Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Vehement Quasi-Denial

In seeking to dismiss a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese of St. Louis, Archbishop Robert Carlson has vehemently denied one of the allegations against him ... sort of.

Robert Carlson, archbishop of St. Louis
The suit was filed regarding the alleged behavior of Fr. Joseph Jiang, who is charged with the crime of molesting a 15-year-old girl.  Archbishop Carlson has been subpoenaed to give a deposition in that case, but has so far manged to avoid doing so.  The trial has been delayed several times.

Meanwhile, the girl's parents have filed a civil suit against the archdiocese for negligence in not properly supervising the priest, who was a personal favorite of Archbishop Carlson's, perhaps living with him in the archbishop's mansion (there are conflicting reports of this), and at least having been taken by Carlson under his wing in a kind of mentor relationship.

Carlson's denials in the civil suit avoid the merits of the case, seeking dismissal on technicalities - which is well within his rights, though perhaps not the most Christian thing to do.  However, at one point, in a footnote, the archbishop

 vehemently denies the baseless allegations set forth by Plaintiffs in Count VI (Attempted Tampering with Evidence)

Lucy Hannegan, who is running the blog Friends of Fr. Joseph Jiang (and whose husband posted at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website that the charges against Jiang are nothing more than the "sexual fantasies of a teen-aged girl") is elated, saying

If that allegation is false, aren't all their allegations called into question?

However, the archbishop's denial is as narrowly legalistic as the rest of his response.  In what way?  I'll explain.


Count VI of the Plaintiffs' complaint states that Carlson tried to tamper with or destroy evidence.  How did he do this?

By asking for the return of a $20,000 check Fr. Jiang had written the family of the alleged victim, urging them to drop the charges of molesting their daughter.  Giving Mom and Dad what seems to be a $20,000 "hush money" check is a very big nail in Fr. Jiang's coffin, for obvious reasons, and also because bribing the alleged minor victim's parents is a form of tampering, and is a crime in and of itself.

Here's what the parents say happened next.  They complained to the archdiocese and Archbishop Carlson called them on the phone.  They claim Carlson said that Fr. Jiang had admitted to him that he had molested the girl, and that he, Carlson, would somehow deal with it, to trust him to handle it properly, etc. ... and could he please get that check back?

Well, no, they answered, and they took it to the police.


Now Archbishop Carlson has vehemently denied "attempted tampering with physical evidence pursuant to RSMO 575.100", which is the specific claim made in Count VI.  He has denied "attempted tampering with evidence".

He has NOT denied attempting to get the check back.

You see how this works?

Asking for the check back is not necessarily tampering with evidence.  For one thing, if there's no crime (Jiang is pleading "not guilty"), then the check is not evidence.  For another thing, the archbishop may have wanted that check back for a number of reasons - tampering with evidence and obstructing justice not being among them.

So, in light of the very narrow and legalistic scope of the archbishop's "vehement" denial, I'd ask Mrs. Hanngan to tamper her enthusiasm.

It may be that Fr. Jiang is not guilty, and that the archdiocese is not liable even if he is.

But our ordinary here in St. Louis has not given us cause to rally around him.  He could still do that by speaking openly and frankly on this case, and not through his lawyers or through papers prepared by them and filed with the courts.  He could indeed prove me wrong and issue a very clear and frank denial.  He could say that not only was he denying tampering with evidence, but that he never asked for the check back and would never think to - but he hasn't spoken clearly and openly yet on this case, and I don't suspect he will.


For my part, and this is mere speculation, I can not imagine, given the relationship between Fr. Jiang and Archbishop Carlson, that Carlson would call the parents and NOT ask for the check back.  It would not make sense for him to call them and not try to get his hands on that check - which is the most damning bit of evidence against the priest.  Maybe his motives were pure and "tampering with evidence" was not among them.  But can you imagine a phone call from the archbishop in which he DIDN'T ask for the check?  Especially if you know anything about the Catholic Church and the way these people run it.  It just doesn't make sense.

And as the great legal mind Judge Judy says, "If it doesn't make sense, it's not true."


And again, my prayer here is for the two cases - the criminal and the civil case - actually to come to trial, so that the truth may come out.

But, again, I will be very surprised if either one ever does.


ADDENDUM - If you read RSMO 575.100, you'll see it's clear that even if Carlson asked for the check back on the phone (which he almost certainly did), he could not have been tampering with evidence, for there was no "official proceeding" at that time.  RSMO 575.100 states that the object in question must be evidence in some sort of "official proceeding", which had not yet begun at the time of the phone call.  Once the charges were filed - or even once the police were called and the alleged crime investigated - had the archbishop at that time kept the check and refused to turn it over, or altered the check in any way, then and only then would he have been "tampering with evidence" pursuant to RSMO 575.100.

At least that's how I read it, and I imagine, that's how Carlson is able to deny it.

1 comment:

David Clohessy said...

Let’s hope that every person who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes and cover ups in St. Louis will find the courage and strength to speak up, call police, expose wrongdoing, protect kids and start healing.

David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell (