The letter came this week from a woman in the UK. A playwright, she had been researching the play, “Doubt” when she Googled, “Accused Priests” and came upon our website. She had lots of comments in her friendly letter, but in the end she wanted to know only one thing:
“Are you mistreated there? I would hate to think you are mistreated.”
As I read her letter, my cell mate, Pornchai, was studying for a Catholic Distance University exam. I looked up and said, “This nice lady in the UK wants to know if I’m ever mistreated.” He didn’t even look up from his book when he said, spontaneously, “Does she mean by us or by priests?”
I was stunned by the irony of his question. When I didn’t answer, he looked at me. I expected sarcasm in his eyes, but there was none. He thought it was a good question.
On Pentecost, I wrote a post for the excellent blog, Priests in Crisis entitled “Kill the Priest!” It garnered quite a lot of attention. In my post I described the relentless, horrifying chant that greeted me as I was led for the first time into a cell block here nearly 15 years ago. It was a rough beginning. The sum total of what the chanting prisoners knew, or thought they knew, came from local newspaper accounts.
Most prisoners no longer want to see me dead, and the few who may still do more or less keep it to themselves. Prisoners can be cruelly and unilaterally judgmental and condemning, but no one here has a stone to throw at me.
A few months ago, I wrote a note to a priest in my Diocese. We were never assigned together, but he preceded me at one or two parishes, and we always had a cordial, respectful relationship. I don’t really know what made me want to reach out to him. I hear from few priests – very few – and that troubles me.
The priest’s reply came within days. My cell mate handed me the nice envelope with a sketch of a stone church proudly proclaiming Our Lady of Fatima Parish. Pornchai said, “I think you got a letter from a priest!” He wonders why I hear from so few. So do I. When I pulled the letter out, my heart just sank – far lower than I had first thought. Pornchai did not see the letter. I didn’t want him to. It contained only one sentence. You can read it for yourself in an essay by Ryan Anthony MacDonald, To Azazel: Father Gordon MacRae and the Gospel of Mercy.
When I read the priest’s single sentence, I put his letter away. Pornchai knew instantly that a stone had flown out of the crowd and struck me hurtfully. But it wasn’t thrown from a crowd of prisoners. It was from my brother priest – a man who proclaims the Gospel. Pornchai took one look at me, shook his head, and left the cell to give me some privacy in my grief.
After feeling hurt, I felt angry – which is where hurt usually goes eventually. I got over it, but my greatest sorrow is that Pornchai now wonders who is the greater threat to me: prisoners or priests. The irony is more than I can bear. Please pray for the priest who wrote me that letter. He does not know how much he needs your prayers.