You’d think that someone in prison for going on 16 years wouldn’t still be getting stoned, but I was stoned just a month ago, and Pope Benedict XVI was stoned as well.
No, I didn’t inhale anything illicit, I doubt the Pope did either. I’ve never actually even been THAT kind of stoned. But the title of this post is about the only suggestive headline that didn’t make its way into the news media during Holy Week and Easter this year.
The kind of “stoned” I’m talking about is one I first began to describe in my post, “The Eighth Commandment.” It’s the experience of being in the presence of a mob passing judgment with noise and rocks instead of facts. Stoning is a Biblical form of execution that first appeared in the Book of Exodus (17:4). Moses complained to God that the people he led out of Egypt were about to stone him for leading them into the desert. Long before it was legislated in the Torah, stoning as a form of execution likely began with the reaction of an angry lynch mob – perhaps the very mob Moses faced in the desert.
Stoning became a method of mob execution in Israel because it lacked any identifiable blood guilt. As a reaction of the mob, no one person could ever be said to have struck the fatal blow. Stoning was prescribed in the Torah for the following crimes: idolatry, blasphemy, child sacrifice, Sabbath violations, adultery, fornication by an unmarried woman, and being gored by thy neighbor’s ox. The stoning of the Church’s first Martyr, Saint Stephen (Acts 7:57-8:1) was a time of momentous importance to the Church. It was in the willingness to suffer for one’s belief that the Church began.
WHERE ARE YOUR ACCUSERS?
The most famous example of near stoning is in the Gospel of John (In 8:1-11) when the Scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman accused of adultery. It’s clear to anyone reading the account that the woman was not the accusers’ real target. She was but a pawn in a well choreographed plan to rid the world of Christ, and in 2,000 years that plan has lost none of its dubious momentum. In John’s Gospel, whatever Jesus wrote in the sand caused the fired up mob to drop their stones and drift away in silence. We’re not told what Jesus wrote in the sand, but later manuscripts depict Him writing a list of the hidden sins of each person in the mob. In the end, there is no one left but Jesus, the frightened woman, and a pile of stones.
Lest you think that stoning as a form of execution is long gone, think again. It has just taken another form. It is names and reputations, today, and not bodies that are destroyed. The modern form of stoning takes place in the news media, and it’s just as lethal. Whoever can make the most noise – whoever holds the media microphones and spews out the loudest, most sensational and scandalous cacophony – becomes judge and executioner on behalf of the mob, stirring it up for the kill.
I was stoned last month when a Catholic magazine published a hateful, name-calling rant about me. That’s how stoning takes place in the modern era. Someone’s name is dragged into the public muck and pummeled with accusations, innuendo, half-truths, and outright lies.
The March issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review published some heavy stones of judgment and condemnation thrown at me by a letter writer I have never met. It turned out to be a mixed blessing in the end, however. Writer Ryan MacDonald, an occasional contributor to These Stone Walls, took up a thorough debunking of the HPR letter.
Ryan’s essay, “Should the case Against Father Gordon MacRae be Reviewed?” is located under Case History on TSW. He has two additional essays that are also worth reading: “Truth in Justice” and “To Azazel: The Gospel of Mercy in the Diocese of Manchester” posted on TSW at “A Priest’s Story.”
I’m rather used to being stoned – as much as one can be and still retain an intact soul. I wasn’t even going to write about this latest instance of it, but it seems that the very existence of These Stone Walls and my attempt to defend myself have driven some people into a self-righteous temper tantrum. I’m grateful to Ryan MacDonald for responding with factual – even charitable – sanity to this latest blustering attempt to fire up the mob.
But there’s another reason I have to respond. Like the woman accused of adultery in the Gospel of John, I know that I am not the real target of this latest stoning. The insidious agenda of typical news media coverage of the Catholic Church finally showed its face last month, and it wasn’t pretty. In the weeks leading up to Holy Week, the name of Pope Benedict XVI was repeatedly dragged through the media mud.
Does anyone really believe that this story just happened to emerge as the Church prepared for Holy Week? Of course it didn’t! It was carefully choreographed and part of a scripted social agenda to dismantle any Catholic influence in the public square by bankrupting the Church both morally and financially. An attempt to implicate the Holy Father in sex abuse claims against a Wisconsin priest 25 or 30 years ago is like saying President Obama is responsible for shooting up an army base last year. It’s ludicrous. We know it’s ludicrous. But the news media also knows that sex sells and sexual scandals sell best of all.
THE SCARLET LETTER
The condemning media feeding frenzy attacking the Holy Father and the Catholic Church spoke volumes about how out of control this witch hunt has become, and it may very well turn the tide on its promoters. Many people who didn’t see that the news media’s coverage of sexual abuse has evolved into an irresponsible, name-calling lynch mob are seeing it now. Perhaps we are also finally seeing that the accused priests are not the real target of the news media and the vigilante groups of Catholic “reformers” who have made themselves pawns for this agenda of bigotry.
Perhaps NBC sensed the line of decency was breached a few weeks ago when it apologized to The Catholic League and the world for a scandalous and libelous smear against Pope Benedict XVI on its affiliate news channel, MSNBC. We owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Donohue and The Catholic League for not letting this one pass.
It is also no coincidence that the lurid stories of priestly sex abuse and papal complicity rose to a frenzy in the U.S. in the same weeks that tax-payer funded abortion was being argued in the Obama health care bill. Writer and art historian Elizabeth Lev made this same point in a brilliant essay on PoliticsDaily.com entitled “In Defense of Catholic Clergy (Or Do We Want Another Reign of Terror?)” Ms. Lev cited English statesman, Edmund Burke’s 1790 commentary on Catholic witch hunts during the French Revolution:
“What would Edmund Burke make of the headlines of the past few weeks …? In 1790, Burke answered … ‘It is not with much credulity I listen to any when they speak evil of those they are going to plunder.’ What would he think of the insistent attempt to tie [a] sexual abuser to the Roman pontiff himself through the most tenuous of links … as the present sales of Church property to pay settlements swell the coffers of contingent-fee lawyers and real estate speculators …?”
