Prisoners often mention the “Ten-year Syndrome,” the point at which they seem to lose all contact with family, friends, and the life they knew before prison. As I faced my fifteenth Christmas in prison last year, I wrote my usual Christmas letter to friends and supporters – a group that had dwindled much over the years. It was a nice letter. It was heartfelt. But it was never mailed.
I sent the letter to only one person instead of the hundred or so friends and contacts who had followed my situation over the years. The sole recipient of the letter wrote that she was heartbroken to learn that my letter was never sent. She wanted to know what happened. I had no explanation.
I thought a lot about this over the last year. Last Christmas was the first time in a decade that I had no outreach to those who try to keep in touch with me. I realize today that I had just reached the end of all hope. I felt that the Church had become so polarized over the issue of accused priests, and so saturated with one-sided bad news, that no one was listening to me.
A law professor who had been reviewing These Stone Walls recently wrote to a friend of mine that she “takes with a healthy degree of “skepticism” any convicted prisoner’s claim of innocence. I can’t say I blame her, but is that healthy skepticism available when priests are accused?
Sometimes skepticism feels insurmountable, and that’s where I was last Christmas. I had fought and fought for years to be heard before the clergy sexual abuse crisis reached a national scale in 2002. Since then, I’ve felt buried by an avalanche of skepticism. I felt that I had been running in place for fifteen years. I looked at my Christmas letter last year, and then set it aside asking, “What’s the point?”
Then, two weeks before Christmas last year, Cardinal Avery Dulles died. Within days of this, I learned that Father Richard Neuhaus had a diagnosis of cancer with a very poor prognosis. On January 8, 2009, Father Neuhaus also died. He and Cardinal Dulles were long time friends, nearly two decades apart in age, yet they died within twenty days of each other.
I plan to write about them both soon. These Stone Walls is dedicated to their memories and honors their witness. It is far from the case – I know that now – but a year ago, I felt stranded by their loss. They were my most vocal supporters.
There were other things, too, that conspired against hope last year. Late in 2008, two supporters took it upon themselves to draft a letter about my case to 1,000 priests. They asked each to review www.GordonMacRae.net, a web site sponsored by the National Center for Reason and Justice. (In coming months, that site will be integrated into These Stone Walls.)
Their letter asked each of the 1,000 priests to consider raising $50 – barely the cost of a day off – to help complete a legal review and investigation of the case. The letter also asked each priest to ask ten others to review the web site.
The letter to 1,000 priests really got my hopes up. Then it just faded away. The two supporters wanted to protect me from knowing that of the 1,000 priests the letter was sent to, only one responded. When I learned of this weeks before Christmas last year, I remember just letting out a long sigh, “Now, at least, I know!” I said to myself. “I have no place left to go.”
In Cardinal Dulles’s last letter to me, he encouraged me to keep writing. He foresaw a change of the tide of skepticism that I could not see coming. Cardinal Dulles wrote:
“Unfortunate though your situation is, you are in the position to carry on an effective apostolate on behalf of unjustly accused priests. The time is bound to come when the tide will shift and when even the bishops will be ready to hear the priests’ side of the story. The change will come, but not before the public is prepared for it by [cases] such as yours.”
READERS STEP UP!
Then, several months later, along came Suzanne asking me to write for Priests in Crisis at Pentecost. That led to the launch of These Stone Walls at the end of July. I receive printed copies of all the comments you post on These Stone Walls. I know that on other blogs there is more of a dialogue with readers, but my circumstances make that difficult.
I wonder if you know how much your comments have meant to me. I read and re-read them. There is no skepticism at all there. Your comments are filled with hope, and have proven to me exactly what Cardinal Dulles was convinced of. The tide is shifting, and the Church is ready to hear another side of the story of accused priests.
I think a number of my brother priests are now also reading These Stone Walls. A few are posting comments of their own. It is not so important that they read what I have to say, but I believe it is crucial that they read what YOU have to say.
Several of the supporters who have followed my case for years have written to me that the most remarkable thing about These Stone Walls is not my posts (Hmmph!), but your comments. They say that your comments have empowered them to face their own skepticism about whether justice and reason can ever prevail.
A friend of thirty-five years, a Catholic network television executive who attended my trial in 1994, recently wrote:
“I have been reading each of your posts on These Stone Walls. I am astounded by the prayerful support you’re receiving from readers. Wow! It is long overdue.”
Another friend and long time supporter recently wrote:
“I read your posted articles with interest, but my real interest has been in your readers’ comments. They are wonderful and hopeful, and very nice to see.”
When These Stone Walls was first considered, I was a bit nervous about an expected onslaught of negative, hateful comments. It’s astonishing that in the five months of this blog’s existence, only three such comments were aimed in our direction.
One was from a self-described member of Voice of the Faithful that was little more than a name-calling rant. One was from a contingency lawyer who made enormous profit from keeping the accusations against priests going. The third was from a from a man who was charged with trying to blackmail a Boston priest in 2003.
Voices like these have been given the loudest and last word in virtually every media article about accused priests since 2002. On These Stone Walls, you have overwhelmed and supplanted such comments with voices of reason, mercy, and truth – voices of faithful witness to the Gospel.
This Christmas, the angels we have heard on high are you, the readers of These Stone Walls.
O come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that sets us free,
And close the path to misery.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of human kind;
Make all our sad divisions cease,
And be for us the King of peace.
(Veni Emmanuel, 9th Century, verses 5 and 7).