Catholicism is under siege, but not by jihadists, Protestants, or atheists. Some of those working to diminish your faith are Catholics joining the world’s insanity.
In prisons in Ohio and Pennsylvania in recent weeks, prison staff members handling incoming mail became mysteriously ill from some unknown substance on or in some of the prisoners’ mail. As a result of a nationwide alert, all incoming mail distribution in this prison has been suspended. At this writing, I have not seen a newspaper or any mail for nine days.
The timing is strange given all that is happening in the Church and the world. I have not received a copy of The Wall Street Journal in almost two weeks and I feel entirely cut off from the outside world. Some people think I am better off in this media blackout, but I now suffer from a debilitating condition called “NWS” – “Newspaper Withdrawal Syndrome,” NWS can have a toxic effect on a prisoner’s mind, especially one who writes.
With no input to write about from the world beyond prison, I am forced to write only of what is inside my mind and my heart. In the eight days since seeing a newspaper, my mind is haunted by the witch hunt that I fear is coming for priests in light of Cardinal McCarrick, and Pennsylvania, and the weird foibles of Vatican affairs.
Already, Attorneys General in multiple states are eyeing a boost to their political careers by jumping aboard the bandwagon to demand church files for some deep sea fishing. Catholic League president Bill Donohue wrote a masterful letter to the New York Attorney General spelling out why such a witch hunt defies justice.
That has all been on my mind as the last few posts at These Stone Walls attest. But my heart, in contrast strangely enough, has found a separate peace. Persecution is part of the priestly soul. The Church began with it. From the Acts of the Apostles…
“When the crowd heard about these things they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God… But the mob covered their ears and with a loud cry they rushed against him. They dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him. Witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul… and Saul approved of their killing him. That day, a severe persecution began against the Church.” (Acts 7:54-8:1)
PRIESTHOOD IN THE DOCK
Listening to The World Over with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN recently, one of the members of the “Papal Posse,” Father Gerald Murray, a canon lawyer, spoke of Pope Francis and accusations put forward by Archbishop Viganò. Father Murray said that the Pope’s silence is a concern. “Someone who is falsely accused is not going to be silent,” said Father Murray. And he is right, unless there is some reason for the silence that we cannot yet detect.
But I have had the opposite experience from what Father Murray suggests. I have been silenced. On September 23, I will mark 24 years in prison for crimes that never took place, a fact about which most reasoned observers agree. For those unfamiliar with the story, I am serving a sentence of 67 years after three times refusing a plea deal to serve only one to two years. It was imposed by Judge Arthur Brennan on September 23, 1994.
From trial, to sentencing, to appeals, I have never been allowed to utter a single word in my own defense. New evidence has surfaced. New witnesses have come forward. No New Hampshire state or federal judge has agreed to hear them – or me. And no Church official will acknowledge that new evidence even exists.
Now the bar for justice is solidly set against due process for any accused priest in America. This is now a fixture of the political side of American justice, that forum through which prosecutors reign unchecked to present in the court of public opinion mere accusations disguised as proven facts.
As one jaundiced reader wrote to me, “Don’t take it all too personally; it isn’t you they’re really after.” But this is all just the political stuff of this world. It’s somewhat of an irony that the first reading at Mass on September 23 – the 24th anniversary of my wrongful imprisonment – is from the Book of Wisdom:
“The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us, he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for our transgressions of the law… Let’s condemn him to a shameful death, for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20)
Just before our prison mail blackout began, The Wall Street Journal had an article about the state of the Church in Ireland just ahead of the visit there by Pope Francis. The focus of the report – in fact the focus of virtually all news media reports on that visit – was the sex abuse scandal of decades past. What struck me more than anything was the seething anger from people who were not victims and have never claimed to be victims.
One Irish Catholic mother interviewed for the report declared that she became an atheist several years ago, and now she is pulling her children out of a Catholic school because “I don’t want those priests anywhere near my children’s education.”
She was not even referring to any concern about sexual abuse. For those looking on with honesty, there is no such legitimate concern and hasn’t been for a long, long time. The troubling accounts of today describe events endured by a past generation.
But the irony of what the Irish mother said really struck me. She is taking her children out of a Catholic school because she has lost her faith in God and doesn’t want them to have any either. She is terminating, on their behalf, any exposure to 1,500 years of their cultural Catholic heritage She is denying them an opportunity for salvation. And all the while, she accuses us of child abuse.
