Was it to satisfy justice that Fr Gordon MacRae spent the last 20 years in prison, or was it to satisfy contingency lawyers, insurers, and diocesan risk assessors?
Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Father James Valladares, Ph.D, a priest of 46 years in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, South Australia, and author of the acclaimed book, Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast, a Research Study on Procedural Justice for Priests.
I am thankful for this invitation to write once again for These Stone Walls. My first guest post in these pages was in May of 2012 entitled, “May Truth and Justice Prevail.” Just three weeks later, Father MacRae used his blog post for his 30th anniversary of priestly ordination to publish “The Rest of the Story: Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast,” with some reflections on my book of the same title about procedural justice for priests.
Early in 1966, I commenced my second year of theology in the Diocesan Seminary of Bombay (now Mumbai), India. As part of the curriculum in moral theology, we were scheduled to do a very thorough and comprehensive study of the Seventh, Eighth, and Tenth Commandments (“You shall not steal;” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour;” “You shall not covet anything that is your neighbour’s”) as a proximate preparation that would render us eligible for the faculty to serve as ministers of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Ad audiendas confessiones).
Very briefly, that particular branch was commonly referred to as “De Iure et Iustitia” (About Rights and Justice). A right was defined as something that is legitimately due to another. To take it away without authority or justification, therefore, is a violation of the person’s right and a breach of the moral law. Framing it graphically, there is an invisible but inviolable link between a person and a basic right. So a failure to respect and honour the right is tantamount to breaking that invisible bond, and so offending the person and God.
Stated differently, the deliberate flouting of a moral law offends God, the Supreme Lawgiver, and is, therefore, a culpable sin. For instance, each and every human being has a right to his/her life – a priceless gift that comes from God and God alone. None can take it away but God. To do so willfully, violently and maliciously would be tantamount to murder – a grave crime that violates both the natural and the divine law. As a consequence, the perpetrator must bear the entire brunt of the law – civil, moral, and divine.
Similarly, a person has a right to his reputation. Once again, there is an invisible but inviolable bond between the individual and his/her reputation. Therefore, we are all duty bound to refrain from any word or deed that could snap that bond, and so harm the individual, often gravely and irreversibly. So vitally essential is integrity in both private and public lives that, opines Stephen Carter in his: book, Integrity (Harper Collins, New York 1996), “The American dream may crumble – and the greatness of our democracy along with it.”
None can deny the harm done to young people by the plague of sexual abuse in our culture, and none can deny the grievous, widespread and irreparable harm done to the credibility of priests and their ministry in the recent past. By the same token, it must be admitted that there has been – and continues to be – a proliferation of false allegations against priests, and for motives that range from the dubious and spurious to the specious and malicious. It is therefore imperative that we all judiciously discern, decisively act, and openly speak in the interests of truth, justice, and charity. That, in a nutshell, was the purpose of my research study that led to publication of my book, Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast.
I began the book with a recognition of some of those who played key roles in my progressive realization and completion of that project. Readers of These Stone Walls will recognize some of the names that appeared in the book’s Acknowledgements:
“Opus Bono Sacerdotii – an organization (especially the president, Mr. Joe Maher and cofounder, Mr. Pete Ferrara) that has worked strenuously to assist priests in need of defense, canonical and legal, who have neither the personal nor financial means to plead their cause.
“Dorothy Rabinowitz, Dr. Bill Donohue, Ryan A. MacDonald, David F. Pierre, Jr. – whose candid, forthright, and persuasive writings have served as an added impetus in the pursuit of this vital research.
“Fr. Gordon J. MacRae – an extraordinarily heroic priest with indomitable courage, unrelenting tenacity, unwavering patience, and Christ-like magnanimity who personally and admirably reflects what Pope Benedict XVI has confessed, ‘All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse….’ “
YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON (Matthew 6: 24)
David F. Pierre Jr. author of Catholic Priests Falsely Accused (The Media Report, 2012) has written an explosive revelation with regard to allegations of sexual abuse and the attack on the Catholic Church. It’s a courageous and compelling account of how money, the media, and willful malevolence have distorted and driven the scandal and singled out the Catholic Church as a scapegoat for rampant abuse in our culture. This is what he has to say about the disturbing manner in which claims against Catholic priests were settled in the [Manchester] New Hampshire diocese without any legitimate determination of credibility:
“In 2002, a New Hampshire diocese faced accusations of abuse from 62 individuals. Rather than spending the time and resources looking into the merits of the cases, ‘Diocesan officials did not even ask for specifics such as the dates and specific allegations for the claims, ‘ New Hampshire’s Union Leader reported. Getting money from the diocese could not have been any easier for the complainants. It was almost as simple as a trip to an ATM. ‘ I’ve never seen anything like it,’ a pleased and much richer plaintiff attorney admitted.” (David F. Pierre, Jr. p. 80)
Father Gordon MacRae is a priest of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire who has been wrongly accused and unjustly in prison for a phenomenal period of time only because he firmly and unequivocally insists on his innocence. In 1994, Father MacRae was tried and pronounced guilty of crimes that a growing number of people believe never occurred at all. Ironically, he was offered a “plea deal.” That is to say, if he confessed that he was guilty he could then leave prison after one or two years while protesting his innocence would ipso facto condemn him to 67 years in prison for claims that have never been corroborated by substantial evidence, crimes alleged to have occurred over 30 years ago.
