That Other Time Rolling Stone Was Conned

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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The University of Virginia’s “Jackie” may not be the first alleged rape story Sabrina Erdely and Rolling Stone got wrong.

Erdely’s recent explosive article accusing University of Virginia fraternity members of gang raping Jackie collapsed after The Washington Post cast doubt on some crucial parts of Jackie’s story. Rolling Stone quickly issued a statement saying “our trust in her was misplaced.” (RELATED: UVA Gang Rape Story Falls To Pieces)

In 2011, Rolling Stone published a similarly explosive story by Erdely accusing two priests and a teacher of raping an altar boy, dubbed “Billy Doe” by a grand jury, and three people ended up in prison. Now one of those verdicts has been overturned and the other two called into question.

Ralph Cipriano has been tracking discrepancies in Billy’s story for years on his blog Big Trial, and is calling for renewed attention to it following the collapse of Jackie’s story. “In Rolling Stone, it seems rape is bigger than rock,” he writes.

According to Cipriano, Billy initially claimed he was anally raped for hours by one priest who later threatened to kill him, was knocked unconscious by another who allegedly tied him to an altar and raped him so brutally he bled for a week and was strangled by a schoolteacher in the back seat of a car with a seatbelt who then also raped him.

But Billy dropped most of those details — being knocked unconscious, tied to the altar, strangled with a seat belt and threatened with death — before a grand jury. His story morphed into a tale of oral sex and masturbation with the same two priests and the teacher.

District attorney detectives later discovered holes in Billy’s story, Cipriano reports. He claimed the first priest raped him after an early morning Mass, but his mother kept track of his events and never listed a single early morning Mass during Billy’s fifth-grade year, when the alleged rapes happened.

And he claimed the second priest raped him as he was putting away bells after a bell choir concert, but only eighth grade boys were given that job, because younger boys weren’t strong enough to lift the bells. He also gave three different locations for the alleged attack from the school teacher.

Cipriano acknowledges that Erdely relied on grand jury documents to write the Rolling Stone article, but faults her for failing to check on inconsistencies in Billy’s story or properly question his credibility, and for telling a one-sided story. “Just because a victim tells his or her story over and over again, with all the sensational details, it doesn’t make it true,” he writes.

Following Erdely’s story in 2011, the Catholic League issued a blistering statement condemning her for yellow journalism. “Catholic bashers have gotten a lot of mileage out of the sexual abuse scandal, but for sheer maliciousness, it is hard to top the piece in Rolling Stone,” CL President Bill Donohue said in the statement. “The factual errors, the stereotypes, the grand omissions, and the melodramatic language make for an incredible read.”

One of the priests and the schoolteacher were convicted of rape and sent to prison, and the former secretary for clergy at the Philadelphia Archdiocese also went to jail for failing to control the priests under his supervision. Last December, Lynn’s conviction was overturned and the schoolteacher is seeking a new trial. The priest recently died in prison just weeks after making his appeals argument.

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