Action Alert!

Liar's Poker

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 26, 2003

Here's a story worth watching. Last summer, the Archdiocese of Boston's Msgr. Michael Smith Foster was accused of sexual abuse by a man named Paul Edwards. Foster was placed on leave while the accusation was investigated, then re-instated, then placed on leave again when new testimony emerged, and re-instated a second time in October. But the issue won't die. Archbishop O'Malley has acceded to the requests of a victim advocacy group that the case and the earlier findings be reviewed. Wednesday the Boston Herald recapitulated the story in these terms:

In August 2002, Edwards filed suit claiming abuse by Monsignor Michael Smith Foster, Boston's chief canon lawyer, and the late Rev. William Cummings. He withdrew it after Foster's supporters launched a media campaign, primarily in The Boston Globe, branding Edwards a lifelong liar.

There's more to this than meets the eye. Herald reporter Robin Washington goes out of his way to mention that the Boston Globe was unusually accommodating to Foster's supporters claque. With fellow Herald reporter Tom Mashberg, he had already called attention to the Globe's odd partisanship in a January 16, 2003 story and in another published August 2, 2003. The latter article stops just short of claiming that the Globe was shilling for Foster:

But after a concerted campaign by Foster backers to discredit Edwards, much of which was trumpeted in the Boston Globe, Edwards withdrew his lawsuit "with prejudice," meaning he has to abandon any claims against the church.

The Globe's curiously uncritical stance in accepting the Foster claque's disparagement of Edwards is particularly noteworthy given that its reportorial stance toward the clergy abuse story was generally favorable to the accusers and skeptical toward the priests who were accused. Why the flip-flop in assigning the benefit of the doubt in this case?

But there are further cross-currents at play. The other priest Edwards claimed abused him, delicately called "the late" Rev. William Cummings by the Herald, died of AIDS in 1994, amidst considerable and overwhelmingly benign publicity. Foster, of course, is the tribunal official who did the twee pansies-and-peppermints makeover of the annulment hearing room (likewise celebrated by a reporter from the Globe, in a departure from the newspaper's generally unsympathetic treatment of archdiocesan officialdom). Thus, on one hand, Foster and Cummings are the sort of men against whom a scam artist might make false claims of sexual impropriety with prima facie plausibility; on the other hand they are the kind of "thinking Catholics" whom the Globe would be most interested in protecting from obloquy. On one hand Cummings, dead and incapable of defending himself, is the perfect mark for a swindler; on the other hand Foster is one of the best-connected priests in the area and eminently capable of mounting and directing a massive, hostile, and punitive counter-offensive.

Then there's the accuser, Paul Edwards, himself. He seems clearly to be an emotionally damaged man. Whether his derangement is the cause of an imagined occasion of abuse or the product of a true one is precisely the point at issue. So it counts neither for nor against the innocence of Foster and Cummings. Edwards's first lawyer distanced himself from his client after the suit was withdrawn, but Roderick MacLeish, his current attorney, is trying to get him reinstated as a claimant in the $85 million settlement -- a move that has obvious financial benefits for MacLeish if it succeeds, but which also entails a certain risk if Edwards should turn out to be a false accuser, since the attorneys for the plaintiffs are trying to combat accusations of fronting for grifters.

The upshot: here's a story in which all the principal actors -- accuser, accused, journalists and attorneys -- can be credited with deep personal interests in not telling the truth. That fact of itself does not mean that all are lying, but at least one of them has to be.

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