The Catholic League is a lone vindicator on the front lines of the culture wars. Its mission is to defend your Catholic voice in the public square, and mine too.
I do not know if I can adequately convey to you in words the dismay I felt when I read Ryan MacDonald’s guest post, “#MeToo & #HimToo: Jonathan Grover & Father Gordon MacRae.” When I read it, I was confronted with the reality that as a younger priest I was ridiculously outmatched for the battles that loomed before me. I trusted everyone. Even while being dragged through the dark valley of false witness and trial, I trusted everyone.
One of my favorite movies is The Avengers produced by Marvel Studios. I have seen it about five times. There is something in it that always pulls me in when I stumble upon one of its many reruns on the FX or TNT cable networks. It brings to life the Marvel comic books that I devoured on rainy days as a child. The heroes – Captain America, Ironman, Thor, and the Hulk – unite with agents of SHIELD to protect humanity from evil forces.
Yeah, okay, that’s embarrassing. But there was a lot in these juvenile superhero tales that some of us could relate to. The good guys are a little rough around the edges, but there is never any question about who the bad guys are. And they are not just misunderstood. They will not rest until we are all enslaved.
In the movie, the politicians wonder whether The Avengers are maybe just a little over the top and really necessary. The audience, however, is clear about the nature of the threat. In the end, the director of SHIELD shakes the politically correct out of the doldrums of their denial. He convinces them that humanity “is ridiculously, hilariously outmatched” for the battles before us. The Avengers stand between us and ruin.
Today, The Avengers reminds me of the Catholic League and its president, Bill Donohue. At a time when so many Catholic public figures were recoiling from and reacting to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, Bill Donohue and the Catholic League never wavered from a singular agenda: to get at the truth and to present the truth without sifting it through the strainers of political correctness.
A part of that truth is the fact that your faith and your Church have by no means been the special locus of sexual abuse that the media and some activist groups have portrayed. In fact, These Stone Walls has received several citations in Catalyst, the Journal of the Catholic League. On its March 2018 “In the News” page, TSW was cited for “calling out Hollywood’s phony #MeToo Crusade” in “Weinstein, Spacy, Franken: The Tyranny of #MeToo.”
“Avenger” might seem too strong a word to attach to the Catholic League. To avenge some wrong conjures up images of revenge or mob justice. But the word, “avenger” has another meaning more in keeping with its broader intent. It comes from the Latin, “ad vengier” which means “to vindicate.” Its common usage has come to mean “to exact revenge” but it is much more than that.
To be an avenger also means to help clear someone’s good name, to take a stand against fake news and false witness, to defend, maintain, or insist on the justification of one’s rights. Bill Donohue and the Catholic League have done all of these. And they have tried to do all of these for me. To date, they have not waivered from that outspoken advocacy for me and for other priests falsely accused. This is evident in Bill Donohue’s outstanding 2014 guest post, “Travesty of Justice: The Ordeal of Fr Gordon MacRae.”
TARGETS OF ADDICTS AND ENABLERS
The climate of the last few decades has been crippling for falsely accused priests. Like some accusers, Jonathan Grover and his brothers were young men in the throes of addiction whose weakness was manipulated and exploited for someone else’s agenda. This is why I responded as I did in this segment of my post, “Judas Iscariot: Who Prays for the Soul of a Betrayer?”
“As I was preparing to offer Mass late on a Sunday night, the thought came that I should offer it for this betrayer, this liar, this thief. Every part of my psyche and spirit rebelled against that thought, but in the end I did what I had been beckoned to do.
“It was difficult. It was very difficult… In offering the Mass, I just asked God not to see this story only as I do. I asked Him not to forever let this soul slip from His grasp, for perhaps there were influences at work that I do not know. I have always suspected so.”
This accuser exemplified what other prisoners so vehemently challenge me to reconsider whenever I become open to trusting someone. I live in a world of addicts, of young men who grew up, as my accusers did, with addictions governing their behavior, with consciences dulled by broken homes and unfaithful fathers.
Like many with addictions, my accusers cultivated enablers poised to hold anyone but them accountable for their actions and addictions. Cash was not the only enticement for false witness. For addicts, having someone else to blame is priceless.
There was plenty of reason to treat the claims of these accusers with skepticism, but no one did. As I asserted my innocence and rejected the multiple plea deals offered to me – all aimed at facilitating large and quick financial settlements – my bishop and diocese declared me expendable while pronouncing me guilty in a published pre-trial press release. It was an enabling of the new political correctness: place blame, pay up, move on.
I have seen this rush to judgment numerous times since then. I wrote a post awhile back entitled, “The Catholic Press Must Get Over its Father Maciel Syndrome.” You may recall the egregious and embarrassing story of Father Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ who for years denied accusations of sexual abuse brought by seminarians, current and former members of his order, and even family members.
Some prominent figures in the Church defended Father Maciel throughout the growing slate of accusations brought to bear against him. There were multiple agendas at work, and clearly, some of the agendas were not about Maciel, but about undermining and discrediting the canonization of Saint John Paul II who at one time in life also defended Maciel.
But it turned out that Maciel had a life hidden even from himself. Once that was established, those for whom political correctness trumps all other truths used it for agendas of their own. From that point on, any falsely accused Catholic priest would have a far steeper uphill climb to defend himself in the Church. The response of many Church personnel would be to either presume their guilt or remain silent about any belief in their innocence for fear of the fire and fury over Father Maciel.
I have lived under the cloud of Maciel for years. Back in 2005, and again in 2013, The Wall Street Journal took up my story and declared it to be a perversion of justice. At the time, some leaders of SNAP, the now disgraced Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, pointed to the guilt of Father Maciel as “evidence” against other accused priests. Others joined in this mantra that the guilt of one priest can be treated as evidence of the guilt of others.
