Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Did the Trial Judge Pull His Punches? Do You Believe in Unbelievable Stories? Are Show Trials Back?

Shanley was sentenced to 12-15 years imprisonment -- rather than to imprisonment for life.

Did the trial judge pull his punches -- because he did not feel certain enough that Shanley's recovered-memory accuser was telling the truth?

Will the Commonwealth of Massachusetts keep Shanley alive -- will it prevent other inmates from killing Shanley? (Do you care?)

Do you believe that someone can, for a decade or two, completely forget having been molested over a period of years and then, one day -- poof! -- recover that memory? Let's have a thoroughly unscientific poll below.

Shanley's accuser wept in the courtroom. Shanley did not weep in the courtroom.

I will have to go back into the archives to see what the Boston Globe thought (and wrote) in the 1970s and 1980s about Shanley and Shanley's advocacy of man-child love. I wonder what the Boston Globe would have done and said then had Cardinal Law barred Shanley from practicing his priestly duties. (I think Cardinal Law may have assumed his office only after Shanley began his activities as a kind of "street priest." Details, details! But I will have to look into this -- if I have time.)

Waves of fashion afflict us. It was not so long ago when some serious "reformers" advocated sexual liberty for minors without interference from "retrograde" parents. (Today such advocacy is dead but the sexual practices sometimes formerly advocated by some grownups have perhaps nevertheless taken firm root in some quarters.)

Forgive the touch of cynicism in these comments. Over the years the Boston Globe has had few good things to say about the American Catholic Church. (I am not a Roman Catholic.) But the Boston Globe had to tread carefully -- because its sexual politics were not anti-gay. So the Boston Globe's emphasis has been on predatory priests, rather than on predatory homosexual priests. But is it the case that sexual predation is limited to Catholic homosexual predation -- by Catholic clergy? Has Elmer Gantry vanished from the earth? Are some heterosexual sexual predators to be found in the ranks of the Protestant clergy -- even, possibly, among Unitarian-Universalists? Or are people such as Unitarians and Unitarian clergy incapable of sexual predation? Or just more clever in concealing it?

The Boston Globe is a liberal newspaper but it is, above all, a Protestant -- or non-Catholic -- newspaper. Do you think it is appropriate for such a newspaper (or any newspaper) to campaign for the abolition of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church? Is that a matter that perhaps should be left to Catholics? (As it happens, most lay Catholics are apparently not in favor of the celibacy rule. But should the Boston Globe add fuel to this fire?)

I'm not sure I'm asking all of the right questions. And I'm not sure that all of the assumptions reflected in these comments are true. But I am sure of one thing: the trial of Shanley was much more than a trial of a single alleged sexual predator. The thoughts and sentiments flowing over and through the community in which Shanley was tried were complex and powerful. How will future generations look back on the trial of Shanley? Will they say that justice was at last done? Or will they wonder if the jurors came to believe a highly implausible story of forgotten sexual horrors and were moved to convict by powerful emotions that they were ill-equipped to understand and combat?

I have often thought and said that Hollywood's portraits of famous or notorious criminal trials in the first half of the twentieth century are implausible caricatures of how trials and juries work today. But the pictures that Hollywood painted of some trials in the past -- of, say, race trials in the South in the 1930s -- are perhaps not completely implausible accounts of the machinery of criminal justice in a "modern" and "liberal" community that is determined to stamp out the sexual evil and predation that it thinks clearly resides, on a large scale, in its midst. In such an environment can jurors be expected to use the common sense and sense of fairness that they normally display? I wonder.

P.S. The swarms of reporters that those old Hollywood films depicted as being in the courtroom no longer exist. Well, that's not quite right. Those swarms of reporters still exist. After multiplying they have moved outside -- immediately outside -- of the courtrooms in which "trials of the century" are taking place today.

Do we have show trials today in America?

Yes?

No?

I wonder:

In what sense can it be said that we in America do not have show trials today?
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