A TWISTED JIHAD OF VENGEANCE
Jihad, in the West, has come to be used to refer to Holy War.” In its pure sense in Islam, however, it is the struggle to please God. Jihad is the duty of all Muslims who belong to the branch known as Sunni Islam. There are four ways they may fulfill a jihad: by the heart, by the tongue, by the hand, and by the sword.
The first refers to the inner, spiritual battle of the heart against vice, passion, and ignorance. The second refers to speaking the truth and spreading the word of Islam with one’s tongue. The third involves choosing to do what is right and to combat injustice and wrongs with action. The fourth refers to defending Islam by waging war against enemies with the sword.
One of the great misfortunes of religion in the modern world is the reduction of faith to basic and out-of-context components. Too many Muslims see their spiritual battle as coming only from the sword against real or perceived enemies. In “Copts, Catholics and the Crusades of Isis,” I documented the looming threat of fundamentalist Islamic jihad against Catholicism.
But are most Catholics doing any better in their expression of faith? Too many carry out their jihad by the second means by the tongue. And for some it is not the truth and the spreading of the Gospel for which the tongue is used. It is too often used to demean, to tear down in a display of partisan politics having nothing to do with faith.
In the latest controversy between Pope Benedict and Archbishop Viganò, two political sides have waged jihad. Liberals support Francis and disparage Viganò. Traditionalists cheer Viganò and demand the resignation of the Pope. I was very proud recently when Viganò called for Pope Francis to resign and a TSW reader known for staunchly traditionalist views challenged her own tribe by challenging him. She insisted that the Pope is deserving of due process and an examination of truth. Bravo for being in solidarity with the Pope! But, of course, as Father George David Byers explains this week we know that the Pope is not to be subjected to any process whatsoever and is not to be forced out of the papacy. Catholics must not follow pop culture politics by descending into tribalism.
What about the rest of us in service to the Church? I wrote a post back in June of 2012 that to this day remains one of the top fifteen posts visited weekly on These Stone Walls. What I thought was a timely title when I wrote it now seems timeless. The post generated lots of agreement that the premise it raises is in fact true, but so far no one has been able to come up with a rational and reasonable reason for WHY it is true. The post is, “Why Are So Many Catholics So Angry with So Many Priests?”
It is now six years since I asked that question, and the answer might seem self-evident. The scandals in the Catholic Church, the financial settlements, the secrecy about them, and the plight of victims all lend themselves toward the stoning now underway. But is it all based on truth?
There have been thousands of wrongful convictions in American justice. Experts today agree that 42% of them have been based on some form of prosecutor misconduct. How many of you reading this have ever experienced sexual abuse by a priest I alluded to a dark reality in a recent post with some sobering thoughts on “That Grand Jury Report on Abusive Catholic Priests”:
“For certain, there are real victims in this story, and my heart goes out to them. It always has. I know many, many victims of unspeakable childhood abuse. In this prison, I have lived among them for 24 years. Trust me on this – no one in the Attorney General’s office cares one iota about their plight.”
I was clear in that post that when a priest commits sexual abuse with any person under his pastoral care, he is committing incest. I described incest as “the most destructive crime known to manhood.” I know many victims of incest. I know of what I speak. Its effects are the result of evil incarnate, and there is no need to exaggerate it with wild stories intended only to heighten a bureaucrat’s anxiousness to cough up a bigger financial settlement.
In the 24 years that I have been in this prison, a multitude of men, young and old, have come to me with horror stories about abuse they suffered. Some of those stoning us with feigned disgust and rage have no idea what this all means. If their rage is really about child abuse, shouldn’t they be similarly enraged at the 80,000 claims of abuse lodged against public school personnel in the last decade?
Prisoners scoff, sometimes they laugh, and sometimes they even cry over the stories of men who claim that some priest squeezed their buttocks 30 years ago and now it’s worth a half million dollars for pain and suffering. That is the actual claim in the court records of the single criminal conviction against elderly Boston priest, John Geoghan, for which he was sentenced to nine years in prison where he was murdered.
In all this time, only one prisoner out of literally hundreds of abuse victims who have come to me had an account of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. He wanted spiritual and emotional healing from the act of betrayal that incest always is, and he believed that healing to be out of his reach.
