"This is about evil men being held accountable for evil behavior"

The Catholic prosecutor who made headlines earlier this month — with the shocking sex abuse news out of Philadelphia — remains, despite everything, deeply committed to the faith that he loves.

From the Religion News Service:

For Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, leading the sex abuse prosecution that has roiled this city’s Catholic community is not an attack on the church in which he was raised, and to which he remains deeply committed.

But the Philadelphia native says he is determined to bring to justice the “evil” clergy his office accuses of harming children.

Earlier this month (Feb. 10), Williams announced criminal charges against three priests and a parochial school teacher for allegedly raping boys in the late 1990s. In addition, Monsignor William Lynn, the archdiocese’s former secretary of clergy, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child because he allegedly transferred abusive priests without warning schools and parishes. All four clergy have been suspended by the archdiocese.

Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali has also pledged to reexamine other cases flagged by the grand jury, which said in a scathing report that at least 37 other priests remain in ministry “despite solid, credible allegations of abuse.”

“I tell people that this is not about the Catholic Church. I love my church” said Williams in an interview. “This is not … some form of Catholic-bashing. This is about evil men being held accountable for their evil behavior.”

But some Catholics wonder if Williams, who remains active in his West Philadelphia parish and on various church committees, will feel torn between his legal mission and his faith.

Williams said he isn’t troubled by prosecuting the clergy and school teacher for raping children. “All reasonable people would come to that conclusion,” he said.But Williams is bothered by the thought that some parts of the church, such as schools and youth organizations, might suffer because potential contributors grow reluctant to donate.

Adopted at 18 months by devout Catholics Rufus and Imelda Williams, the district attorney worships in the same West Philadelphia church building where he was baptized, served as an altar boy, and married.

The district attorney, who was elected in 2009, is on the board of Catholic Social Services and the St. Martin de Porres Foundation, which supports lay leadership among African-American Catholics, and participated in a study of the future of churches in his neighborhood.

Williams also spent many years on the parish council of the former St. Carthage Church, and was instrumental in helping the church merge with another local parish to become St. Cyprian.

Read the rest.

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20 responses to “"This is about evil men being held accountable for evil behavior"”

  1. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is persecuting the Church with the secular courts. I disdain his lies that this is some morality play. Has he read 1st Corinthians chapter 6? This man is a liar and I pray that true justice is done. What does he think, that the priest and the Bishops have the money that he is taking out of the Church in their pockets? Does he think that they are selling their personal luxury yachts? Those men do not have the hundreds of millions of dollars for which the Church is being sued. No, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is participating in the closing of parishes and taking food out of the mouth of the poor. The alleged rapist will face God’s judgment but so will this self-righteous lawyer.

  2. This is a very brave man and is doing what the entire clergic body should be doing. Prayers for him in his difficult task.

  3. “But some Catholics wonder if Williams, who remains active in his West Philadelphia parish and on various church committees, will feel torn between his legal mission and his faith.”

    Nonsense! A complete red herring!

    Did you ever hear “Zeal for Your house consumes me.”? If Christ can take a whip to those who violated His Father’s Temple why could not then a good Catholic prosecutor rigorously pursue those who violate innocent children’s’ bodies, minds, and souls, i.e. Temples of the Holy Spirit?

    May God grant this prosecution success according to His Will.

  4. David

    Your setting up a strawman argument. The issue is: there were men who aloud this crap to happen. They aloud it. They could have participated in it themselves. Lets not deflect attention from the issue. It was Rape against children. The issue is that our, and I mean Our, clergy r-a-p-e-d children. Justice is Williams duty. Duty to Immanuel Kant was the ultimate good. Will the poor go without food? I guess catholics in Philidelphia and in other cities better step it up. For a long long time there have been those catholics who have give alms and those who flat haven’t and I’m talking about the ones who have the means. Where are they? Hello! You out there! The issue is the stupidity, the unethical souls, the Cowardice of our local leadrership (Bishops) in our dioceses.
    Self-Righteous or just plain right. Jesus taught us how to “do” life from the inside. From inside his own faith. The jewish faith. He wasn’t liked for it. He was constantly, incesitantly in the face of one leader of the church after the next. Hagel taught us how to balance contradictions. He spelt out how to handle the good with the bad. Williams is in the contradiction of his life. I pray for him. And I don’t blame him. I blame our Bishops. One last thing, its not about money. If people would just take care of each other; if they would just read the gospel; we would help each other regardless of law suits, animosities, insults, tragedies.
    Don’t blame Williams, we might even try to look real hard at ourselves.
    God Bless

  5. David West

    At first I thought that you were being sarcastic and deliberately provocative with your comments. On a second reading, I REALLY DO BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE BEING SERIOUS!

