Thursday, June 12, 2014

UPDATE: Archbishop Carlson and the "Reagan defense"... plus an apology

This update includes information that was released yesterday [H/T to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf!]. Ordinarily, I would publish a post of this length in Outside the Asylum; however, since the original version of this post was published in The Impractical Catholic, it's only fair I publish the update here as well.

*     *     *

On May 23, 2014 Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis gave his deposition in a predator-priest lawsuit in Minneapolis, where he had originally been incardinated in 1970 and served in a variety of capacities (including auxiliary bishop from 1984 to 1994). At this time, he is not a respondent in the case.

If you judge solely from the video clip released by Anderson Advocates — and, unfortunately, I did at first — Abp. Carlson must be either one of the most astounding, thundering idiots ever to wear a miter or an equally astounding liar. "I'm not sure whether I knew it was a crime" for a priest to have sex with a minor?! Really?!

Except that it appears the "Reagan defense" — lapses of memory — is actually an acceptable legal strategy. When Scott Eric Alt, from whom I picked up the link to Deacon Greg Kandra's page, asked his Facebook friends rhetorically, "Really, where does one begin with this?" Michael F. J. Lee replied:
I'd begin with the high likelihood that the archbishop worded his answer exactly as he was probably advised by archdiocesan attorneys who prepped him for the deposition. It's common for attorneys to advise the "I'm not sure I remember knowing..." disclaimer when going into a deposition. It's also not false; most of us are not "100% sure" of what we remember, or not. Thus, attorneys will tell you that it's perfectly fine to use the disclaimer. ...
I sat in on a deposition prep, and those exact words were prescribed. When the person said "I can't say that," the attorney said "Sure you can. Would you bet your life that the butter on your toast this morning wasn't really margarine? Your life?" The guy said "No." The attorney smiled.

There's more going on here, too, than Anderson Associates — the legal firm which released the clip — would like you to believe.

Yesterday, the Archdiocese of St. Louis released a statement which said, "During a press conference held on June 9, 2014, Plaintiff’s lawyer [the vile, infamous Jeff Anderson, about whom more below] strategically took Archbishop Carlson’s response to a question out of context and suggested that the Archbishop did not know that it was a criminal offense for an adult to molest a child.  Nothing could be further from the truth." The statement included a link to a transcription of the full deposition, and I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon going over it.

First, about Jeff Anderson of Anderson Advocates:

I first came across Anderson's name when I was researching Laurie Goodson's story in the New York Times alleging that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had tried to keep a predator priest in Wisconsin from being defrocked. In fact, Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger, as cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was only tangentially involved in the matter; and his subordinate, then-Abp. (now Cdl.) Tarcisio Bertone, didn't do anything to prevent the return to the lay state of the late Fr. Lawrence C. Murphy.

Anderson had been one of the lawyers who had provided Goodson with the documents she used to traduce Benedict. As well, he was counsel for Terry Kohut, who had filed a suit against His Holiness that was later dismissed. My issue with Anderson is not that he's a self-righteous prick — that's my issue with myself — but rather that he's an unscrupulous, bottom-feeding smear merchant who uses America's growing, disturbing taste for "outrage porn" to attack the Church hierarchy.

Second, about the deposition:

The events in question occurred between thirty and thirty-six years ago. The last time +Carlson was deposed on the matter was twenty-seven years ago. One of the first things we learn in the deposition is that +Carlson had not had access or reference to the documents being used as exhibits to refresh his memory. In fact, at one point he complains, "You're asking me to tell you under oath what I did 32 or 30 years ago, and it would be impossible for me to do that with any accuracy, especially when you have documents that would spell that out." [p. 14; bold type mine] +Carlson tells Anderson, the deposing attorney, that he took notes of all meetings and conversations he had while executing his official duties, then typed them out for the records "because no one can read my handwriting"; many of those type-out notes and memoes are part of the legal exhibits to which he continually requested — and Anderson continually denied — access.

Memories degrade over time. Most of us aren't blessed with eidetic memory or total recall. And as we go through life, our jobs and circumstances make ever-new and ever-changing demands on our minds, including our memories. People who have suffered a trauma — such as victims of child sexual molestation — may remember that trauma more clearly and longer than other things; but even those memories can lose some detail over time. Police prefer video, documents and other hard evidence because they know two people witnessing the same incident can have conflicts of detail in their memories.