You read that story. And if you haven’t read it, you must. It is a story about a man of great courage, who did the opposite of what countless Catholics are now doing in their outrage at us over decades-old abuse. I’m sorry, but I simply do not buy the outrage. Neither did the former police officer who became a prisoner before finding healing and hope. His guest post chronicled his story of “Coming Home to the Catholic Faith I Left Behind.”
A PRIEST AND HIS WOUNDS
These Stone Walls recently published its first guest post by someone who is deceased. I was about to write “by someone who is no longer with us,” but thought better of it. This person is still very much with us. Because my July 25 post became lost in the mail, and took nearly a month to arrive for scanning, we posted in its stead our first-ever guest post by a Patron Saint “Padre Pio’s Letter to Pope Paul VI on Humanae Vitae.”
We posted it at the end of July on the 50th Anniversary of Humanae vitae, the brave and prophetic encyclical of Pope Paul VI. It spawned an immense protest in the Church and across the world when it was published on July 25, 1968. It spawned explosions of dissent, and is now seen as the opening volley of resistance against the sexual revolution.
Padre Pio’s letter of encouragement to Pope Paul VI to stand fast against this tide of relativism was written just 11 days before Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968. When my post for July 25 did not arrive in the mail by its deadline, Father George David Byers suggested replacing it with Padre Pio’s letter signed on September 12, 1968. It was at just about that time that the wounds he bore for 50 years vanished.
I have written much about Padre Pio and our strange connections with him behind These Stone Walls. His ignominious appointment as a patron saint was in part a result of my being sent to prison on his Feast Day, September 23, 1994. His journey with us behind these walls is chronicled in a series of posts that I will link at the end of this one. His Feast Day is eclipsed by a Sunday this year, but he will still be very much in my heart.
Padre Pio’s guest post was the result of panic time when we had nothing else to put up at These Stone Walls. In hindsight, it turned out to be one of the most popular and influential posts of the year earning a front page headline at the National Catholic Register’s The Big Pulpit, and was shared on social media by thousands of readers.
It seems so strange and surreal that I will mark 24 years of unjust imprisonment on Padre Pio’s Feast Day. The nine days of mail and newspaper blackout we have just experienced made me think of my first nine years in this prison. It was a dismal and dark time under a cloud of loathing. As the sins of the priesthood became more widely known, many priests settled upon the comfort that history always provides in having scapegoats.
A prominent pastor in my diocese published an op-ed in a local newspaper around my 10th year in prison in 2004. He called for a change in canon law so that accused priests can receive summary judgment from their bishops to be cast out of the priesthood without the usual vestiges of justice like the due process of a trial. I wrote to ask him for an opportunity to present a case for preserving the due process rights of priests. My letter was returned to me unopened with a note: “Communications with you are neither prudent nor welcomed.” Ouch!
More recently, a TSW reader requested three Masses for my intentions through her local parish. I was very moved. After the first Mass was offered, the permanent deacon in her parish demanded that the intentions be cancelled and removed from publication.
I thought of Padre Pio then, and I mourn the great persecution he received from the Church and other priests when he was falsely accused. He was called a charlatan and a fraud by other priests. The wounds he bore for Christ were – just like the originals – mocked and scorned.
Padre Pio was accused by other priests, Church authorities, and lay Catholics of inflicting his own stigmata, of corrupting women in the confessional, of being insane, of being possessed by demons, of being a charlatan, a fraud, a thief. He was barred from offering Mass in public, and virtually imprisoned by his order before it was all exposed as a series of lies.
Today in the current climate in America, land of the free and home of the brave, Padre Pio would be stoned with the jihad of false witness, and it would all be deemed “credible” under the terms of the U.S. Bishops’ “Dallas Charter.” Neither he nor the great sacrifice of the wounds he bore would today even be known to us.
“All who see me mock at me. They curse me with parted lips. They shake their heads. Indeed many dogs surround me. A pack of evildoers closes in upon me. They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can number all my bones… Now they stare at me, and they gloat over me.” (Psalm 22: 7,16)
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Please share this post. The great prison film, The Shawshank Redemption, based on a novella by Stephen King was released in theaters on the same day I went to prison in September, 1994. If you have never seen the film, you must. I wrote a review for the LinkedIn Publishing platform: “The Shawshank Redemption and Its Real World Revision.”
And honor our Patron Saint, Padre Pio, and mark Father MacRae’s unjust anniversary this week with these other posts from These Stone Walls: