What’s Your Response to an Accusation?


I have been called for jury duty a few times but have never made it past the waiting area. This time when the summons arrived, I started to think about the possible case. If it involved anything to do with child sex abuse, could I be an impartial juror?

In the Sandusky trial there was overwhelming evidence of guilt, but that is not always the case. Child sex abuse cases rarely have eyewitnesses, multiple victims taking the stand, and a trail of odd behavior and past police calls in reference to the perpetrator. I have read that most cases are hard to prosecute. In those instances, it must be hard to be a juror.

When you hear of a person being arrested for sexually abusing a child, do you automatically assume guilt? What if it’s a priest? Does the emotional response outweigh the understanding that the case needs to be proven in court and the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty?

If the victim testifying seems believable but the evidence is weak, could you vote to acquit?  Does the juror have the added burden of feeling that if they acquit and are wrong, they just helped release a person back into society who could harm more children? Would the  possibility of that make a juror more willing to vote guilty?

I imagine the jury deliberations are very emotional and heated concerning child sex abuse cases. I wonder if a juror feels less at ease playing a devil’s advocate role in these cases for fear they would appear as someone sympathetic to a possible child predator.

The one take away I felt after attending the Lynn and Brennan trial last year was that I was thankful to not be on that jury. I imagine I would have felt the same about the Shero/Englehardt jury.

It is important to be honest and raise the question. I don’t have the answer.

Editor’s note: Kathy and I want to highlight that the percentage of false claims for child sex abuse is quite low according to most recent studies. It’s also important to note the majority of false claims are in relation to divorce and child custody disputes. This essay intends to raise a philosophical question in regard to juror prejudice – not to cast doubt on victims.

24 thoughts on “What’s Your Response to an Accusation?

  1. It’s a tough issue. We are all aware of how many black men were falsely accused of winking at a white woman, of touching a white woman, or of raping a white woman – for which they were hanged, burned at the stake, beaten to death or imprisoned for life. At the same time, real asexual assault in the form of incest, military rape, church related rape, and boyschout sexual assault all too often go un reparted, ignored, or charges are dropped or charges are dismissed. High School and college assault on girls all too often brings repurcussions more on the victim than the purpetrator as recent cases prove. Even when cases actually go to court, all too often victims receive no ljustice – whatever justice means in this most egregious of assaults on another. And in the US military – “Be all you can be” and invariably get away with it. Male attitudes of she asked for it, she should have kept her legs crossed, what was she doing out at that hour of the night andyway? (just walking home from work you Neanderthal), she shouldn’t have had that last drink…….


  2. In memory of Juror James Chevedden, who previously reported abuse by a Jesuit. Chevedden was on jury duty in a drunk driving case and died mysteriously 5-minutes after leaving the courthouse. The San Jose, California police did not interview anyone in the courthouse. A Jesuit sympathizer had a high position in the San Jose Police Department.

  3. The most important point which I totally forgot to include is that jurors need to base their decision upon very specific laws. In the Brennan case I believe he was charged with child endangerment of others..not of Mark. The prosecution had to prove that “other children” were endangered by Brennan but had no other cases. I think I remember one juror saying that she felt they would have convicted him of child endangerment involving Mark but that statute had run out, so the child endangerment of ‘others” was what the jury was rendering a decision.
    It is all very complicated and not the simple throw them in jail and lock away the key that people would want. I believe the conspiracy charges had 3 or 4 components that the prosecution had to prove and the jury felt that had not been met. Even Sandusky was found not guilty of 3 charges based on the prosecution case.