    First of all, the passage that you quote from 1 Corinthians is not relevant here, when you examine the context. Paul is criticizing those Christians who use the Roman courts to settle their internal disputes. Apparently, the disputes were minor cases that Paul thinks should be resolved with mutual Christian charity. The situation in Philadelphia is not a minor internal dispute within the Catholic Church, since it involves what the civil courts classify as both criminal and civil offenses. The Philadelphia D.A. would be derelict in his responsibility if he did not prosecute.

    Seth Williams is being criticized by some Philadelphians for having the given a “heads-up” to Cardinal Rigalli before he went public with the Grand Jury Results. He was not deterred (not that I think that the Cardinal would have tried to deter him). To my thinking, he is a truly class act!

    I do hope that I am not the only one, who is offended and outraged by your slanderous denunciation of this man.

  6. David,

    Who, besides you said anything about money? As far as I can tell these are criminal charges against individuals that could result in jail terms or individual fines. You are he one dragging a large red herring across the issue.

    I think that I must be wrong but it seems that you think that priests can rape children or put them in positions where they might be raped and that there should be no accountability on their part. Like you, a lot of people have turned their backs and ignored the abuse, done nothing about it, even accused those that tried to stop it of immorality. As such I believe those who have acted in this way have done tremendous damage to the Church itself as well as to the kids that were abused.

    Mike L

  7. Mr Williams is a district attorney, pursuing criminal charges, in criminal court. IE jail time for these priests. He is not suing for millions in civil court.

  8. Hi Jenny

    I think your question has been answered after Mike’s comment.

    A very sad thing would to be, taking my own diocese as an example, that even after $660 million was paid out I still don’t think (through some experience of my own) that the lesson may not have been learned. I’m not saying that sexual abuse hasn’t been addressed, it has. But errogant, dense attitudes may not have.
    Sorry about the spelling errors; I know.


  9. Well the last Phila grand jury was led by the former DA- who happens to be jewish. So a few yahoos blamed her and made reference to her religion, somehow trying to deflect the attention from the unthinkable, sick actions that were taken by sick men who wore a collar and the boys in the Chancery who covered it up and even let it continue. Guess they can’t use that excuse this time.

    Deacon Greg- my late Father, a daily communicant and apologist and defender of the Faith, just wanted to ask one question of Cardinal Law and the others Church leaders who enabled these crimes.

    ” Had these same priests instead been found to have stolen from a collection plate, would the Bishop assume he was forgiven and cured and put him in a new parish and again assigned him to be in charge of the collection?”

    The answer to my fathers question I think is obvious and sad to contemplate in terms of what was considered more important.

    Seth Williams is not sinning here, he is calling out a crime that if it occurred is most certainly a grave sin too. Would that the church in Philadelphia, Boston, Ireland, etc had men like him identify this sin and force action years ago many people would have been spared a horror in the name of the church.

  10. He is doing what needs to be done—seeking punishment for those that betrayed the trust of children who were taught to look up to them and trust them. Not only did the priests take advantage of their positions, their superiors betrayed everyone too, by overlooking the priests behaviors to “protect” the church. Lousy excuse. There is absolutely no excuse, and if found guilty, they should never see the light of day outside a cell.

  11. WOW! I’d like to drive to Philly and give Seth Williams one great big hug. I’m not a boy, but I was raped and strangled by a priest not far from Philly. I’m sick and tired of the good ol’ boys network of priests and bishops covering up for their perverted “brothers.” They make me sick.

