing more than a shack.

Dr. Eric

W Hannegan said...

Many of the people commenting on this case know the details of Fr. Joseph's time here in Saint Louis because they have been personally acquainted with him for the entire time he's lived in Saint Louis.

Please remember that all we have heard thus far are the accusations against him. Fr. Joseph's side of the story has not yet been told. And it can't yet. It will happen at the trial. Until then, let's not drag a man's name through the mud on the basis of only one side of the story.

Also, please know that those who have heard both sides of the story are not so ready to condemn Fr. Joseph.

Kevin O'Brien said...

W. Hannegan, readers, is the Post-Disptach commenter who assigned all of this to the "fantasies of a teen-aged girl". I therefore do not think he is in any position to accuse me of a lack of charity.

W. Hannegan, please re-read what I have written and tell me if I am in fact "condemning" Fr. Jiang. If the truth ever comes out - if either case ever gets to trial - I will be eager to hear his side of the story.

Until then, given what we've learned in the past ten years, and given the evidence that's been reported in this case, it is an act of great arrogance to blame this all on a "teen aged girl's fantasy". Had you not written such a smug and dismissive and hurtful thing, I would not have taken the risk of blogging on this subject.

Again, you are in no position to accuse me of a lack of charity.

But let me reiterate: the case against Fr. Jiang looks grim. He may be innocent, and Hannegan is right that the defendant's side has not yet been heard.

My fear is the archbishop's lawyers will never let it be heard.

Bill Hannegan said...

Kevin, my son William Hannegan didn't make initial comment on the Post website.