  4. Susan ( and Kathy), I do feel your “angst” at facing the possibility of such a trial. As a priest, last summer, I also felt a deep sense of sorrow for Msgr. Lynn. Having grown up in this clerical culture, I felt great sadness that he would now be stripped of everything he had chosen to be as a priest and suddenly he was in prison, alone, no clerical respect, no deference because of status, but simply a number amongst numbers.
    At the same time, I was very angered at him because my good friend who had been sexually abused and had spoken with Msgr. Lynn and lynn truly felt that my friend was telling the truth,but he went no further and did not reach out to him as a pastor should, but instead, in his office as personel director for priests, just handled other cases by simply allowing predators to be moved and so allowed them to find new ways to sexually assault children.
    The evil he allowed in the lives of these children supercedes any feeling of care for lynn’s status as a priest. Last year, he celebrated Holy Week in his parish and he shared in the mysteries of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. This year he sits in a cell and recalls his own fall from honor. We can only hope that he has learned from this horrendous experience. Some how, he needs to really offer an apology to all those that he allowed to be abused. Maybe that would be his resurrection, his being raised from the death of obscurity in a prison cell.
    May I offer a further reflection. This week, three buses left Philly to go to Washington and support the “Definition of Marriage Act”. Three busloads went 150 milles and return for this issue. My real question is where were these bus loads of people coming down to the Cathedral or 222 17th street to protest sexual abuse actions of allowing these predators to function so freely. It is interesting that people can get really irate on some issues, but to ignore the reality that hundreds, thousands of children have been abused right here in Philadelphia. (In our counrty, the number 100,000 children victims has been stated).

    Today at the Chrism Mass in Rome, Pope Francis called all priests to be out with the people and to hear and listen to their pain and sorrow and to reach out and help them. Let’s hope that this call will be taken seriously by priests, by bishops and cardinals.

    1. I just want to mention Philly, since it was brought up: I want to say that when I think of everything I have learned about Philly this past year or two makes me think it is a really terrible place in which to live. It’s a shame because previously I had good thoughts about the history etc.
      What a shame!

        1. The laws in Pa. dealing with child sex abuse are among the worst in the country. I am unimpressed with many of our legislators and their commitment to children as there have been improvements needed for years that have been pointed out, and only after the Sandusky fiasco, is when movement finally began to get serious. Nichols there are many good people in Philly and Pa. who do not hurt children or cover up crimes.

          1. Undoubtedly Kathy; however, I learned more about PA than just the CSA and coverup. There were other outstanding forms of crime and dysfunction that came to my attention as a result, I feel, of the interest drawn by the CSA etc..

  5. I have a frIend whose son is in jail for 25 years over a false accusation.It is a terrible situation for the family.

  6. I could not be a juror in a child sex abuse case. I knew a few of the accused priests and do/did not want to sit in a courtroom hearing about children they might have abused, especially children who were in my classroom. It’s just too emotional and I know I would not be impartial and would only be thinking about the children. I would, however, like to be on a jury where a bishop, archbishop or cardinal were on trial for allowing and covering up the abuse. Yes, I would not be impartial as they should all be in jail and therefore would probably not be chosen for such a jury.

  7. The Catholic church never, ever did What Jesus Would Do, which is to actively seek out every single victim and get them help.

    Instead, in every single one of the tens of thousands of known cases worldwide, they hid the pedophile priest, usually with all of their power and might and money and political power. No priest ever tells the truth about it, with the exception of Fr Avery who lied for 30 years and then decided to tell the truth to minimize his sentence.

    This isn’t a great mystery. If a priest is accused, the chances of him being not guilty are minuscule.

    1. Patrick there is this thing called laws that enter into the equation. Laws that prohibited prosecution based on statutes and other laws that were so deficient they did not cover those in charge at the time that cover up of crimes against children occurred. My point is that when a jury is trying to come to a verdict they have to go based on the evidence presented that proves the case.
      For example in the case of Brennan I believe he should be in prison based on his actions against Mark, but the case failed to show the conspiracy of Lynn and Brennan and it failed to show that other children were endangered. So on those two charges would you have convicted solely on your feelings about the depraved actions that have gone on in the RCC with crimes against children,or would you render a verdict based on the evidence? You say it is not a mystery but it also may not be as black and white as you see it. The judge does not simply say to the jury ” find him guilty of whatever charges you see fit”.

    2. Patrick,

      This may be their rational; “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,”
      therefore the hierarchy can do anything they want. Party on boys!

      One problem, the Church is “the body of Christ universal,” not those creepy guys in the red dresses. Wake up people! You’ll never get justice from clerics, so stop expecting it. Lets pray that these cardinals continue to become less and less relevant to the ordinary Catholic.

