I began watching Netflix’s new “true crime” series “The Keepers” last night. I may not last through all seven episodes. In addition to the documentary story-telling methodology, which moves at the pace of a slug-race, the story of how unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun might be part of (yet another) horrific cover-up by the Catholic Church made me so angry and frustrated that I quit in the middle of the third episode. The series makes the case that the nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, was killed because she was about to reveal ongoing sexual abuse of young teenage girls by the priest running the Archbishop Keough High School for girls.
The abuse and the extent of it is not speculation. As in so many other places, the Catholic Church in Baltimore eventually paid millions in damages to multiple victims of multiple predator priests who the Church moved around the region—so they could molest and assault new victims—rather than handing them over to law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any priest worse than Father Joseph Maskell, however, if even some of the allegations against him are true. Victims say he used student files and illicit police connections to target teenage girls who were already being sexually abused. He manipulated them using a sick combination of religion, guilt, hypnotism and intimidation, sexually abused them, and even delivered some over to members of the Baltimore police department for more abuse.
The documentary focuses on the school’s Class of ’69, though there must have been equally abused girls before and after. The conspiracy of silence began to crack in 1992, when an especially victimized member of the class suddenly realized that she had repressed memories of horrible experiences, and finally complained to the Baltimore Archdiocese, setting off the kind of despicable Church defensive strategies too familiar to anyone who has seen “Spotlight.”
This documentary isn’t good for my state of mind. It makes me wonder not only if all is lost, but also if all wasn’t lost long ago. I was raised in a largely Catholic community. I am not religious, but as an ethicist I recognize the important, civilizing role religion has played in teaching and enforcing moral principles for the majority of the public for whom ethical analysis is too challenging. Episodes like the Father Maskell scandal raise questions that I rebuke myself for asking, like “How can this be?” “Jane Doe,” the star witness in the documentary, is still a devout Catholic. Her immediate response to every dilemma is to pray. I don’t get it. She was savaged, threatened and abused by a priest that she knows the Church allowed to prey on the vulnerable students entrusted to him. Why would she still trust the Catholic Church?
Why would anyone? Continue reading
The predator priest, the corrupt CEO, and the murderous Patriot, all innocent because they’re dead….
Massachusetts judge Judge E. Susan Garsh ruled that the state’s law required her to vacate the 2015 murder conviction of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez. Because Hernandez’s appeal was pending when he committed suicide in his cell, she said, the common law doctrine known as abatement ab initio applied: a defendant’s death before an appeal erases his conviction. Prosecutors argued that Hernandez’s purpose in hanging himself on April 19 was to to void his conviction, but Judge Garsh responded that she was bound to follow state law anyway, especially since Hernandez’s motives were unknown. She had presided at the trial in which a jury found Hernandez guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the murder of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd.
The fact that some legal and ethical puzzles have proven unsolvable despite troubling lawyers, judges, legislators and scholars for decades (and sometimes centuries) is one of the best proofs I know for The Ethics Incompleteness Principle, which holds that no rule or principle makes sense in all circumstances, and that human beings are incapable of articulating perfect laws and rules that will work as intended in every case. Abatement ab initio is a classic example.
Abatement is the dismissal or discontinuance of a legal proceeding “for a reason unrelated to the merits of the claim.” It is available in both a civil and criminal context. Traditionally, the death of a criminal defendant following conviction but before an appeal can be made mandates abatement. The effect of the doctrine is to discontinue all proceedings and to dismiss the appeal as moot, overturn the conviction, and dismiss the indictment. The deceased defendant reverts back to his status before being charged. In the eyes of the law, he is innocent…again. Continue reading
Which one is David Dao? What is he like? What has he done? IT DOESN’T MATTER…
I had to post this as soon as a comment on the original post mentioned recent revelations about the abused passenger on—and then off– United Flight 3411 yesterday.
David Dao (that’s his name) will naturally be the object of research by the news media, because he’s now a public figure and they are overwhelmingly scum. However, whatever exposure his past and present receives as a result of his unwelcome celebrity due to a United employee fingering him for no particular reason as a passenger to sacrifice to solve problems of the airline’s own making, none of it has any relevance to the episode. There is no justification for further injuring Dao by invading his privacy. It is a cruel and unethical thing to do. It is unethical journalism, because the details of the doctor’s life do not contribute anything to an understanding of the story and the issues that the conduct of United raises.
Never mind! This is the Paul Newman film “Absence of Malice” crossed with “Airplane”—an innocent bystander is swept up in a controversy, and as a result is embarrassed before the world because journalists never consider the Golden Rule, and seldom care about fairness, decency, compassion or the consequences of what they publish. “The public has a right to know,” they posture. Really? Why does the public have any right to know about Dao, besides what they see on the YouTube videos?
