The Catholic League and its President Bill Donohue support religious liberty and due process for Catholics – including an imprisoned priest behind These Stone Walls.
In late 2019, I wrote a post for These Stone Walls entitled, “Grand Jury, St. Paul’s School, and the Diocese of Manchester.” It profiled the handling of two Grand Jury investigations and reports in the State of New Hampshire. One delved into the records of St Paul’s School, a high profile Concord, NH prep school with ties to the Episcopal church. Its alumni list reads like a Who’s Who of Washington politics. The other involved the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester.
The double standard in the application of due process in these two cases was glaring. Just days after Bishop Peter Libasci published the names of 73 priests accused over the last half century, a judge ruled that a similar report covering the same time period at St. Paul’s School cannot be published because publishing names without trials of fact violates the due process rights of the accused.
By year’s end, my article about this story became the most-read and shared post of 2019. The reason for that had a lot to do with a decision of Dr. Bill Donohue and the Catholic League to recommend it to every Catholic League member on their free email subscriber list. The numbers who read it jumped from the usual thousands to the tens of thousands.
Readers surely remember the notorious, scandalous, and one-sided Pennsylvania: grand jury report that rocked media coverage of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania in 2019. Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas addressed it in these pages in an eye-opening guest post entitled, “The Report Heard Round the World.”
On December 3, 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a 6-1 decision that the names of eleven priests who challenged the release of their identities cannot be publicized because doing so violates their due process rights. The Catholic League had filed an amicus curiae brief in this case and was cited in the court’s decision.
The decision in Pennsylvania cited the same reason as the judge in New Hampshire for denying the release of the St. Paul’s School report: grand jury reports can contain “false, misleading incorrect and uncorroborated assertions.” That Bishop Peter Libasci and other bishops did to their priests what the courts said the state cannot do is a matter of concern for canon law to take up – even after the unconstitutional harm has been done.
In 2018, Pope Francis instructed bishops not to publish lists of names without due process and a trial of facts. The bishops ignored this, citing “transparency” and “Pro Bono Ecclesiae” (for the good of the Church) as their reason for trampling on the rights of their priests. It is for the good of the Church that rights must be protected and truth established.
I was so very proud of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights for seeing this, and for coming down on the side of rights for these priests where it counts: in both a court of law and the court of public opinion. The Catholic League explained its amicus brief in a front page article entitled, “Victory for Priests’ Rights; Amicus Brief Prevails” (Catalyst, January-February 2019).
SEX ABUSE AND SIGNS OF FRAUD
I became a member of the New York City-based Catholic League in 2005. At that point, I had been unjustly in prison for eleven years and had been silenced under the sheer weight of organized suppression. Even Church officials had adopted the same bias that dominates this victim-culture. The accused must not under any circumstances be heard. We saw that culture at work in the shameful 2018 Senate hearings for “Justice Brett Kavanaugh Is Guilty for Being Accused.” He was called unfit for confirmation just for trying to defend his name.
For eleven years in prison, I fell ever deeper into a void of imposed silence from which I would never be heard from again if not for Bill Donohue and the Catholic League. There were a few waves of interest earlier on. Former O.J. Simpson prosecutor, Marcia Clark wanted to conduct a documentary interview with me in 1998, but prison officials refused to allow it. The Governor (now U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen D.NH) – wrote to FOX News:
- “I understand your company’s interest in conducting an interview with Mr. Gordon MacRae, an inmate in our state prison, but I will not interfere in the decision not to allow media access to Mr. MacRae.”
It seemed an odd statement for a Democratic governor in a nation that prides itself on First Amendment rights to Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Speech, and the Free Exercise of Religion. The erosion of those rights was already underway in America by the 1990s, but such erosion is always subtle. Driven by special interests, it follows a gentle slope lest anyone take notice. We were a nation lulled into complacency as civil liberties – especially religious liberties – were eroding across the nation.
In 2005, an explosion of sorts occurred in regard to the case against me. A Pulitzer prize-winning writer undertook an honest investigation for The Wall Street Journal and published the two-part, “A Priest’s Story” in April 2005. It opened eyes, but it also opened a furor among some who, aided and abetted by the news media, had orchestrated the public lynching of priests. The loudest protest came from Monsignor Edward Arsenault, Bishop’s Delegate for Ministerial Conduct in my diocese.
One critic charged that The Wall Street Journal “devoted more column space to MacRae than to any Nobel Laureate.” These articles set in motion a rehearing in the court of public opinion even as the civil courts dug in, denying reconsideration in the courts of law. The anticlerical furor did not abate, not even in the Church, but The Wall Street Journal continued the series in 2013 with “The Trials of Father MacRae.”
This resuscitation of truth came at a harsh price for me. With no reason or explanation whatsoever after the first articles appeared in 2005, I was moved by a prison unit manager back to the eight-man cells from which I had finally emerged after seven long, stifling years. It was a terrible setback.
It was in that setting in November, 2005, that Catholic League president Bill Donohue invited me to submit a feature article for the Catholic League Journal, Catalyst. I wish you could have been a fly on the wall for this scene. With no place to write – or to even think – in an eight-man prison cell, I sat on the concrete floor on a Saturday afternoon and in one sitting I typed the first article I ever published – “Sex Abuse and Signs of Fraud” – as the seven men with whom I shared that cell patiently endured my relentless “tap-tap-tap.”
PADRE PIO DEFAMED
The article was thus published in the November, 2005 issue of Catalyst with this brave byline created by Bill Donohue:
- “Father Gordon MacRae is in prison for claims alleged to have occurred in 1983, and for which he maintains innocence. His case was extensively analyzed in a two-part series in The Wall Street Journal (April 27128, 2005) by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Dorothy Rabinowitz.”
