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A Closure Walk with Thee

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 15, 2004

Back to Richmond. Accused of an unsatisfactory Good Touch to Bad Touch ratio, Fr. John Leonard copped an Alford plea, in which, according to the legal lexicons, "the defendant does not admit the act (factual guilt), but admits that the prosecution could likely prove the charge." Retired Bishop Walter Sullivan issued the following statement in response:

After our own thorough investigation, and with the extensive investigation by Goochland's Commonwealth Attorney completed, we are grateful to have this matter come to closure. It is significant that the Court determined not to pursue charges of sexual abuse against Father Leonard. This has been a long and difficult episode for all involved. With the Court's resolution in place, our diocesan Review Board will review all the information and make any final recommendations they might have to offer.

The court's resolution? A sixth grader nails a girl in the eye with a rock. The playground monitor yanks him inside to the principal's office for a caning. The student wails so piteously that the monitor relents. Then the student struts outside announcing "It is significant that" -- wait for it -- "the principal determined I wasn't to be punished."

We're told that in an Alford plea the court pronounces the defendant guilty, but Sullivan spins it to mean nearly the opposite; the key word in his statement is "closure": a declaration that we shouldn't turn over this rock, because there's absolutely nothing live and wriggling underneath. Fr. Leonard, coincidentally, draws the same conclusion in a letter to his parishioners:

In order to bring this painful and difficult situation to an end once and for all, and to ... preserve the stability of St. Michael's, I reluctantly decided to enter a plea agreement with the Commonwealth Attorney. While this resolution does not please me, the alternative would have been to proceed with what likely would have been a highly publicized trial. This would have caused more pain and disruption. I could not let that happen. I emphatically deny that these incidents ever occurred. The serious charges attached to these allegations have been dropped in consideration of this plea to much lesser charges. I realize I run the risk that some will see my decision as an admission that I did what was alleged. That simply is not the case.

Leonard never manages to tell us what "these incidents" were that never occurred, and in his lawyerly way he stops short of saying he didn't do whatever he is alleged to have done; instead he says that his plea is not an admission that he did whatever he is alleged to have done. Feel better now?

Leonard asks us to believe that his motive for accepting a guilty verdict was to "preserve the stability" of his parish. The publicity attendant on his trial defense would have caused pain and disruption, and for a man of his profound pastoral concern that's unthinkable. "I could not let that happen," he tells us. What a guy.

Ever notice that, in the sex abuse crisis, the worst bishops (McCormack, Grahmann, Mahony, Sullivan) and the worst offenders (Porter, Geoghan, Shanley) share this characteristic of sanctimoniousness? Should you be moved to wonder how it is that molesters get so many chances to re-offend, take note of their talent -- and the talent of their superiors -- in portraying themselves as the wounded party, in shifting feelings of guilt onto the innocent. If the ability is noticeable in cold prose, think what it must be like one-on-one, in a room with a locked door...

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jan. 15, 2004 1:09 PM ET USA

    The parishioners could petition Leonard and Sullivan: "That's all right with us, Father. Let St. Michael be unstable. We were a little to sluggish for the time being. No bother, no bother at all on our account." He has been convicted of two charges of assault. He awaits sentencing. This is hardly closure even if you accept their frame of reference which I don't.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2004 10:39 AM ET USA

    An Alford plea, and its many state law analogues, is a legal artifice designed by the courts to keep the factory of justice running efficiently, for those GUILTY defendants who lack the moral courage to admit their misdeeds. It is the equivalent of a plea of guilty in every respect, and, in "Father" Leonard's case, the last refuge of a true scoundrel. On top of his other sins, he's added a new one: he's a liar.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2004 9:18 AM ET USA

    The "switch" of guilt from the predator to the victim has been going on for generations for women who've had to prove they weren't "asking for it" in too many rape trials for me to be surprised.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2004 6:47 AM ET USA

    And Adam said: "I heard Thy voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. Wherefore to preserve the stability of Paradise I hid myself..."

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