TMZ, a bottom-feeding celebrity site, first dug up Dao’s history, posting a click-bait headline. The Courier-Journal, a Kentucky affiliate of USA Today, then piled on with a story about the “doctor with [a] troubled past.’ The New York Daily News, The New York Post, The Washington Times, The Chicago Sun Times, D.C.’s ABC affiliate and People Magazine all joined the fun, the game being “Let’s see if we can further embarrass and humiliate this man, because United didn’t do enough already.” People’s expose was titled “Revealed: All About the Doctor Dragged Off Overbooked United Flight — and His Troubled Past.”
Did I mention that the woman whose life is put on the front page in “Absence of Malice” kills herself? (Melinda Dillon received an Oscar nomination for the role.) Continue reading
A toilet at Patrick Henry High….
Yyyyyyup! The American public school system continues to impress. As they used to say, “Get a load of this!“
In 2012 Gonja Wolf was an art teacher at Patrick Henry High School in the San Diego Unified School District. She was monitoring a 25-minute study hall. Administrators at the school had told teachers that frequent bathroom breaks for students would undermine the study hall’s purpose, which was uninterrupted study. They also told teachers to use their common sense. Unfortunately, Ms. Wolf had no common sense.
When a young woman in the class, a freshman, asked to go to the restroom, Wolf ordered her to urinate in a bucket in an adjacent supply room rather than use the bathroom during class. The bucket was there because Wolf, a think-ahead type of person, purchased the bucket, she said, to serve as a toilet in case of a security lockdown, and had even used the bucket for emergency peeing herself. (I should have put this story in the “I Can’t Believe I’m Writing This” file.) She said she misunderstood the school’s instructions about bathroom breaks, but thought it was a good idea. To have students pee in a bucket. She actually said this under oath.
Yes, sadly, Gonja Wolf is an idiot. Continue reading
I just watched the 2016 horror/suspense thriller “Don’t Breathe,” in which Stephen Lang, always excellent, plays a blind veteran whose home is invaded by three self-righteous young sociopaths who intend to rob him. The movie is the latest genre movies with ethical mind-benders concocted in the House of Raimi, as Sam Raimi, the flamboyant auteur behind “The Evil Dead,” “Xena,” the first couple Spiderman movies and especially “Drag Me To Hell,” was the lead executive producer here and Raimi’s protege, Fede Alvarez, directed and wrote the script.
How do I do this without spoiling the film for someone who hasn’t seen it? I can’t. If you intend to ever see the hit 2016 movie but have not yet, then just wait for the next post. Otherwise, read on.
“Don’t Breathe” becomes one of those monster movies where you start rooting for the monster, and even that doesn’t encompass the ethical morass the movie creates. Imagine “Wait Until Dark”except that the imperiled blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) is replaced by a blind Steven Seagal (the younger, thinner version), or maybe Billy Jack, and he beats the living daylights out of or kills the three middle-aged male thugs—including a creepy evil mastermind played by Alan Arkin— who get into his house.
Got that? Okay, now replace the three thugs with three attractive twenty-somethings, including a troubled young woman trying to start a new life after an abusive childhood. Continue reading
Horrified by this story in the Washington Post and others like it, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has filed suit against Access Funding and other viatical settlement companies, asserting that they take advantage of vulnerable victims of lead poisoning by purchasing their structured settlements at less than fair-market value.
Gee, ya think?
I have written about this many times and in other forums, and even been threatened by a few the despicable companies (“It’s your money!”…”I have a structured settlement and I need cash now!”) in this cruel and predatory industry.
Few in the general public know about it or understand what’s going on. Structured settlement are annuities bought by insurance companies to ensure a regular flow of compensatory damages to personal injury and medical malpractice plaintiffs to cover their medical costs and living expenses. The settlements aren’t given out in lump sums because many such plaintiffs are poor and have no experience handling money. A large payment of millions of dollars guarantees that needy family members and friends will beg, plead for and demand loans and hand-outs, while the recipients themselves are tempted to buy luxuries they have long dreamed about with funds intended to cover lifetime cancer treatments.
As I wrote in a post almost seven years ago…
Once they are on their own, however, the compensated victims are targeted by viatical settlement companies, both those with cute opera-singing commercials and those without. They undermine the sound advice of the attorneys with slogans like “It’s your money!” and try to persuade the former plaintiffs to unstructure the structured settlement by selling the annuity’s income stream to the viatical settlement company at a deep discount. Result: the annuity company gets the regular income at bargain rates, and the victims get a new, smaller lump sum to dissipate in exchange. The statistics say that the customer of the viatical settlement company will run out of cash long before he or she runs out of the need for it. But for the company, it’s a sweet deal.