Citing “transparency” the Catholic Diocese of Manchester posted the names of 73 accused priests. Most are dead. The only one in prison is innocent, and they know it.
Note:The following is a guest post by Ryan A. MacDonald whose previous articles include “#MeToo & #HimToo” and “Justice and a Priest’s Right of Defense in the Diocese of Manchester.” Also note in the top picture, left to right: Edward J Arsenault III (now laicized) – Auxiliary Bishop Francis Joseph Christian – Bishop John B McCormack.
Michael Voris, the moderator and podcast host of Church Militant, has been posting some eye-opening commentary about a story from the Archdiocese of Detroit. Church officials there, in apparent disregard for canon law, published the name of a priest who has been accused of sexual misconduct. The priest is Father Eduard Perrone.
Reportedly, the Archdiocese published his name and a statement that the claims against him are “credible” while steadfastly refusing to publicly acknowledge the fact that Father Perrone maintains his innocence and has a right of defense. Church Militant reports that the original claim is forty years old and came from “a repressed memory,” a highly dubious and dangerous source according to experts in the field of psychology.
Weeks later, attorneys for Father Perrone issued a statement that he has conclusively passed a series of expert polygraph examinations that support his innocence. To date, the Archdiocese has been unresponsive to that fact as well, and so has the Catholic news media commenting on the story while acting as little more than a public relations outlet for the Archdiocese. This all has a chilling ring of the familiar.
On Wednesday, July 31, 2019, for no apparent reason other than the fact that everyone else is doing it, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire published a list of 73 Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse of minors. Fully two-thirds of the priests named on the list are dead and thus in no position to defend themselves. The only one currently in prison is innocent. Officials of the diocese publicly suppress that fact after privately admitting it. So much for transparency.
The treatment of Father Eduard Perrone in the Archdiocese of Detroit pales next to the sabotage of justice and basic civil rights that took place in New Hampshire in the case of Father Gordon MacRae. Refusing multiple plea deals offering him a mere one year in prison in 1994, MacRae was asked by his lawyer to consider taking a series of polygraph tests with an expert.
Like Father Perrone in Detroit, MacRae agreed without hesitation. In fact, he wrote about these tests in one of his first postings on These Stone Walls, “A Measure of Truth.” He was scheduled for three polygraph exams with questions based on police reports itemizing the specific claims of each alleged victim. The third one was cancelled because MacRae passed the first two so conclusively. When that fact was made known to the Diocese of Manchester before jury selection in MacRae’s 1994 trial, the Diocese published a press release with this statement:
“The Diocese mourns with those who were victimized prior to the discovery of his problems… The Church has been a victim of the actions of Gordon MacRae as well as these individuals (Diocese of Manchester Press Release, September 11, 1993).
There was little left for a jury to do. Armed with that statement, Prosecutor Bruce Elliott Reynolds compared MacRae to Hitler in his closing arguments before a heavily manipulated jury. A decade after the trial, a second prosecutor took his own life.
In a case brought twelve years after the alleged crimes, with no evidence of guilt at all to review and weigh, the jury reached a verdict of “guilty” on all charges in less than two hours. This account has been vividly exposed by Dorothy Rabinowitz in a series in The Wall Street Journal concluding with “The Trials of Father MacRae.”
ENTER BISHOP JOHN McCORMACK
After his 1994 trial, MacRae had languished in prison with little contact with or from the outside world for the next seven years. Five years after the trial, Bishop John McCormack arrived in Manchester after a stint as Auxiliary Bishop of Boston promoted by Cardinal Bernard Law.
In 2000, rumblings began to occur pointing to some troubling media interest in the case of Father Gordon MacRae – troubling, at least, to those who put him in prison and kept him there The initial hints of inquiry came from The Wall Street Journal and PBS Frontline. The media interest ultimately resulted in the creation of two sworn affidavits by persons entirely unrelated and unaware of each other. The following is an excerpt from the affidavit of a New Hampshire attorney:
“Upon acting in a clerk capacity for [the 1994 trial] I became firmly convinced that the charges against Father MacRae were false and brought for financial gain… In June of 2000, I met with New Hampshire Bishop John McCormack at the Diocesan office in Manchester, New Hampshire. During this meeting with Bishop McCormack and [Auxiliary] Bishop Francis Christian, they both expressed to me their belief that Father MacRae was not guilty of the crimes for which he was incarcerated.”
Four months later in 2000, an official of WGBH-TV, the flagship PBS station and production house in Boston, arranged a meeting with Bishop John McCormack. In that four-month period, something happened that drove off auxiliary Bishop Christian who was – by the way – the author, of the press release declaring MacRae guilty before jury selection in his trial. What follows are excerpts of a sworn affidavit from the WGBH official:
“The WGBH Educational Foundation wanted to produce a segment of Frontline. This production would have resulted in a national story about Father MacRae. I had contacted assistant Bishop Francis Christian from my office at WGBH to inquire about the story because he was the only person remaining in the Manchester Chancery Office who was present during the time of the accusations against Father MacRae. Bishop Christian wanted nothing to do with my inquiry regarding Father MacRae but did offer to arrange a meeting for me with Bishop McCormack.
