What Dreams May Come: Azazel and the Pursuit of Justice

In “Nightmares and Dreamscapes from the Desert,” a TSW post during Lent last year, I wrote of a recurring dream I’ve had throughout 18 years of imprisonment. The dream had multiple variations and outcomes, all of them anxiety producing, but one version in particular seemed to be an archetype for the dream’s central plot.

You might remember its details. In the dream, I was lost at night in a city vaguely familiar, pursued by a mob hunting me through the dark city streets. I climbed the steps of a Catholic church for refuge. That particular scene came right out of my childhood, and I wrote of it in “A Glorious Mystery for When the Dark Night Rises.” In my dream, however, the church doors were locked and its sanctuary inaccessible.

Left on the stairs of the church with the pursuing mob closing in, I turned from them to face the huge bronze doors. There I saw an immense, finely detailed bas relief of the Crucified Christ cast into the bronze of the huge door. Someone in the mob let loose a stone aimed at me, but it missed me and struck the Crucifix. I awoke muttering something I’ll always remember: “The stone that was meant for me struck Thee.”

I have very vivid dreams in prison, sometimes with plots that seem to run all night long, though I know they don’t. That dream and many others very much like it have been both the cause and effect of anxiety, a problem that every prisoner seems to have in abundance. What’s central to the plot in every variation of the dream is the fact that I am a priest being pursued by a lynch mob.

A lot of people don’t know that “lynch mob” is a term that originated just after America’s Revolutionary War. In 1780, after America gained its independence from Great Britain, Colonial Army Captain William Lynch of Virginia organized his own private army. It was a band of former soldiers intent on seeking and punishing Loyalists, Colonists who remained loyal to Britain during the war. Too often, Captain Lynch’s only evidence came from anonymous informants, and with that spectral evidence he and his mob descended upon farms to summarily convict and hang their occupants. Hence the term, “Lynch mob” which used to be capitalized in the English lexicon.

My lynch mob dream is interesting because from it you can easily pinpoint some of the reality that has befallen many accused priests. With policies that left accused priests standing alone and exposed outside Church doors, the mob – aka, SNAP, VOTF, and much of the secular and Catholic press – closed in for trials without evidence and condemnations without defense. I happen to know first hand that once a priest is so condemned to wear the scarlet letter of accusation, there is great resistance in some Chancery offices to hearing any defense.

Some might think it’s risky to write of such dreams on These Stone Walls. Some think I shouldn’t let people into my psyche so openly, but there’s really not that much going on in here. Besides, I found that writing about the troublesome lynch mob dream robbed it of its power, and I haven’t had it since. Others have come to take its place, however, and I had one recently.

In this new emanation of the dream, I was brought in chains to a court hearing on our new appeal that has been ever so slowly evolving in fits and start since it was filed one year ago. In the new dream, I stood before a judge who in the end ordered all my chains removed and declared me to be free. The lawyers all congratulated each other and shook my hand in the dream, and then they got into their cars and left me standing on the courthouse steps alone. With my bonds of 18 years suddenly removed, I was free. I was also tired and hungry and I realized with anxiety in the dream that for over 18 years I had been a non-person. I had no money, no identity – at least no identity that anyone in my diocese dared acknowledge – and no place to go.

Then it was night in the dream, and I was on the city streets again. I knew I had been there many times before, but there was no mob. I walked to the only place I knew, the parish where I once served 30 years ago. A priest I once knew opened the door and declared, “I cannot help you,” then slammed the door leaving me in the cold. I went into the church through a back door found open, and I fell asleep in a pew, the Blessed Sacrament’s vigil candle burning brightly just a few feet away.

I don’t think I had ever had a dream about falling asleep before. Anyway while it was still dark, I was awakened in the pew by my brother priest who had called the police to have me charged me with trespassing. The chains removed just hours earlier were put back on me, and I was taken back to prison, full circle, to where the dream about freedom began.

The priest at the rectory door, and his “I cannot help you” comment, was also a real experience that Ryan MacDonald wrote of in an article entitled “To Azazel: Father Gordon MacRae and the Gospel of Mercy.” It wounded me deeply when it happened a few years ago. It troubled me again when I read it in Ryan’s article, and yet again when it entered my midwinter night’s bad dream. Obviously, my psyche and soul are telling me that it needs some attention.


Ryan MacDonald’s use of the term, “To Azazel” in his title was very clever. It’s a mysterious term, used in Scripture on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when the high priest placed his hands on a goat upon which was imposed all the sins and transgressions of the people. This Scripture passage in the Book of Leviticus (16: 8-10; 20-28) was the origin of the term “scapegoat.” The scapegoat was then sent into the desert, “To Azazel.”

The actual meaning of “Azazel” is uncertain. It appears to be both a name and a place, or even a social standing. According to the Jewish Apocryphal book, 1 Enoch (8:1; 10: 4-6), Azazel is the name of a fallen angel, a demon of the desert. The name also denotes the region to which the scapegoat is sent bearing the sins of others. Its place in the desert is the land of the lost, a place from which the scapegoat is never allowed to return.

One of our earliest TSW subscribers is Jacob, a devoutly Jewish man from the San Francisco Bay area. Jacob writes to me on occasion, though as usual I’m very delinquent in responding. One of Jacob’s letters has always stood out. He wrote that the pursuit of justice is valued very highly in the Jewish community. He wrote that the Torah admonishes us three times that, “Justice, justice, justice shalt thou seek.”

Catholics – and I’m not excluding bishops and priests – could learn a few things about justice from our spiritual ancestors, the Jews. Late last month, a TSW reader sent me an example in a surprising December 16 blog post entitled “Father Gordon MacRae – Imprisoned for Abuse Payoff?” It was posted by psychologist and rabbinical scholar, Daas Torah on his website of the same name. The site is subtitled “Issues of Jewish Identity.” Daas Torah has authored several books on child and domestic abuse in the Jewish community and is considered an expert in this field.

After a decade of official Catholic efforts to appear sufficiently harsh and unmerciful in heavy-handed condemnation of accused priests, Catholic leaders might take a cue from Daas Torah and the Jewish community’s grappling with these same issues. Some of the comments by Daas Torah’s readers on his post about me reveal a basic tenet of justice that somehow became lost as we addressed the burgeoning Catholic scandal a decade ago. Daas Torah’s Jewish readers are firm in their opinion that victims of real abuse are not at all served by presumptions of guilt and sabotaging the rights of the accused. Here’s an example by a commentator reacting to Daas Torah’s presentation of the case against me:

“Innocent victims who were targeted by false allegations . . . is another thing the victim community does not want to hear . . . Don’t assume that all victims consider themselves to be well-represented by the political activists. Many victims are exceptionally sensitive to injustice. This is also true in the Catholic community, where groups like SNAP want to bury cases like MacRae’s because they undermine sound-bite propaganda.”

Daas Torah’s post included a link to a 2012 update on this story. As a prisoner with no on-line access, I had only a printed version that was sent to me so I had to ask someone to go online to find out what this “update” link was. Surprisingly, it’s a link to an article by Ryan MacDonald entitled, “Judge Arthur Brennan Sentenced Father Gordon MacRae to Die in Prison.

Fellow Catholics, take note of this. Salvation came to us from the Jews. And lest any of us wonder whether Catholics are ready to hear another side of this decade of scandal in the Catholic Church, we need look no further than The Media Report which a few weeks ago posted its year end “Top Ten Stories of 2012.” In Part 2 of that post, the Top Five, The Media Report’s most visited and cited story of 2012 was David Pierre’s coverage of my defense in “Exclusive Report: Alarming New Evidence May Exonerate Imprisoned Priest.”

Whether 2013 brings freedom remains an uphill climb, but there are signs that it may at least bring forth truth, and there is indeed a certain freedom in truth. The loud lynch mob of SNAP and VOTF have toned down their rhetoric noticeably as facts and new evidence emerged over the last year. Just as in my dream, most of them seem to have simply disappeared.

I have never issued a plea that my brother priests and bishop open the rectory doors to take up the cause of my defense. That would be a lot to ask as the lynch mob roams the streets. But there is a defense, and it is the truth, and a blatant refusal to hear it leaves justice in the realm of Azazel.

In our “Hits and Misses of 2012,” I cited Bill Donohue at The Catholic League and David Pierre at The Media Report for being undaunted witnesses to the truth. And I am very much aware of the dozens of dedicated Catholic bloggers who routinely cite and link to These Stone Walls. They include Bishop Rene Gracida at Abyssus Abyssum, Father George David Byers at Holy Souls Hermitage, Father John Zuhlsdorf at What Does the Prayer Really Say?, and Deacon John Giglio at Deacon John’s Space, Scott Reichert at About.com Catholicism, and our very own graphic artist, Vincenzo, at Sancte Pater.

Many others have carried links to some posts on These Stone Walls including Spirit Daily, the National Catholic Register blog, Catholic Canada, New Zealand Conservative, Friends of Justice, and dozens of others. I add to them the example of Daas Torah for whom justice and truth are clearly not expendable as he grapples with these same issues in the Orthodox Jewish community.

In 2012, These Stone Walls had nearly a quarter-million pageviews thanks to you. No midwinternight’s bad dream can stand against those open to truth and justice.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please nominate These Stone Walls for the About Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.  Please log in and vote in each of these categories!  Just copy/paste this info:

These Stone Walls


Best Catholic Blog

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Fr. Gordon J. MacRae


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About Fr. Gordon J. MacRae

The late Cardinal Avery Dulles and The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus encouraged Father MacRae to write. Cardinal Dulles wrote in 2005: “Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials.” READ MORE


  1. Frank Faas says:

    I am the founder of sanctuary house that welcomes all former inmates to live there this welcome is also given thru this site to any catholic priest who feels he has no place to go to feel safe and secure after having “the scarlet letter” hung on him sanctuary house needs clergy for Masses and if the clergy wants to remain there being part of our laity brotherhood of the passion of Christ contemplative life style more info can be received by writing me at:
    San tuaryhouse2@yahoo.com

    All such contact is strictly confidential.
    This ministry has been around since 1979 and for such men mentioned specifically since 1985

  2. Joann says:

    Pornchai said it best. You never have been, nor will you ever be alone, as the Lord is always at your side.
    Also, there is a whole “mob” of TSW readers who support you and are on your side.
    God bless all those who help you get the truth out, and those who write so eloquently in your defense.
    May the Lord answer our prayers and give you back your freedom and your priesthood.
    Come, Holy Spirit, and open the hearts and minds of those who need to see and hear the truth, and have the power to act on it.

  3. Fr Gordon ,Will continue too pray for, IHS.

  4. Helen says:

    Hello, once again, Fr. Gordon….

    While reading about Your very painful journey, today, my mind was envisioning our Holy Mama wrapping Her Mantle of love and protection, widely, around You and Your tortured thoughts and dreams. Fr. Gordon, I hope and pray that this becomes a reality for You. You surely do need some sense of peace and comfort. Where else but from the Holy Mother of God, Himself?
    I DO pray for You, EVERY single morning, since I first ‘met’ You, a few years ago. However, I will surely put more heart into asking for peace, for You.

    Fr. Gordon, having doors slammed in Your face must be a crushing experience. The vivid picture of Your dream, that You’ve articulated so well, must be heart-wrenching and surreal. The devastation and hurt is paralyzing. I am so deeply sorry for Your suffering. Your experiences are daunting.

    Thank You, so much, for Your continued courage in posting these love letters. It surely does show us how some do suffer so greatly…and has the power to ‘pour heaping coals of fire on our heads’. I see myself, often, complaining, even to myself, about my own difficulties and then, I come and read Your posts, and it helps me to realize that I don’t have it so badly. But, it also helps to remind me that we are ALL in this, together, and Your best back-up is our prayers and offerings.

    God bless, heal and comfort You, while giving You His strength and peace, until His time of Your freedom.

    Until we meet again…. I am gratefully yours,


  5. Lupe says:

    There are so many people who would be honored and blessed to have you as their guest and minister of their souls. Please let everyone know when that blessed hour of freedom comes. We will at least be with you in prayer. You can come to my house anytime and stay forever.
    You are the scapegoat of the darkened ones, but so was Jesus.

  6. Barbara Klosner says:

    Fr Gordon,
    If the church door was closed to you in your dream, then who is it open to? Your strong faith is the key to open the door for all of us faithful to God’s mercy, so much needed in these days of chaos and confusion! Thank you for standing strong in faithfulness to our good Lord, who has and will continue to use you to shepherd His people.
    I thank Fr George and Our Lady for bringing your story to my attention.
    My continued prayers for your freedom but especially for the strength to continue God’s work from where you are.

  7. I found it a bit hard to actually figure out how to vote. But, those others of you trying to vote, persevere, there really is a way. Comments on the site showed that others had trouble voting too. Don’t give up easily! It’s worth it!

  8. abg says:

    Forever in my prayers Fr Gordon.