In 2002, as a dutiful priest, he wrote a private letter from prison to his Bishop, John McCormack, in which he stoutly maintained his innocence of the baseless claims for which he was imprisoned. These are his precise words reproduced from his 2010 article, “Are Civil Liberties for Priests Intact? “:
“I was accused falsely, and in the context of being a Roman Catholic priest. If I were not a priest, I would not have been accused. To pretend that somehow the claims against me are not related to the context of my priesthood is false. This is something that most Church officials long recognized but many have put aside the rights of priests in open disregard of Church law.”
Further, Father MacRae wrote that he would withdraw his defense and remain silently in prison for the remainder of his life if his bishop deemed this in the best interest of the Church. The bishop candidly replied that he could not ask Fr. Gordon to surrender his civil and canonical rights.
Providentially, the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue prevailed on Fr. Gordon that staying the course of truth and justice would be not only in his own interest, but that of the Church as well. These are Bill Donohue’s precise words: “Remember that what will always be of service to the Church is the truth. Pursue the whole truth, and you are pursuing what is best for the Church.” Said Saint John Paul II: “The Church must be a mirror of justice.”
THE END OF CIVIL LIBERTIES
On October 13, 2005, Dr. Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, appeared on NBC’s TODAY Show to contest a panel of contingency lawyers promoting lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests. In the heated debate, the lawyers and litigants tarred the Catholic Church and priests with the same broad brush as evil, lecherous offenders, but Bill Donohue had the last word, and literally floored his vehement opponents with one masterful stroke of undeniable truth:
“There is no segment of the American population with less civil liberties protection than the average American Catholic priest.”
What caught Bill Donohue’s attention before that explosive appearance on the TODAY Show was “A Priest’s Story,” a two-part series on the MacRae case by Dorothy Rabinowitz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist on the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. [Note: Ms. Rabinowitz and The Wall Street Journal continued the series in May of 2013 with “The Trials of Father MacRae“].
At a time when many Catholics reeled over the scandal in the Catholic Church, Dorothy Rabinowitz took a hard look at the facts of the case of Fr. Gordon MacRae – facts that the rest of the news media had distorted or conveniently omitted. The result was a disturbing account of greed, false witness, and as the late Father Richard John Neuhaus described, “a Church and a justice system that seem indifferent to justice.”
Ryan A. MacDonald is an independent journalist writing in New York. He is a convert to Catholicism, and he writes religious and legal commentary. His revelations in “Truth and Justice: Was the Wrong Catholic Priest Sent to Prison?” at These Stone Walls literally defy comprehension. In other writings, he has made a strong case for how the media has capitalised on the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic priesthood:
However, scant attention has been paid to the probability of false claims levelled against innocent priests. As one nationally known legal scholar has pointed out, ‘When one understands the role of the contingency bar in mediated settlements, it becomes a virtual certainty that some priests have been falsely accused for money’…The Puritan founders of New England would approve of the purging of the priesthood that is now underway, for it is far more Calvinist than Catholic.” (Ryan A. MacDonald, Our Sunday Visitor, 29 August 2010).
Adds Father MacRae to this synopsis:
“Justice has certainly turned on its head when men who stand to gain hundred of thousands of dollars for making a false claim are automatically called ‘victims’ by Church leaders now, while priests accused without evidence from decades ago are just as quickly called ‘priest-offenders’ and ‘slayers of souls’…I once scoffed at the notion that evil surrounds us, but I have seen it. I think every person falsely accused has seen it.” (These Stone Walls, “When Priests Are Falsely Accused Part II,” 20 October 2010).
As Father Gordon MacRae prepares to mark a mind-boggling twenty years in prison for crimes that never took place, he also marks five years of writing “the clear, eloquent, and spiritually-sound monument to [his] trials” that the late, courageous Avery Cardinal Dulles had foreseen in These Stone Walls. In Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast (p. 274) I added this:
“Fr. MacRae’s eye-catching, thought-provoking and conscience grabbing blog, These Stone Walls, has been deemed by many to be the finest example of priestly witness amid the plethora of scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in the course of the past decade.”
These Stone Walls is informative, thoughtful, and spiritually empowering. “One visit,” writes David F. Pierre, Jr., author of Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, “will make anyone reconsider all the one-sided hysteria we’ve heard in the media for the last two decades.”
Wall Street Journal writer Dorothy Rabinowitz summarizes the highly suspect plethora of allegations: “People have come to understand that there is a large scam going on with personal injury attorneys, and what began as a serious effort is now a large money-making proposition.” Ms. Rabinowitz made this remark in 2005. Since then the [U.S.] Church has doled out an additional $1 billion in settlements.
The Eighth Commandment expressly says: “ Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbour.” It is forbidden, under pain of grievous sin, to give false testimony in a juridical proceeding that could result in serious and irreparable harm to an innocent person.
On hearing of his heart-rending plight, a reader of These Stone Walls wrote Father MacRae a letter which, among other things, said: “I don’t know why you haven’t lost your faith. And I don’t know why you haven’t lost your mind.” Adds the noble and brave priest, “I wonder which would be the first to go. There are lots of people around me here with a tentative grasp on both.”
Editor’s Note: Father James Valladares, Ph.D., author of Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast, is also author of the upcoming book, HITCH YOUR WAGON TO A STAR!