“The [October 2000] meeting with Bishop McCormack began with him saying, ‘Understand, none of this is to leave this office. I believe Father MacRae is not guilty and his accusers likely lied. There is nothing I can do to change the verdict.’”
Far more telling, however, is a transcript of notes documented by the PBS official after his meeting with Bishop McCormack. The notes reveal a diocese compromised by the demands of lawyers and insurance companies and a Bishop struggling to retain his moral center in a time of moral panic. The transcript was compiled in 2000, but MacRae was unaware of it until 2009 when a former FBI agent began to investigate. Here are excerpts:
[Auxiliary] Bishop Christian: “This is not my responsibility. I have nothing to do with that. You’ll have to speak with Bishop McCormack.” // L.D.: “But you were part of what happened at that time and would have firsthand knowledge of all that occurred. Bishop McCormack was in Boston when all this happened… I would rather meet with you.”[A few days later I received a phone call from a Chancery Office secretary regarding a meeting schedule. I explained that I would be in the Middle East and Rome for the next two weeks. The meeting was scheduled for Friday, October 13, 2000. I arrived at the Chancery Office and was escorted to the Bishop’s office… The first words out of his mouth were…]
Bishop McCormack: “I do not want this to leave, this office because I have struggles with some people within the Chancery office that are not consistent with my thoughts, but I firmly believe that Father MacRae is innocent and should not be in prison… I do not believe the Grovers [accusers at trial] were truthful.”
L.D.: The Grover brothers viewed this Chancery Office as an ATM machine, and why shouldn’t they? They’ll likely be back to make another withdrawal.”
Bishop McCormack: “You know that I cannot discuss any settlement agreements.”
L.D.: “The specifics of settlements are of no concern to me. What concerns me is the ease with which such settlements are reached.”
Bishop McCormack: “I mentioned to you that I believe he is innocent.”
L.D.: “You said that your hands were tied because of your belief in his innocence. How can you help him?”
Bishop McCormack: “I want to do what I can to make his life more bearable under the circumstances of prison life. I cannot reverse the decision of the court system. What can I do?”
ENTER MONSIGNOR EDWARD J. ARSENAULT
It is striking who is not on the newly released list of accused Manchester priests. Former Monsignor Edward J. Arsenault is not found there. At the time he was elevated to “Monsignor” in 2009, Arsenault landed a $170,000 per year position as Executive Director of St. Luke Institute in Maryland. Simultaneously, Arsenault billed for over $100,000.00 in “consultation” services for Catholic Medical Center in New Hampshire. Bishop John McCormack was the sole U.S. bishop serving on the St. Luke Institute Board of Directors at that time.
Most of those who are today involved in an investigation of the case against Father MacRae believe that Arsenault was the person referred to in Bishop McCormack’s statement to the PBS Executive above:
“I do not want this to leave this office because I have struggles with some people within the Chancery office that are not consistent with my thoughts, but I firmly believe that Father MacRae is innocent and should not be in prison.”
Over the previous two years, Arsenault had risen to become McCormack’s right hand man and the hub of all diocesan administration and finances. By 2001, Father Arsenault had effectively become the power behind the diocesan throne. In that capacity, according to his resume, Arsenault personally negotiated mediated settlements in over 250 claims of sexual abuse alleged against priests of the Diocese of Manchester.
The newly published list of these accused priests is deceiving. Most claims were never brought before any court of law, but were simply demands made by letters from lawyers representing the claimants whose claims were often thirty or forty years old. In 2002, Plaintiffs’ attorney Peter Hutchins, who later claimed to have received 250 such settlements – a curious coincidence – revealed the climate in which these settlements were made. The following newspaper excerpts are from “NH Diocese Will Pay $5 Million to 62 Victims>,” (Mark Hayward, NH Union Leader, Nov. 27, 2002):
“The Catholic Diocese of Manchester will pay more than $5 million to 62 people who claim they were abused by priests… The incidents took place as long ago as the 1950s and as recently as the 1980s and involved 28 priests… The Diocese disclosed the names of the priests.
“None of these men will exercise any pastoral ministry in the Church ever again,” said the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, delegate of the Bishop for Sexual Misconduct.
“‘It shows good faith on the part of the diocese that victims of abuse will be treated and that their needs will be met,’ said Donna Sytek, Chairman of the Diocesan Task Force on Sexual Abuse Policy [and now Chairperson of the New Hampshire Parole Board].
“‘During settlement negotiations, diocesan officials did not press for details such as dates and allegations for every claim’ [Attorney Peter] Hutchins said. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’
“[N]o one will receive more than $500,000… but at the request of Hutchins’ clients, the diocese will not disclose their names, the details of the abuse or the amounts of individual settlements.”
Simultaneous to his positions and role negotiating settlements in the Diocese, Rev. Edward Arsenault also served as Chairman of the Board of The National Catholic Risk Retention Group, an oversight conglomerate of insurance providers for a multitude of Catholic dioceses and institutions across the United States that covered the settlements.