+Carlson wasn't a victim; no matter how powerful an impact the events made on him at the time, it's unreasonable to expect him to remember every conversation and rattle off the details of each as if they'd occurred just outside the conference room minutes before the deposition. This is why the "Reagan defense" is, and should be, an accepted legal strategy. Anderson Advocates has released another video clip in which Anderson asserts that +Carlson advised the Bishop of Winona, the late Most. Rev. Loras J. Watters, to claim loss of memory, and snidely remarks something along the lines of, "I find it funny that you should tell him to claim loss of memory, and now here you are claiming loss of memory." +Carlson denies giving +Watters that advice; whether or not this is the truth — we'll never know, as +Watters died in 2009 — Anderson obviously expects us to believe that +Carlson is holding out. Why bother to do this, unless you intend to blacken the man's character? Especially when most of us know memories fade with age?

Third, the video clip itself:

It begins with Anderson asking +Carlson, "Archbishop, you knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?" What the clip leaves out is the context:

Anderson had just asked, "You had earlier said that you felt that the Archdiocese made mistakes in the handling of this priest and others, but you seem to attribute more responsibility on the therapist. Do you think that the therapist, upon which you relied ... bear as much or more responsibility than the Archdiocesan officials who made the choices they did?" [pp. 107-108]

+Carlson replied, "I think if you go back in history, I think the whole culture did not know what they were dealing with. I think therapists didn't. I don't think we fully understood. I don't think public school administrators understood it. I don't think we realized it was the serious problem it is."

This is true. In the 1970s and early 1980s, child sexual abuse was pretty far off the public radar. At the time, therapists thought pedophilia and ephebophilia were treatable, if not curable; as +Carlson's testimony reveals, only over time did they become aware of the high recidivism rate of sexual predators.

Anderson stated skeptically: "Well, mandatory reporting laws went into effect across the nation in 1973, Archbishop." However, they didn't go into effect in Minnesota, the mise-en-scene, until 1988. After some squabbling between Anderson and Charles Goldberg, +Carlson's attorney, he continued, "And you knew at all times, while a priest, having been ordained in 1970, it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid. You knew that, right?"

Goldberg interjected: "I'm going to object to the form of that question now. You're talking about mandatory reporting." It's after this that the clip picks up:

After forty-eight or so hours, and having placed it in context, +Carlson's testimony becomes clearer. The focus of Anderson's questions is when +Carlson became aware that child sexual assault is illegal. And the truth is, we don't keep notes and dates of when we become aware of facts.  Do you know when you became aware of the existence of pedophilia? Do you know when and where you learned that it's illegal, or that reporting it is mandatory, or when it became mandatory? Do you remember when you learned you had to file income-tax returns?

+Carlson certainly knew by 1980; in a document referred to earlier, +Carlson mentioned that the parents of a victim had 2½ years remaining on the statute of limitations to report the crime, which gives us a terminus ad quem ... but not a terminus ad quo. And +Carlson agreed that he must have known by that date [pg. 110] ... but by that time, the clip has ended and the damage has been done.

Now, you can read the transcript of +Carlson's testimony and make up your own mind. It's clear to me, however, that Anderson was trying to get +Carlson to make a definite statement that he could contradict with a piece of evidence, so he could either accuse the deponent of perjury or include him as a defendant. Failing in that, he decided to use a select portion of that testimony to publicly vilipend +Carlson as either a dunce or liar ... or both. I ask Jeff Anderson what Joseph N. Welch asked Sen. Joseph McCarthy: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

And now for the apology, because I fell for it. Your Excellency, my most heartfelt regrets. Please forgive me. I am an asshat.

I included you in the set of "empty miters" who had allowed the problem of predator priests to fester until it exploded in 2002. This was the sin of rash judgment, based on a tiny video clip taken out of the context of the rest of your testimony, and which didn't take into account a historical context about which I had previously researched and written (and so should have known better). Context isn't everything, but it counts for a lot.

Jeff Anderson pwned me, and I let myself be pwnd. I owe you, Gentle Reader, an apology as well, for going off half-cocked, for not holding off on the "Publish" button as soon as I saw "Anderson Advocates" on the YouTube page. Let this be a lesson to me ... and to us all.