    And like Seth Williams, I don’t hate the Church. Loving these wicked men tests me every single day, but I love my faith and truly only God gets me through the agonizing pain of trying to work through the damage. And you know what? I’ll bet most, if not all, of these priests have done very good and loving things, too. There is good in all of us…sometimes it just can’t be seen.

    Here’s my cynical and angry side… And lucky Indianapolis, we’ve now been saddled with Laws’ former “spokesman”–who says he wasn’t the official spokesman–Christopher Coyne. These joker priests who lie and cover up get promoted…trash from Massachusetts has now been transferred to Indiana…and the boys are still patting each other on the back.

    Thank you to all of you who understand that Williams is doing the RIGHT thing–something the priests/bishops should have been doing all along–if they were honest. If they were honest in the first place, they wouldn’t now need to worry about the money.

    People who have endured the injury and pain of molestation and/or rape don’t make stupid comments or offer empty arguments about money and blame; the people who do such things are generally ignorant.

    Something we would all do well to remember is that no matter how much money or jail time is involved, the damage done can never be undone. Lawsuits and punitive damages can’t fix the pain, but hopefully will deter others.

    I pray that one day the pain will be tolerable, the anger will have dissipated, and that I will be able to love people the way Christ loves each of us. I’m struggling and praise God for his mercy on each one of us!


  12. Father Coyne is not trash. You have seriously libeled him, Ann. He is a fine priest who for a few years did a job that someone had to do, unless the diocese was to retreat into silence behind closed doors.

    BTW, if you care at all about truth and fairness, it will interest you to know that when the grand jury which the trophy-seeking Attorney General of Massachusetts empanelled to indict Cardinal Law found no basis to charge him with a crime, the news stories printed a table attached to their report. It showed that before Cardinal Law came to Boston, abuse cases were averaging about 27 per year. Over his first 8 years, the rate dropped to about 10 per year, because he instituted a policy of sending abusers to psychologists for treatment. Over the next 8 years, the rate dropped to about 4 per year. He had instituted a review board which included laity for such cases, and he followed their recommendations. And from 2000 on, until the grand jury made its conclusions, the number of complaints of new incidents was zero. If Cardinal Law was responsible for anything, one thing he was responsible for was ending the problem in the archdiocese. (And the abusers had been ordained by his predecessors.)

    Yes, in the early years, there were a few big mistakes, where accusations that were true were not believed. But Fr. Coyne did not make those mistakes, nor was he the spokesman when they were being made. In both charity and justice you have seriously wronged him.

  13. Naturgesetz,

    After sleeping a few hours, reading your comments and then reading again what I wrote, it does appear that I called Coyne himself “trash.” I was referring to the “trash” of the Massachusetts problem and I didn’t express it clearly.

    I think you are correct in saying that I need to be more charitable and it is something I’m trying to do as a part of my healing process and obviously I need to keep working! Thank you for calling me on it.

  14. naturgesetz-

    It is more difficult to provide Cardinal Law the benefit of the doubt since he fled the country and took diplomatic immunity with a plum position in Rome. If all he did was simply improve and address the problems he inherited he had nothing to fear from grandstanding district attorneys, prize seeking newspaper reporters or just common loyal catholics who asked questions like my father did above. All public evidence suggest otherwise.

    I would however concede his act of resignation at least started the process of reconciliation in Boston.

    Far from apologizing for Law, we need to instead take comfort in leaders like Archbishop Martin in Ireland who truly offer us some hope out of this swamp.

    I am not out to physically draw and quarter every chancery lackey or bishop who enabled this mess but it is frustrating that the church doesn’t hold such folks accountable by such actions impacting their career.

    I truly believe that their is a special place in hell reserved for those who knowingly put their career prestige and honor ahead of protecting children from priest rapists. Such judgement is not mine, but it is the Lord’s. And far from excusing those who are ordained or have purple or red vestments and caps, he will hold them to an even higher expectation.

  15. Ann,

    Thank you for your gracious response.

    I’m sure that you are getting a fine priest as your next bishop.

  16. Joe Cleary

    It’s not so much about giving him the benefit of the doubt, although everybody is entitled to it, as recognizing the truth. Cardinal Law had become so identified in the public perception with the evil of child abuse — because of the badly mishandled cases — that his resignation was needed, as you indicate for healing to begin.