      I’m waiting to see if the Pope is going to clean out the Curia; that will tell us a lot.

  8. Kathy – your reflections are, I believe, spot on. A juror’s role, especially in a closely contest criminal action, where the vindication of the survivor & the freedom of the defendant are at stake, is one of the toughest jobs in our system of justice. It is, comparatively speaking, easy for you, me or anyone else, especially someone who “knows” the answer to the guilt or innocent issue w/o regard to the instructions of the trial judge as to the law or the evidence offered & admitted at the trial. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is probably the toughest burden of proof in our system of justice. If not met, & the civil statute of limitations has not expired (unfortunately the latter is not the case), the survivor can bring a civil action where the burden of proof is simply by a propondence of the evidence. The distinction is shown in the O.J. Simpson case, where he was found not not guilty in the criminal trial but liable in the civil action. This is one, of many, reasons to extend the civil statute of limitations in these cases.

  9. I know I couldn’t be an impartial juror in any case involving the sexual abuse of children, whether it was a priest or a common lay person who was accused. I can’t imagine any victim being chosen by a defense lawyer. Of course, I also believe there are thousands of victims out there who have never admitted to anyone that they were abused. What if they ended up on a jury? On another site there was some questions raised by a lawyer who was present during the most recent trial and questioned how the jury could come up with a guilty verdict. He seemed to think there were too many inconsistencies in the victims testimony. The thing about juries is you never know what each jurors experiences have been.If someone on that jury had direct knowledge of abuse by one of the accused priests,they should not have been on that jury.I served on a jury dealing with a drug deal gone wrong. The guy was probably guilty but the witnesses against him were not believable.Hence he was found not guilty.

  10. My conribution is to say in relation to clergy, if they are certain of a verdict due to the church’s influence [and money], found in their favour, they will keep up the fight through legal counsel but deep down if are guilty, happy to be truly freed the yoke around their necks removed.
    Chris Wilding the founder of Brokenrites support group, [resigning unhappy with where the group was heading] made submissions to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry as reported in the Melbourne Age March 27, Church used “balckmail” secrecy.
    The Australian also covered her story, Let victims sue church March 26.
    Both articles interesting to read and no doubt food for thought.

  11. I’m not certain. Experiences in our lives affect our judgements. We are also taught prejudice. I believe I would have to consciously override my prejudices (pre-judgment) of an accused priest. I intellectually understand that not all priests are sexually abusive, but my go-to, knee-jerk thought is that they are hiding something because they are loyal to a corrupt system. It wasn’t the media that taught me this either…it was priests, bishops, and cardinals. That would be hard for me to not know this. Let’s face it…no defense team would want me sitting on a jury with an accused priest.

    Sitting on a jury…presented with the facts, given the parameters of the law…I don’t feel a responsibility to reach a verdict based on the prosecution (and long term effects on a victim) as much as I would feel a responsibility to reach a fair verdict of the guilt of the defendent. This is why laws that protect perpetrators are so important. We have to work within the system that is given…as flawed as it may be.

    How does anyone separate who they are and what they’ve experienced once they hit a jury box? I think it’s impossible…that’s why prosecution and defense both choose and both can eliminate potential jurors.

