Archive for June, 2008

Dubious Priest Accusations and Convictions

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

My organization — the National Center for Reason and Justice — currently sponsors the cases of two imprisoned Catholic priests: Gordon MacRae and Paul Shanley. We have, from time to time, been contacted by other priests and their advocates but haven’t had the resources to investigate the cases.

I recall reading about many cases in the media that sounded very doubtful, especially those cases where “repressed memories” have been alleged. Unfortunately, I did not make note of these cases.

Recently I was contacted by a journalist who is interested in doing an article about falsely accused or wrongfully convicted priests. If you know of any dubious cases, please contact me at


Kill Child Rapists?

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

Vote-hungry politicians — including Saint Barack Obama — have been getting exercised over the Supreme Court ruling banning the death-penalty for child rapists.

It is understandable that people, especially parents, become so upset by child rape. But few take all of the the facts into consideration.

First of all, a child rapist could be anyone (of any age) who has sex, including consensual sex, with someone under the legal age of consent in his or her state. (This is 18 in most states.)

Secondly, it is extremely difficult for a person accused of child rape to receive a fair trial. The false conviction rate is higher than for almost any other crime.

If the death penalty for child rapists had been in effect, many of the innocent people sponsored by the National Center for Reason and Justice would be dead by now: e.g. Bernard Baran, Ryan Smith, Gerald Amirault, and others.

If our criminal-justice system were perfect, the death penalty would be a valid topic for debate. But given our system’s gross unfairness, I can’t endorse the death penalty for anyone for any reason.

-Bob Chatelle

Harvey Silverglate's Tribute to Judge Isaac Borenstein

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008



Beware of Sybill

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

I received this press release from Pam Freyd:

JUNE 5, 2008

On Saturday June 7, 2008 CBS will air its remake of the movie SYBIL,
(based on the 1973 book with the same name) about an early, alleged
case of “multiple-personality disorder” (MPD).

SYBIL was the first major book/movie to tie “MPD” to child abuse.
Before SYBIL was published, there were fewer than 50 reported cases of
MPD worldwide. By 1994, over 40,000 cases had been reported.

SYBIL, however, is well known to be a hoax. See, for example, _The New
York Review of Books, 44(7)_, April 24, 1997, “Sybil-The Making of a
Disease: An Interview with Dr. Herbert Spiegel,” by Mikkel

Dr. Spiegel (Faculty, Columbia Medical School) reported that
statements from the real “Sybil” convinced him that her “memories”
were the result of suggestion by Dr. Cornelia B. Wilbur. He reports
that Wilbur engaged author Flora Rheta Schreiber to write “Sybil’s”
case for a popular audience only after professional journals refused
to publish it. He refused to lend his name and credentials to
co-author the work when asked to do so by Wilbur and Schreiber.

The 2006 book _The Bifurcation of the Self: The History and Theory of
Dissociation and Its Disorder_ (Springer) by Professor Robert Rieber
(Fordham University) documents how the hoax was perpetrated. Rieber
had access to the original Schreiber/Wilbur interview tapes made when
Sybil was being written. We learn that the “memories were a result of
prolonged hypnosis and, to quote Dr. Wilbur: “Uh, the first time we
got any memories back was when I gave her Pentothal …” (Rieber,
page 217)2

Wilbur’s treatment of Sybil required eleven years and a total of 2,254

In a letter to Dr. Wilbur, (reprinted in Rieber page 91) Schreiber
reports that she had visited “Sybil’s” hometown but was unable to find
anyone to corroborate the awful things that supposedly happened to
“Sybil” there. Schreiber was also unable to find the “woods” where
many incidents allegedly occurred.

Will the CBS remake of SYBIL include the information documenting
Sybil’s MPD as a hoax? Does it matter? Yes! Bitter experience shows
that when the media give credence to psychological anomalies, they
spread wildly.

Media coverage played a pivotal role in the dissemination of McMartin
preschool copycat cases in the mid 1980’s, the spread of the “Satanic
Panic” and alien abduction sightings in the 1990’s, and in widely held
beliefs about “repressed” memories of childhood abuse.

SYBIL played a substantial role in a cultural and psychiatric tsunami,
later known as the “false” or “recovered” memory debate. In spite of
professional skepticism about MPD and multi-million dollar malpractice
suits by former MPD patients, there is danger of unleashing another
tsunami unless the truth is told.

Does anyone care? Yes! As Oprah Winfrey’s recent experience over the
fraudulent James Frey memoir A Million Little Pieces shows, the public
really does care to know whether the material served them by the media
is fact or fiction.


Pamela Freyd, Ph.D., Executive Director
False Memory Syndrome Foundation

August Piper, Jr., M.D.
Dr. Piper is the author of Hoax and Reality: The Bizarre World of
Multiple Personality Disorder_. He is a member of the FMSF
Scientific and Professional Advisory Board.

Robert W. Rieber, Ph.D. Fordham University
Graduate School of Social Services
He is the author of _The Bifurcation of the Self_ and
he is not affiliated with the FMS Foundation.