    For some time he served as chaplain for a convent of nuns in the United States. Then he was given the post of Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. I would not think that it is a plum assignment. In effect, he’s the parish priest, and I seriously doubt that bishops around the world are hoping to be made Archpriest of St. Mary Major as the culmination of a long and effective ministry. It looks like the sort of position that is given to someone who for whatever reason can’t be given something important.

    By the time he left for Rome, there was no need to flee the country, since the grand jury had already exonerated him. And I don’t know where you get this “diplomatic immunity” bit, since he is not in either the U.S. foreign service nor in the Vatican diplomatic corps.

    Your father’s question is a good one. It certainly seems strange in retrospect that it was apparently taken for granted that sexual temptations could be more easily overcome than greed and covetousness.

    I think it is fair to point out that there were a couple of possible scenarios when a priest was accused. One is that the accusation was not believed. And I think that many of the cases of repeated abuse stem from true accusations not being believed. Then there are the cases where the accusation was believed. Prior to Cardinal Law’s arrival, it seems that such priests were often merely reassigned in the naive belief that in new surroundings they could avoid the sin in the future. Cardinal Law started sending them for psychological treatment, and reassigning them to parish ministry only when the psychological institution said the treatment was successful. In some cases it seemed to have worked, and the priests did not reoffend. In others, the psychologists were wrong in their assessment that the priest was able to resume ministry safely. Soon after the scandal in Boston broke in the press, there was an article by the priest who had headed a treatment center in Maryland. In it he said, “Blame the psychologists.” He wrote that they had mistakenly assured bishops about some priests. The bishops, naturally, accepted their professional opinions, but said he, it wasn’t the bishops’ fault. It was error on the part of the psychologists.

    As for bishops knowingly putting their prestige and honor ahead of protecting children from priest rapists, I would merely suggest that the evidence of what Cardinal Law did to deal with abusive priests, when the accusations were considered credible, does not support accusing him of doing that. I’m not suggesting that he was better than most bishops. Other bishops did similar things as the extent and intractability of the evil became obvious. But I sincerely believe that he was not worse than most. It seems to me that as the 1980’s arrived almost all bishops honestly believed that sexual abuse by priests was rare (not needing a systematic response), and capable of being overcome with a good confession, a firm purpose of amendment, and a fresh start in a new location. Gradually, they learned that they were wrong about that, and their handling of sexual abusers became more effective. No doubt, there was a concern to avoid scandal along with a desire to return priests to effective ministry; but in general, I think it misrepresents the situation to suggest that it was merely bishops trying to protect themselves with no concern for stopping the abuse.

    Look, I’m not saying that bishops, Cardinal Law included, and their advisors never made mistakes. I’m not saying that they weren’t trying to protect their reputations and the Church’s. I’m not saying that their response to abuse was truly adequate. And I’m certainly not saying that the sexual abuse was anything but a great evil, which became as extensive as it did in part because of the inadequacy of the ways they tried to deal with it. I’m only saying that I think that the bishops, Cardinal Law included, were not simply uncaring or evil. That’s all.

  17. Seth Williams is not a tort lawyer seeking monetary damages. He is a public prosecutor seeking justice, and working to apply the criminal sanctions of the law. Anyone confusing a prosecutor with a tort lawyer needs a civics lesson. Mr. Williams is doing in the secular sphere what the bishops should have been doing in the religious sphere.

    What is shameful is that it took a secular press and secular courts to bring the problem forward. Apparently, Jesus will cleanse his temple one way or the other. The poor we have with us always. But we’re not going to be of much use to the poor if we refuse to clean our own house.

  18. Re: Cardinal Law.

    I have been told that shortly after the scandal broke, Cardinal Law invited all of the living members of his seminary class to come to Washington DC at his expense and meet with him for a time of reconciliation.

    He apologized to all of them personally for bringing the priesthood into disrepute. Those I know who were there mention it was a time of great emotion.

    I also heard, but cannot verify, that all who did come to that meeting in Washington DC were also invited to have breakfast — the following morning — at the White House with President Bush (the son).

    That may have been Cardinal Law’s unusual way of saying thanks for the prayers he received that night.

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