Tuesday, January 31, 2006

glutton for punishment

Couldn't believe the video they ran the other day of James Hanley, an ex-priest in NJ, who confronted the people he abused nearly 30 years ago. They found out where he was living and gathered outside his residence. Hanley took them on in the street. It was one of the most bizarre and pathetic scenes imaginable.

Why would he go back to live in the very same place that it all occurred? Why would he expose himself like that to his accusers after the $5 million settlement had been paid? What kind of retort is: "Your brother Jimmy I abused, but you I never touched!"

A glance at the sex offender registry, state by state, shows how widespread the madness is. And the nearly 500,000 members of this elite club are only those who have been prosecuted and registered. This guy Hanley was never criminally prosecuted because the statute of limitations ran out and is therefore not a registered sex offender. But folks are scared of him all the same.

40 year old Joseph Druce was convicted last week of first degree murder for strangling John Geoghan in a MA prison. Druce said he had been 'chosen' to bring retribution to the pedophile ex-priest and would accept the consequences of his calling.

Another, totally different story is that of Alfredo Vargas. I originally read about it in the NYTimes in greater detail, but that article is now on the pay site. You can get the gist of it here. The story of the prosecution and eventual exoneration of Vargas, a Nicaraguan immigrant, contains many elements that reveal just how unverifiable and haphazard the judgement of these cases often is.

Vargas' condemnation was based almost entirely on the roundabout, contradictory and inconclusive account of the confused little four year old he allegedly abused. The prosecution was fueled by the parents of the girl, both lawyers, both obsessed with sexual abuse: on multiple occasions they have claimed that their other children were abused by other predators at the same synagogue...

Vargas never wavered in his insistence of innocence, to the point of rejecting a bargain that would have freed him with a guilty plea. The young girl, on the other hand, never told the same story twice. She changed key details of the supposed episode. When asked to indicate who had touched her, she pointed to two different male jurors.

All the same, Vargas served five years before concerned members of the synagogue where he was caretaker managed to reopen the case and get the verdict changed. Ironically, he is not yet a free man because he faces deportation due to immigration issues.

Our society produces an abundance of violent, deranged people who prey on children. This is obvious to anyone who can the stomach the evening news on a regular basis. But the justice system often appears to be egregiously inconsistent in its judgement of sexual abuse cases.

A judge in Vermont gives a six month sentence to a felon who admits to raping a handicapped girl during a four year period. In Florida, multiple offenders get reduced sentences and are released having served only a fragment of their time. Across America, dioceses are expected to dish out endless streams of money to folks accusing priests of deeds that occurred 30 and 40 years ago. Few of the cases are adequately investigated (that is as much the Church's fault as anyone else's) and, even if there were the will to do so, many of the accused are dead or incapable of defending themselves.

The members of a synagogue rallied to the cause of their caretaker. I wonder in how many parishes in which false accusations have been tendered the parishoners have gone the extra mile for their priest... Or should we just accept the fact that it's "guilty until proven innocent" for a certain class of people?

Is it any wonder the Exorcist is so confused?