  9. MaryK says:

    Fr Gordon-
    Recently I responded on FACEBOOK to CNN’s Piers Morgan after listening to a crude rant from a guest, castigating Piers for his anti-assault weapon stand. The guest, who claims to own 50 guns, was one of the instigators on a petition to send Piers back to Britain. My response strongly supported Piers and stated my negative opinion of the guest.

    Within 24 hours of my post, I was “unfriended” by 3 people. I smiled and chalked that up to a badge of honor. But, I didn’t have to spend 18 years in prison for my opinions as you have done for simply being a priest.

    It is my hope and prayer that 2013 brings you freedom. I applaud you for your grace in suffering.

  10. Domingo says:

    I wonder if something went wrong but for a long while, I have not been receiving your updates, Father, via e-mail. However, I have not forgotten to pray for you at Mass, especially when I have not been hearing from you.

    Your dreams are so vivid and they almost sound too real. I am participating in the 90-day Bible Challenge and we have just gone through the story of Joseph, the ‘Dreamer’. I’m curious as to how he would interpret yours.

    When summoned by Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, Joseph replied, “It is not I, but God, who will respond to the well-being of Pharaoh.” (Gen 41:16)

    The LORD Who sees everything, Father, will respond to your well-being.

  11. Josefina Caliso, OFS says:

    Dear Father Gordon:
    My parish, St Stanislaus Kosta in Chicago will hopefully resume its 24/7 Adoration. The church is much undergoing restoration/renovation so Adoration is 4pm-715am Monday-Friday and 24 hours weekends for now. Our pastor is a holy priest and he consecrated our parish to Our Lady.He wrote A Mother’s Plea re this. St Stanislaus Kostka Church is always there for you. Our monstrance is called “Our Lady of the Sign, the Ark of Mercy”. Josephine+

    • Mary says:

      We were at a church that had a beautiful monstrance with the Blessed
      Mother as the base holding up the Eucharist.
      At the circular base of the monstrance were the words:
      “To Jesus Through Mary”

  12. Gail Ramplen says:

    Father Gordon, I pray for you constantly, Courage. The last mile is the hardest when frustration and doubt raise their heads to engulf us. As the saying goes, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. I wish the hierarchy, not to mention the secular forces who value justice, would have the moral fibre to support you and the wisdom and generosity to work out a plan for your rehabilitation. The shame is America’s.
    God bless

  13. dympna says:

    please God Truth and Justice will prevail in 2013! God bless and strengthen you now and in the years to come.

  14. Anthony Wheeler says:

    This left me with a really dark and creepy feeling about the very nature of scapegoats. I have read somewhere that the official Catholic response to accused priests over the last decade has been more Calvinist than Catholic. I think I read this in an article by Ryan Macdonald, and he is right on target. The bishops must protect young people, of course, but as Daas Torah points out, no one does that by destroying the rights of the accused and then casting them into the desert. As always this was very well written.

  15. Bernadette McK says:

    What a beautiful message from Fr George. There must be so many who would like to meet you ‘on the courtyard steps’. I am sure the steps would not be big enough to contain everyone. All those of us who have followed you behind the stone walls via your inspirational blog would wish to be there.

    Continuing prayers for you Fr Gordon from the other side of the pond.

    • Karen says:

      Well said, Bernadette! My sentiments exactly, and since I am here in New Hampshire, maybe I can be be at those steps!
      Fr. Gordon, I pray that 2013 is the year that you will be vindicated and released, and that you will be warmly welcomed back in to our Catholic community. It has been too long!

  16. Patricia says:

    Father I pray to the Blessed Mother and ask her to send all the choir of Virtue Angels to your aid.

    Fr. Byers is right this is you Father Gordon at your best….

    St. Michael protect Fr.Gordon.

    Hebrews 13:3

    • Gina Nakagawa says:

      I nominated you for all three categories, Father. If worst comes to worst, there is an extra room in our home that you would be most welcome to use. It would be an honor.

      I have to tell you, we have had goats. We love goats. They are smart, warm-hearted, and have a wonderful sense of humor!

      God bless and keep you, Father

  17. Father Gordon,

    Please God, I’ll meet you on the courthouse steps, and, please God, there will always be a Holy Souls Hermitage in which you can take refuge.

    Prayers and blessings, in solidarity. I beg yours.

    Father George David Byers

    • Marie says:

      There is nothing more admirable and consoling to us faithful, but to see a priest standing by his fellow brother priest! God Bless you both, Fr. Gordon and Fr. George!

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