THE VIEW FROM WITHIN THESE STONE WALLS
I sometimes write about prisoners who stand out from the crowd, but I think you already know that most prisoners are criminals, and many are career criminals. Many have made their way through life scamming, stealing, defrauding, raping, and even killing to get what they want. I never mean to give the impression that prisons are not necessary. Indeed they are, though there are also examples of true repentance and redemption, and even true innocence, and most of those should not still be in prison. Unfortunately, the justice that is supposed to be blind is often deaf as well.
One prisoner, a self-described career criminal, recently came to talk with me. He is now age 50, and the longest he has been out of prison since the age of 20 is two years. He’s serving his seventh prison sentence. In his comments about the sexual abuse crisis, he seemed to be surprised about how naive I am – and even more surprised at how naive YOU are.
He doesn’t mean you, personally, of course. He is referring to fellow Catholics who he thinks bought the whole sex abuse scare lock, stock and barrel while overlooking the money involved. I see his point. He rattled off the names of six men he has known who have scored windfall settlements with entirely contrived sexual abuse accusations against Catholic priests over the last ten years.
Most of these men were not prisoners whose claims of abuse and demands for compensation you might want to take a second look at. They were men he knew on the streets – admittedly part of this man’s shady world, but that fact alone lent itself to enhancing their claims. They actually got away with citing their drug addictions and asocial lives as symptomatic of the “abuse” they suffered. These men thought nothing of bringing down the reputations of some elderly priests for money, and today they laugh at the fact that they were believed at all.
One of the men was in prison, and I actually met him several years ago. Back in 2002, he asked me if I would consider giving him the name of a priest – any priest – who might have been stationed in his childhood community. He asked me if I thought the Church would settle if he made an accusation. I declined, of course. Last year I read that indeed an elderly priest from that same community was accused of sexual abuse alleged to have occurred in 1972. I heard that the accuser was the same man who approached me. I wrote immediately to a diocesan official urging that this case not be settled. I never received a reply.
A few years ago, I wrote an article for Catalyst entitled “Sex Abuse and Signs of Fraud.” A lot of people who read it said it was their first glimpse of an even darker side of the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal: the reality that we can’t tell victims from perpetrators in these decades-old claims. There is a mindset that has evolved in our culture that calls upon us to always err on the side of caution when the safety of children is at stake. It has caused many to overlook the fact that the typical accuser of a priest is far from being a child. My accuser at trial is a 43-year-old, 240-pound man who walked away with nearly $200,000 for accusing me.
Last year, in a follow-up article for Catalyst entitled “Due Process for Accused Priests,” I cited the typical quality of due process in the arena of mediated settlements for sex abuse claims against priests. I included two direct quotes from a New Hampshire contingency lawyer who wanted the world to know that $5.5 million was handed over to him by my diocese with few questions asked.
“A New Hampshire contingency lawyer recently brought forward his fifth round of mediated settlements demands. During his first round of mediated settlements in 2002 in which 28 priests of the Diocese of Manchester were accused in claims alleging abuse between the 1950′s and 1980′s – the news media announced a $5.5 million settlement. The claimants’ lawyer, seemingly inviting his next round of plaintiffs, described the settlement process with the Manchester Diocese:
‘During settlement negotiations, diocesan officials did not press for details such as dates and allegations for every claim. I’ve never seen anything like it.’ (NH Union Leader, Nov. 27, 2002).
‘Some victims made claims-in just the last month, and because of the timing of negotiation, gained closure in just a matter of days’ (Nashua Telegraph, Nov. 27, 2002).”
Think about this kind of “due process” when you read smears in the news media that Pope Benedict declined to “defrock” a priest accused without evidence in his old age decades after claims were alleged to happen.
After watching some of the Holy Week news coverage of smears against the Holy Father and the Catholic Church, the “career criminal” who told me of organized fraud against priests came to ask me a tough question. There’s no genteel way to put this, so I’ll just come out with it exactly as he asked it:
“Has it ever occurred to you that it’s a contradiction for a society that dismisses the killing of 50 million infants as “reproductive rights” to be also engulfed in a witch hunt over whether children were harmed in the Catholic Church thirty, or forty, or fifty years ago?”
In my January post, “Prophets on the Path to Peace,” I noted the deprivation of basic civil rights inherent in two similar decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court: Dred Scott in 1857, and Roe v. Wade in 1973. The very political and cultural milieu that dismisses infanticide as an exercise of “freedom of choice” also seems obsessed with expunging from society anyone accused – truthfully or not – of ever having harmed a child no matter however long ago, no matter whether financial motives for false claims exist, and only the Catholic Church – the last remaining moral voice for life in our culture stands so accused. How convenient!
As I pointed out in “Due Process for Accused Priests,” the notion that it takes victims years or decades to come forward with claims is a fiction – a form of availability bias – fed to the public by the same news media and contingency lawyers who profit from its momentum. Criminalizing Catholic priests is a win-win outcome all around. Catholics should be far more outraged by this than by the suggestion that some long deceased priest abused someone a half century ago.
The writer-critic in Homiletic & Pastoral Review last month took the position that justice is served by my imprisonment because: “I have faith in our jury system and believe it highly improbable that twelve of [his] fellow citizens would incarcerate [him] on trumped up charges.”
Well, I guess that settles it then! But I suspect he hasn’t yet read “The Eighth Commandment,” either the version I posted or the original “posted” in stone by THE Blogger.
. . . to be continued