THE PROFILING OF CATHOLIC PRIESTS
A now-resigned editor of an American Catholic newsweekly suggested in a column that claims by me and other priests about being falsely accused should be viewed with suspicion. “After all, didn’t Fr. Maciel also claim to be falsely accused?” the editor asked.
I asked that Catholic editor if he considered the guilt of a black man to be evidence of the guilt of another black man. He responded that he by no means meant to suggest that the guilt of one priest points to the guilt of another, but he suggested exactly that. Such a prejudiced conclusion comes too easily to the minds and hearts of too many in our Church.
Think about that carefully, please. This perversion of justice is called “profiling.” It is an affront to justice under our Constitution which was too easily set aside as #MeToo gained traction. It was a prejudice embraced by Ohio U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman, who told the news media that keeping an elderly priest in prison “will deter other priests” from abuse.
Those around me in this prison badger me about trusting others too easily in the light of all that has happened. They say that I trust everyone far too openly and that I comprehend the dangers posed by others far too lightly. It is not easy being a priest in prison, but I do not imagine it is any easier in the free world where suspicion lurks under waves of political correctness.
The men in this prison with me have no delusions about the relationship between false witness, greed, and blame, and their role in this story. Some of these men have had frank discussions with me about this story. They know there are men here, and out there, who would not hesitate to falsely accuse a priest for $200,000. There are some here who have taken lives for a fraction of what my accusers gained by taking my freedom.
The story that Ryan MacDonald recently told about Jonathan Grover in these pages is chilling, and I don’t think anyone could read it without a sense of the evil that was at work. From my standpoint, that evil manipulated not only me but the troubled minds of those who accused me.
The #MeToo movement has given new momentum to a frightening trend that puts great pressure on Catholic leaders to take every accusation of a claimed victim as an absolute truth. Many of these accusations – in fact, the vast majority of them – are decades old and are accompanied by expectations of large financial settlements. Those familiar with the workings of insurance and personal injury law know that often settlements take place with no determination of the guilt of the accused.
But in the case of Catholic priests, it is merely presumed. In “Oscar Hangover Special: Why ‘Spotlight’ Is a Terrible Film,” a brave and prophetic article that was, in part, about the case against me, JoAnn Wypijewski wrote about the demise of natural skepticism that was once a hallmark of good journalism. Today, any suggestion of due process or a presumption of innocence is treated as another open assault on “the victim.”
Of course, I do not hold that victims of sexual abuse should not be believed, but there is a blatant lie being told. I wrote of that lie in a post that was shared over 16,000 times on social media. It was “Five Years of Pope Francis in a Time of Heresy”:
“A recent issue of Our Sunday Visitor has an otherwise fine article by Brian Fraga entitled, “Abuse Survivors and the Value of Belief” (OSV Feb. 25-Mar. 3, 2018). It was marred, however by an agenda-driven quote from Mary Jane Doerr, Director of the Archdiocese of Chicago Office for the Protection of Children and Young People:
“Doerr said that, generally, less than four percent of allegations are not true. ‘Children lie to get out of trouble, not into trouble…’ She added an insight she once heard from a mental health professional: ‘Children lie every day about sexual abuse. They lie to protect the abuser.’”
“Mary Jane Doerr, and, I hope, Brian Fraga, should know that this in no way characterizes the story of Catholic priests accused of abuse. Seventy percent of the accusations have come, not from children, but from adults who stand to gain huge financial settlements for making such claims. That in itself should be cause for caution and investigation. Finding the truth does not re-victimize real victims. It only exposes fraudulent ones.”
I should be clear that Catholic journalist Brian Fraga does see the problem of false accusations with clarity and journalistic integrity. In an excellent article for the National Catholic Register, Mr. Fraga wrote about my own struggle for justice in “New Hampshire Priest Continues the Long Road to Clear His Name.”
THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE FOR RELIGIOUS & CIVIL RIGHTS
Throughout this ordeal has stood The Catholic League. At a time when many Church leaders turned their backs and many others kept silent distance from the truth, Bill Donohue and The Catholic League went to great lengths to help defend my name and preserve my rights. In the wreckage of Father Maciel and the discrediting of those who defended him, this has been especially courageous.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue appeared on The World Over on EWTN and called on viewers to spend some time at These Stone Walls. And he was interviewed on Teresa Tomeo’s “Catholic Connections” radio show with an undaunted defense of me while exposing the truth of this story. Bill Donohue has himself taken up that truth in multiple articles and editorials in the Catholic League Journal, Catalyst, including a 2014 article, “The Ordeal of Father Gordon MacRae.”
When so much of the Catholic media shunned me, Dr. Donohue and the Catholic League invited me to write the truth for Catalyst in a way that would assist other priests. They invited me to write two major articles for Catalyst, the most recent being “Due Process for Accused Priests.”
As I write this post, I received a mailing asking Catholic League members to support an effort to increase their ranks. At no time in the history of Catholicism in America has this been more important. The Catholic League is the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization. It defends individual Catholics and the Church against defamation and discrimination.
It defends me, openly, even as many others in the Church turned a blind and jaundiced eye. I am grateful for this, and I hope you are too. The best way to express it is to become a member. The $30 annual membership fee includes a subscription to the monthly Catholic League journal, Catalyst, which is always an eye-opener. Membership is discounted to $20.00 for seniors and students at www.CatholicLeague.org.
By the way, I turned 65 years old on April 9. I just this moment realized that I am now eligible for the Catholic League’s $20.00 senior membership fee. Bill Donohue, if you are reading this, you owe me ten bucks.
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Another way that you can assist with the promotion of justice is to share this post on your social media. You may also like these related posts from These Stone Walls: