Video documentary testimony of Father Gordon MacRae has been opening eyes, but the minds and ears of some in both Church and State close when a priest is accused.
I wrote an article awhile back entitled, “The Shawshank Redemption and its Real World Revision.” It was published at LinkedIn for the 23rd anniversary of the great prison film that now seems to air almost weekly on cable TV where it has been seen by just about everyone in North America.
Andy Dufresne, the innocent but wrongly imprisoned central character in the Stephen King story and film, went to prison on the same day I did when the film was released in theaters on September 23, 1994. There was a chilling scene in the film that I left out of my review.
The gruesome scene involved the character of “Brooks,” portrayed in the film by the great actor, James Whitmore. Brooks was the elder prison librarian who was released after decades in prison only to die by hanging in a prison of depression and loneliness at a seedy urban rooming house. Most audiences reacted to the scene with sadness. Most prisoners were moved to despair.
There are mile markers in the life of every prisoner that, once crossed, bode ominously for both the future and the past. One of them is notoriously called in prison, “the 10-year mark.” It is the experience of many that after ten years in prison the identity one had before prison begins to fade. Relationships of the past – including family relationships – fade with it.
After the 10-year mark, many prisoners are no longer visited by their families or friends, or even hear from them. The daily prison Mail Call becomes a source of daily disappointment. Many marriages fall apart. In my work as a prison law library clerk, the most common legal forms I have to provide to prisoners after the 10-year mark are petitions for divorce or responses to attempts to terminate their parental rights.
The longer a man remains in prison, the more separated he becomes from his past. This seems less so for women in prison who typically serve much shorter sentences. The diminishment of family and outside contacts at the 10-year mark, which I passed fifteen years ago, also extends to the wider community.
About a year or two after These Stone Walls began in July of 2009, it struck me one day that I have never once been visited in prison by a priest of my diocese despite the Chancery Office being less than twenty miles away. To put it differently and more bluntly, not one of the many priests I knew in my diocese before being accused admits to knowing me today. And of the thousands of lay people who had once been my parishioners, I hear from only two who have now become TSW readers.
This is something Father Stuart MacDonald alluded to in his eye-opening post, “On Our Battle Weary Priesthood.” In the fraternity of priests, all contact and fraternal support – all sense of belonging to a community and to a mission – too often ends the moment a priest is accused.
OUT OF ORDER IN THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK
There is a second mile marker in prison that was likely the more influential one in the tragic end of Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption. This more ominous mile marker is the 25-year mark. It is seldom spoken of in prison, but for those bold enough to speak its name, it is generally called “the point of no return.”
The thinking goes something like this. Prison swallows up a man, and when imprisonment extends for decades, it swallows up all that once defined the man as well. It is widely believed among prisoners that 25 years marks the point at which a man no longer has a life to return to. It is seen as the point at which all that existed in a man’s life before prison has faded into nothing but memory. Prison becomes the only reality left.
The prospect of freedom at that point begins to transform from a hopeful goal to a burden and a threat. On September 23 this year The Feastday of Saint Padre Pio, one of the Patron Saints of These Stone Walls – I will mark 25 years in prison. As I approach this mile marker, it isn’t quite “the point of no return” for me. My mind and spirit still resist, with all their might, the surrendering of my soul to prison.
But I have noticed that the landscape of my dreams is changing. In those dreams, I am free, but it is an ominous, scary freedom clouded in dark imagery. I am free, but in a city I do not know, living nowhere, just wandering streets filled with strangers. I know no one, and then it slowly comes to me. Where am I? Who am I? Where will I sleep tonight? I walk deeper and deeper into the city that is swallowing me up until the streets become dark and I am no more.
It is a scary dream that has multiple versions. In one of them, I am back in that same labyrinthine and unfamiliar city. I take refuge in a Catholic church, sleeping in one of the empty pews. Then in the night a priest shows up with police to have me charged with trespass and taken back to prison. Sometimes I even know the priest, but he no longer knows me.
In a more recent, troubling version, I was the central character in Graham Greene’s classic novel, The Power and the Glory, making my way across the landscape while hunted by accusing mobs shouting “Kill the Priest! Kill the Priest!” It was the same madness that greeted my first night in prison 25 years ago.
I received a very thoughtful letter from a reader recently who asked what it is that sustains me in prison. Here is an excerpt of what he wrote:
“I happen to know that there is absolutely nothing in that place that sustains or supports your identity as a priest. And I know that you receive no affirmation of that identity, or even tolerance of it, from those who imprison you. I also know that most, if not all of the priests in your state now shun you as a scapegoat. And yet, even after 25 years, priesthood is the part of you that shines brightest in your person and speaks loudest in your writing. How is this so after 25 years in such circumstances?”
I do not have answers for that writer. I do not know. All through history, people have been locked away in the name of the State after either justice has been served or grave injustice has been covered up. This is why we have a quote on the About page at These Stone Walls:
“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” – Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron of Montesquieu, 1742
MY ONLY WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE
But I am writing now to our Church and not to the State. The Church should be a mirror of justice, and justice begins with truth. The Church is us.
Many readers have reacted to my nearly two hours of testimony in the video documentary video interviews with me posted weeks ago on These Stone Walls. The letters I have received, the email that has been read to me, and the comments that have been posted all report that viewing these interviews was a powerful experience of heart-wrenching truth. But something troubling has happened in the aftermath. Let me get back to that.
After Father Stuart MacDonald’s post “On Our Battle-weary Priesthood,” Catholic writer Ryan A. MacDonald posted a comment.
This fellow Scotsman wrote that both Father Stuart and I have “found the William Wallace within us.” It was a humorous thought referring to Sir William Wallace, a late 13th Century Scottish national hero. With apologies in advance to my many friends in the United Kingdom, William Wallace was a massive thorn the British Monarchy’s side.
In 1297, Wallace, known also to history as “Braveheart,” defeated the British with a much smaller force at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. He was then elected to the office of Guardian of the Kingdom. In 1298, Scotland was invaded in turn by the full force of British might led by King Edward I.
I do not know whether what follows is entirely historically accurate, but there is a scene involving this battle in the great, but historically challenged film, Braveheart starring Mel Gibson in the title role. In the scene, many Scottish lords agreed to follow Wallace into battle.
But each one in turn had made his own concordat with the British. At a pivotal point in the battle, Wallace waved his flags in prearranged signals for them to enter the battle with their forces. One by one, they looked away, and then rode away. The scene of betrayal was powerful, and Wallace and his forces were crushed.
If Ryan MacDonald was right in his comment, if I have “found the William Wallace within me,” it is only because I thoroughly understand how he felt in that scene of betrayal. This has come to the fore again with the emergence and publication of my documentary testimony.
I received a letter this week from the priest who conducted that video-recorded interview for a documentary on the reality of falsely accused priests. He told me that he has completed work on a second documentary called “abuse in Philly” regarding a story I have written extensively about beginning with “The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy on the Cover of Newsweek.” The priest who produced these courageous video presentations reported being reprimanded by his superiors for doing so.
It is not the Church that is speaking to that priest. It is the Church’s leaders, and too many are coming up short in the public square as their lack of courage, political correctness, and tenuous grasp on truth are revealed. Their need for scapegoats must not circumvent the Church’s need for truth.
It is this same cowardice and self-righteous condemnation that caused a deacon to cancel Mass intentions offered for me by a faithful parishioner. He instructed the kind woman offering the Mass stipend that a Mass for an accused priest would be offensive to victims so he suppressed the Mass intention.
There are many professed allies among the leadership of our Church who have privately urged me to keep writing, to keep unveiling the truth, and to offer my sufferings for the priesthood and the Church. I do so gladly. But some of these same allies are turning their backs and riding away in the heat of battle.
As my one and only documented testimony was revealed in public, it has been met by many readers of These Stone Walls with encouragement and hope. It has been met by too many fellow Catholic bloggers – several prominent priests among them – with nothing but silence.
All I am asking of the Church is simply to be heard. As I approach the ominous 25-year mark in wrongful imprisonment, being heard feels almost as important to me as being free. Almost!
I am asking that those with an interest simply watch and listen, and perhaps share these interviews with others. At my trial and sentencing 25 years ago, I was not permitted to utter a single word in my own defense. At a flawed 1996 appeal represented by a public defender, I was not even allowed to be present.
In three attempts at habeas corpus appeal at the state and federal levels, neither I nor any witness on my behalf was allowed to speak. At no time since my 1994 trial has anyone heard a single word from me.
Since then, all the pundits of both left and right have had their say. SNAP has had its say, invited by the US Bishops to help shape the Dallas Charter. SNAP demanded, and was given, the ruin of a filial relationship of trust between bishops and priests, transforming it into a model of servitude in which priests are summarily separated from their civil and canonical rights.
Voice of the Faithful has had its say, using “The Scandal” toward its own ends to reshape the Church in its own image and likeness. Bishop Accountability has had its say, recklessly treating every lawsuit and decades old demand for money as “proof” that condemns every priest to the dubious justice of “guilty for being accused.”
The contingency lawyers have had their say, relentlessly browbeating Church officials into more than $3.5 billion in unquestioned financial settlements across America since the story emerged in the early 1990s.
And every step of the way for over twenty-five years, the news media, including the Catholic media, has aided and abetted this by both hyping stories of real abuse and suppressing stories of false witness and greed.
Now, after 25 years of silent endurance, it is my turn to speak. Whether anyone will listen remains to be seen, but the William Wallace in me would rather die than allow this to be suppressed. Please review the two-hour testimony recently uncovered and published at the link below by a lawyer of great personal integrity at the page he set up for this at THE FRIDAY ESQUIRE.
Play Parts I & II continuous play:
The videos are also now available at the ABOUT; page at These Stone Walls. Please encourage the leaders of our Church, whether courageous, cowardly, or corrupt, to hear this side of the story.
“Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform.” – Avery Cardinal Dulles
Editor’s Note: Please share this post with others and on social media. You may also like these related posts from journalists of courage and integrity:
- The Trials of Father MacRae by Dorothy Rabinowitz, The Wall Street Journal
- The Trial of Father MacRae: A Conspiracy of Fraud
- The Prison of Father MacRae: A Conspiracy of Silence
- Grievous Error in Judge Joseph Laplante’s Court by Ryan A. MacDonald