HYPOCRISY AND A DOUBLE LIFE UNMASKED
On April 23, 2014, Monsignor Arsenault was convicted in a plea deal that would prevent full public disclosure of the facts of his case and make them anything but transparent. The above handshake with his prosecutor became for some a symbol of the closed-door justice behind the deal.
Charged with embezzlement of $288,000 from the Diocese of Manchester and the estate of a deceased priest – funds used to groom and support a homosexual relationship with a young musician – Arsenault was sentenced to a prison term of four to twenty years. However someone had a vested interest in keeping Father MacRae from asking too many questions.
After a brief initial stay in the Concord prison receiving area, someone took the highly unusual step of arranging for Arsenault to be moved to a county jail to serve out his sentence. It was a move that some believe was orchestrated to prevent MacRae from learning anything about Arsenault’s handling of his own case.
Arsenault served only two years of his four-to-twenty year sentence before his prison term was commuted to home confinement. Somehow, even while in prison without income, his entire $288,000 restitution bill was paid in full. In February of 2019, Arsenault’s remaining twenty year sentence was mysteriously and quietly vacated and commuted to time served. Many in the State and the Diocese of Manchester, though no one would go on the record, state their belief that Monsignor Arsenault received very special treatment in the Justice System. This was less true in the Church at higher levels. Before his sentence was terminated, Arsenault was dismissed from the clerical state by Pope Francis.
Of interest, one of the charges against Monsignor Arsenault was that he had forged Bishop McCormack’s signature on travel and hotel vouchers for himself and his “guest” to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Arsenault also created and forged phony invoices from a psychologist for $15,000.
It seems that Arsenault developed his forgery technique directly from the case of Father MacRae. Between 2002 and 2005, Arsenault is alleged to have forged Bishop McCormack’s signature on official letters sent to MacRae and on documents sent to the Vatican seeking canonical dismissal of Father MacRae from the priesthood. This commenced two to four years after Bishop McCormack stated his informed belief that MacRae is innocent and unjustly imprisoned.
It seems clear who Bishop McCormack’s “struggle” was with. It was in the interest of Arsenault’s ties and commitments with insurance companies that all claims against the diocese be settled. MacRae’s obstinacy in refusing to accept plea deals and settlements proved an obstacle that had to be removed. From 2001 to 2005, Father Arsenault carried out a pattern of misinformation to the Vatican and collusion with attorneys to summarily deprive the imprisoned priest of his rights to canonical, civil, and criminal due process. The manipulation against MacRae is its own scandal.
In 2002, Arsenault had Prisoner MacRae summoned to a prison office to engage him in a telephone conversation for a proffered deal. If MacRae would sever all communications with Dorothy Rabinowitz and The Wall Street Journal, Arsenault reportedly said, the diocese would retain counsel on his behalf for a new appeal.
Having just learned that all documentation sent to The Wall Street Journal was destroyed in the attacks of September 11, 2001, MacRae felt he had no other options. In March of 2002, Arsenault asked MacRae to send to his office all his defense files used at trial for the purpose of consultation with Attorney David Vicinanzo, a lawyer Arsenault claimed was retained to review MacRae’s case.
Six months later, MacRae learned that his legal files were never given to Attorney Vicinanzo, but were instead turned over to the NH Attorney General’s Office. Multiple letters to Arsenault and Attorney Vicinanzo for an explanation were never answered.
In January, 2003, MacRae was informed by other lawyers hired by Arsenault that a vast public release of files would take place as part of a diocese-wide settlement with the Attorney General in March of that year. MacRae was assured that he would be given a ten-day notice to review files in his regard and to challenge their release. Among all 73 priests on the list of the “credibly” accused published this month, MacRae was the only one never provided with the ten-day notice or any opportunity to review and challenge the release of his own privileged files.
Father MacRae’s letters of protest to Arsenault were never answered. His letter to Bishop McCormack resulted in a claim that the Attorney General issued a subpoena on the Diocese and walked off with priests’ files without regard for their source or for legal confidentiality.
In contrast, the Attorney General wrote to MacRae stating that, over the course of a week, the Diocese provided unfettered access to its files with no attempt at oversight. Further, the Attorney General wrote that all the files were reviewed as a result of a Grand Jury subpoena and were to remain confidential by law, however Bishop McCormack signed a waiver surrendering the rights of all the priests involved. It is unclear, given the history above, who actually signed that waiver.
To its great credit, Vatican officials have not seen fit to move with a canonical process against this wrongly imprisoned priest. They have, however, administratively dismissed Monsignor Arsenault from the clerical state.
To release a list of names of the accused today under the guise of transparency with Father Gordon MacRae identified solely as “convicted” is anything but transparent. It only further obscures this travesty of justice and turns it into just another kind of cover-up.
Editor’s Note: Ryan A. MacDonald has published on the abuse crisis in multiple Catholic and secular publications. Please share this important post, and please remember to Subscribe to weekly posts from These Stone Walls. You may also wish to read these related posts by Ryan A. MacDonald:
- The Trial of Father MacRae: A Conspiracy of Fraud
- The Prison of Father MacRae: A Conspiracy of Silence
- The Post-Trial Extortion of Father Gordon MacRae
- A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph Laplante’s Court