“Sex Abuse and Signs of Fraud” was explosive, and of course the Catholic League was subjected to criticism by those unaccustomed to having their witch hunts called into question. I, on the other hand, received dozens of letters of appreciation and interest from across the country. But when I received the actual copy of Catalyst that contained my article, I, too, was left seething. Even before turning to my own article, I was confronted with this front page cover story, “Atlantic Monthly Defames Padre Pio”:
- “PADRE PIO DEFAMED: In the November issue of the Atlantic Monthly, there is a brief article by Tyler Cabot titled, “The Rocky Road to Sainthood.” Of Padre Pio, one of the most revered priests in recent history to have been canonized, Cabot writes, ‘Despite questions raised by two papal emissaries – and despite reported evidence that he raised money for right-wing religious groups and had sex with penitents – Pio was canonized in 2002.’”
I knew then and there – before even looking at my own article at the Journal’s centerfold – that I can no longer be part of the majority of silent Catholics seeking safety on the sidelines. I had to join the Catholic League. I mailed in my $30 annual donation that day in 2005 (and it’s still $30, by the way) to become a member of the only civil rights and civil liberties organization pushing back against anti-Catholicism in America and unjust treatment of Catholic priests.
I found it easy to stay on the sidelines believing that we do not need protection from religious bigotry – until we do. It’s easy not to even realize that our religious liberties are being eroded – until they’re gone. Between 2005, when I wrote that first article, and 2020, five hundred articles later, I have seen our freedoms under a pernicious assault. The largest target of atheists and socialists is religious liberty, and the largest bull’s eye is the Catholic Church.
THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS
After first publishing “Sex Abuse and Signs of Fraud” in 2005, the Catholic League came under criticism from activist groups like SNAP, Voice of the Faithful, and Bishop-Accountability. At a time when so many in the Church – including most U.S. bishops – withered and withdrew from such assaults, the Catholic League met them head on, and exposed their true and nefarious agendas.
The Catholic League responded to the criticism for giving me a voice by giving me a louder voice. The following is just a sampling of the courageous measures taken by this organization:
- In 2009 I was invited to write “Due Process for Accused Priests,” the feature article for the July/August 2009 edition of Catalyst David Clohessy and SNAP refuted none of it except to state that “Father MacRae is a dangerous and demented man.” In the same issue, Bill Donohue wrote this editorial on the inside cover of Catalyst:
- July 2009: “Help Father MacRae. In 2005, I was interviewed on the Today show about alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests. ‘There is no segment of the American population with less civil liberties protection than the average American Catholic priest,’ I said. ‘I stand by that accusation And I ask that every Catholic League member take a long look at what has happened to Father Gordon MacRae (see pp. 8-9 for an article he wrote from prison).’”
- July/August 2009 – Bill Donohue wrote: “The late Avery Cardinal Dulles, and the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, were not only staunch defenders of the rights of accused priests, but they were openly concerned about the plight of Father MacRae. It was the two-part series on MacRae by The Wall Street Journal’s Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz (April 27-298, 2005) that disturbed them the most. To read about Father MacRae’s incredible ordeal, please go to https://www.TheseStonewalls.com.”
- September 2011: The Catholic League published its “Bombshell Report on SNAP; Victims’ Lobby Exposed.”
- September 2011: In the same issue Bill Donohue wrote another editorial entitled “TheseStoneWalls.com”: “This issue is loaded with news about attacks on the Church stemming from the professional victims’ lobby. If you want to read about a priest who has persistently maintained his innocence, and is sitting in a New Hampshire prison, check out the Internet site, TheseStoneWalls.com, and read about the plight of Fr. Gordon MacRae. You can decide for yourself whether he was treated fairly.”
- April, 2012: The Catholic League published an extensive article by Bill Donohue exposing fraud and corruption with SNAP entitled “SNAP Unravels.”
- April 2012: In the same issue, Bill Donohue also published a major editorial entitled, “Fr. MacRae’s Appeal.”
- October 2014: Bill Donohue wrote and published a feature article in Catalyst, “The Ordeal of Father Gordon MacRae” in which he exposed many details of my trial and post-conviction evidence and new witnesses – evidence and witnesses that the courts declined to review or hear.
- March 2015, June 2016, September 2017, March 2018, and numerous subsequent issues Catholic League editors cited These Stone Walls among recommended news sources for coverage of issues the Catholic League has undertaken.
In the January 2019 issue of Catalyst, Bill Donohue published an essay entitled, “Standing Fast for Priests’ Rights.” It begins with a few haunting observations and questions:
- “The average detainee in Guantanamo Bay has more rights than the average accused priest in America does today. Those who doubt this to be true can begin by naming all the left-wing activist organizations and civil libertarian groups that are defending the rights of accused priests… It’s actually worse than this. Where are the conservative Catholic activist organizations defending the rights of accused priests? Who, besides the Catholic League, even wants to discuss the issue of clergy sexual abuse?… Living in the comfort zone 24/7 must be nice, but it’s not for us.”
Please consider becoming a Catholic League member by visiting www.CatholicLeague.org. The $30 annual membership fee includes a subscription to the monthly journal, Catalyst. I would still be silenced, today, if not for the courage and integrity of Bill Donohue and the Catholic League. Please lend your voice to a civil rights organization that has fearlessly given one to me.
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Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Please share this important post, Subscribe to These Stone Walls, and Like and Follow us on Facebook (None of which I have ever seen, by the way). You may also like these related posts from These Stone Walls:
- Travesty of Justice: The Ordeal of Fr. Gordon MacRae by Catholic League President Bill Donohue
- The Catholic League Stood By Me Even When Others Fled
- Justice and Priests Are Both Easy Prey Without Truth
- Attorney General Josh Shapiro & Joseph Goebbels in The Reckoning