[1] Available from the FMS Foundation.
See also
[2] This book contains more than 75 pages of transcripts of
conversations between Wilbur and Schreiber.

Forgetting and "Repression"

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

The theory of “repressed memory” – or, alternatively, “dissociative amnesia” – posits something radically different from ordinary forgetting. Indeed, were this not so, there would be no need to invent special terms.

Almost all of the confusion in the repressed-memory debate arises from people confusing the two phenomena.

We are all prone to forgetting – and forgetting about – things that have happened to us. We even forget about traumatic events, sometimes for years.

Consider this excerpt of an email from a colleague, a distinguished professor of psychology:

Is it possible to forget major traumatic events and later remember them? I am convinced it happens quite frequently. It happened to me.

As a teenager I was violently mugged and injured by a gang in Central Park and ten years later when I entered grad school I told my colleagues I had never been a victim of violent crime while actively searching my memory for anything that would count. The next day the entire mugging memory came back in full detail even though I had apparently not thought of the event several years. This is not scientific but I believe it is strongly analogous to sexual abuse cases. I don’t believe I repressed the memory, I believe that moving to Hawaii in my early 20s made the memory irrelevant and thus I forgot it through normal cognitive mechanisms.

This is an ordinary case or forgetting and remembering. The memory was delayed by a few hours after the recall attempt was made, but that is not unusual. I suspect that similar things have happened to all of us.

It is also common for people to forget – or forget about – childhood sexual abuse. But in this instance, memory scientists and those believing in dissociative amnesia make very different predictions.

Dissociative amnesia is supposed to protect the individual from traumatic memories. Thus the more traumatic event, the more likely it is to be repressed. Many even believe that traumatic events can be repressed immediately after they occur. For example, many believe that a father can violently rape a daughter during the night and that the daughter can sit down to breakfast with him in the morning as if nothing untoward had happened.

My colleague instead has this to say:

Most importantly one needs to know if force was alleged. If no force was used and if the child believed at the time that the behavior was acceptable then I believe it is possible to forget even repeated sexual contacts and in adulthood regain access to the memories. Furthermore I do not believe this to be repression. If the child is able to fit the behavior into some type of schema for acceptable behavior then the child will be more likely to simply forget it as he or she moves on through life.

According to popular culture, adults who have sex with children are violent rapists who obtain the child’s silence through violent threats. If these sex offenders exist, they are quite rare. The fact that an adult wants to behave sexually with a child doesn’t mean that he or she is stupid. The last thing they want is to get caught.

The usual pattern instead is not to frighten the child but to befriend the child. Children and adults have different moral senses. What is obviously wrong to an adult may not necessarily seem wrong to a child.

When I posted my account of the recent Shanley hearing, I made the following observation:

When Shaw expressed the opinion that the theory of repressed memory was “junk science,” Judge Neel asked if it wasn’t the case that Dr. Elizabeth Loftus believes that it does exist but is very rare. Shaw disputed this. I am sure that he was right. As a scientist, Dr. Loftus would never state that the nonexistence of repressed memory has been proven. She may have said something like, “If it exists, it is very rare.”

It turns out that what Loftus actually said in her affidavit was that traumatic events “rarely slip from awareness.” Now “slipping from awareness” is radically different from “repression.”

Judge Neel doesn’t know the difference between “repression” and ordinary forgetting. And the reason he doesn’t know the difference is that Shanley’s trial lawyer, Frank Mondano, didn’t do his job.

My guess is that Mondano himself never grasped the difference. Thus it is not surprising that he was unable to educate the judge and jury. And as a result Paul Shanley was undeniably deprived of his right to a fair trial.

-Bob Chatelle

Shanley Media P.S.

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

Jim D’Entremont suggested that I supplement my rant with specific examples of the media coverage.

Particularly annoying was the coverage by WBUR, which began with the outrage of victim advocates that Shanley was exercising his rights. Then Monica Brady-Myerov juxtaposed a sound bite of Robert Shaw calling repressed memory theory “junk science,” making the statement appear unsupported, with an uncritical summary of the ADA’s claim that repressed memory is widely recognized as real by distinguished scientific professionals.

The Boston Globe also began with victims outrage. Then they quote Shaw calling repressed memory “junk science” and immediately follow that with Mitchell Garabedian and Robert Costello, who says he was abused by another priest.

The Boston Herald story was entirely about victims advocates and their outrage.

Suprisingly good was an article by Keri Roche in the Waltham Daily News Tribune. Waltham is a town of about 60,000 west of Boston. I was surprised that they even bothered to send a reporter to cover the story. When I first looked at the Shanley articles I’d received from my google alert, I confess I skipped over the Waltham article. I read it just now and it caught me by surprise.

Roche’s story was devoid of sensationalism. There were no quotes from outraged victims. Instead she reported on what was actually said in the courtroom. She disposed of the “junk science” sound bite and instead discussed Shaw’s arguments.

Her reporting on the DA’s case was equally fair and accurate.

Roche was also the only journalist to report that there were issues other than repressed memory.

The Boston Globe could learn a lot about journalism from Keri Roche.