  12. It makes me sad to hear people say things like “in every single one of the tens of thousands of known cases worldwide, they hid the pedophile priest,”. They meaning the Church. That just isn’t true. Yes, in too many cases they did but not in every single case. Then you have the person who said ” I would, however, like to be on a jury where a bishop, archbishop or cardinal were on trial for allowing and covering up the abuse. Yes, I would not be impartial as they should all be in jail”. Like you said Kathy, there are rules that apply and MUST apply if we truly are a democracy where one is innocent until proven guilty. SNAP wrote Bp.Alvaro Corrada a letter of commendation for his response to an incident. He did everything SNAP asked and more. Bishop Tom Gumbleton was a featured speaker at a SNAP conference years ago. He received a standing ovation after speaking. Granted, not everybody stood but 98% of people did. My point is, not every single priest or bishop is guilty. There are priests who have NEVER seen a fellow priest abuse. To say that they’re all guilty even if they didn’t abuse someone themselves because they knew other priests were abusing is just not the truth. Sadly, I know of half a dozen priests that were victims of priests themselves. Yet they didn’t let that stop them from serving God and His people. They have served honorably for decades never once doing anything inappropriate. I am a person who has been abused by both a mentally challenged man and a priest. At one time I was responsible for starting and maintaining five SNAP chapters across Texas. I have never cut the Church any slack. I have fought within the Church for the past ten years for truth and accountability. Saying everyone in the Church is guilty of something is like saying all soldiers are war criminals and all politicians are on the take. It just isn’t so. Bless you Kathy for bringing this up. It’s an important discussion with no easy answers.

  13. Millions of people in the world advocate for a multitude of causes, human plights, and injustices. Their experiences, knowledge, beliefs, values, and passions fuel them. The nature of advocacy tends to be altruistic or “about others,” therefore advocates all too often fail to reflect on themselves. They rarely ask: How does my advocacy affect me?

    A person’s advocacy should inform and heighten her general sense and understanding of the human condition, fairness, and justice. When a person’s advocacy acts myopically, when the human condition, fairness, and justice are only understood through the narrow lens of the person’s concerns, she risks committing the very “sins” she advocates against. She also risks becoming small-minded, intolerant, dogmatic, biased, bigoted, prejudiced, reactionary, and inflexible.

    There is nothing worse than a person who passionately advocates for the fair and just treatment of one group of people at the expense of other groups of people. Such a compressed and constricted view of fairness and justice is dangerous, immoral, and irrational. Few advocates understand how it compromises both their advocacy and them. Yet it happens all too often which is why advocates should consistently take stock of themselves, honestly reflecting on how their advocacy affects them.

    Advocacy should enlarge a person, not reduce him or her.

  14. Kate Fitzgerald….your understanding and presentation is that which all who advocate must remember each and everyday. I thank you for this important message, one that will hopefully ensure that anyone who speaks out legitimately for an important cause, e.g., one of social injustice like child sexual abuse, remembers to reflect on his/her own conduct, behavior and decision-making so as not to become near-sighted, inflexible and biased.

  15. Well this is a real eye opener. You won’t print my response to people saying all prists and bishops are evil but you will post my comment making me look bad. OK, no problem, you’ve made it clear you don’t want to have a true discussion. Guess your readers can’t handle the truth, that SNAP has complimented bishops. I just read an article on the SNAP website that they ALL Catholics must fight abuse, not just the Pope. I feel sorry for you Kathy and Susan and sorry for your resders who will never hear both sides of the story. Happy Easter!

    1. Miguel, we welcome all to the discussion. Sometimes if a comment contains a particular word or phrase, it gets held for moderation,other times things get sent to spam for no reason. We would never censor a comment because of the opinion of the writer. I am sure when Susan has time she will check to see if a comment of yours was sent to moderation or spam.

  16. A wonderful Easter reflection calling into question the wisdom and righteousness of the Christian view that suffering and death lead to resurrection and life, its tendency to provide a comfortable end and fix, and its inclination to ultimately make us forget about the suffering and death. Maybe, as Buddhists do, we should linger longer on the suffering and death, indeed, linger only on it. Maybe, as Buddhists do, we should altogether eliminate the resurrection. Maybe we should act as women do by their very nature, who, in view of the relentless persistence of suffering, death, and violence, go about picking up the pieces… relentlessly and persistently picking up the pieces.


    1. Kate that was an interesting article. I have not been to Good Friday mass in a few years and this year I went to adoration at 12 and mass at 3 and it was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. It seems the last few years I have been thru a lot of physical and emotional suffering…….loss of family members etc. and I can honestly say I understand the cross more now after having gone thru my own trials and tribulations………..my prayer to Jesus was I love you…….I love you and many tears I shed because I now understand his love for me……Maybe that was my resurrection moment and it came thru tremendous suffering……..we are all imperfect yet he laid his life down for us………..

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