Why the Catholic Abuse Narrative Needs a Fraud Task Force

A decade of disasters and a surge in fraud led the Justice Department to form the Disaster Fraud Task Force, but who investigates fraud against Catholic priests?

“‘Well, if you want to accuse a priest of something, I can have $50-grand in your account by the end of the year – a $100,000 settlement split fifty-fifty.’ Randy was shaking with enthusiasm as he stood at my door. He said he told the lawyer that he lives in a cellblock with a Catholic priest who has been accused. ‘Even better!’ the lawyer reportedly said. ‘Tell him where you grew up and see if he can get you a name.’ ” (“Let’s Play ‘Name That Priest,’ “ Sancte Pater, July 26, 2011).

It described a scene that could have come right out of a John Grisham novel. In the middle of the blistering hot New England summer of 2011, the terrific blog, Sancte Pater, published an excerpt of a TSW post I wrote and gave the segment a name of its own. “Let’s Play ‘Name That Priest’ ” was posted on Sancte Pater on July 26. 2011. It wasn’t long – just a few paragraphs – but readers said it awoke their fury, like being doused with ice water on the hottest summer day. It’s a good context for this post about fraud, so have a look at those few paragraphs at Sancte Pater.

SNAP spokespersons and the contingency lawyers who have funded them may minimize or deny the existence of fraud in the Catholic sex abuse story, but it’s a denial of human nature. David Pierre’s media watchdog site, The Media Report has been especially vigilant about exposing some of the fraud. The evidence is all around us, and not only in the narrative of our own millstone of Catholic scandal. Fraud is by no means new or surprising in the field of personal injury law.

After the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, damage and loss settlements by British Petroleum (BP) have swelled to $8.5 billion. In the wake of those settlements, however, federal prosecutors have thus far charged 125 people across the United States with defrauding the BP fund. And they are currently examining over 4,000 other suspicious claims referred to the Justice Department for further investigation.

Some of the convictions and guilty pleas in the BP case have involved settlements of $1 million or more. Joseph Harvey and Anja Karin Kannell of Florida, for example, were sentenced in September 2012 to more than 13 years in prison for attempts to defraud the BP fund by making claims using 34 assumed identities. A Massachusetts man will soon be sentenced after pleading guilty to wire fraud. He falsely claimed that he owned four shrimping vessels, was put out of work by the spill, and is on his deathbed due to the stress of losing his business which never existed. Many of the smaller fraud attempts included people claiming to have been hotel and restaurant workers who lost income when the spill ruined the 2010 tourist season.

No one involved in the BP fraud investigation is claiming that all the con artists are caught. For everyone prosecuted, there could be a dozen others who successfully cashed in on a scam. The Disaster Fraud Task Force, an arm of the Justice Department, was established after a similar spate of fraudulent claims following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Similar fraud and shocking fraud attempts were seen in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A spate of false claims also followed compensation of Vietnam veterans injured by the use of Agent Orange.

The prosecution of false claims in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill should catch the eye of Catholics, however, because of a glaring similarity. The daily reports of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, and the resultant barrage of claims of negligence and complicity in the damages put British Petroleum on the moral defensive. Just as in the Catholic abuse story, few wanted to go on record in defense of an institution that allowed such a disaster to happen. It was precisely under the cover of that moral outrage that false claimants by the hundreds, or even thousands, got away with millions in BP settlements, and are only now being investigated and prosecuted.


But after more than a decade of mediated settlements approaching $3 billion related to an onslaught of very old claims of abuse by Catholic priests in the United States alone, there seems no interest whatsoever among either Church or civil authorities in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting false claims against priests despite overwhelming evidence that false claimants have defrauded the Church.

I wrote of some of that evidence eight years ago in an article for Catalyst, the Catholic League Journal, entitled “Sex Abuse and Signs of Fraud” (November 2005). I profiled the story of a Boston area Catholic family, Sean Murphy, then age 37, his mother, Sylvia, and his younger brother. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, in a rare gesture of questioning an account put forward by claimed victims of sexual abuse, began investigating the Murphys after they demanded $850,000 from the Archdiocese of Boston.

That amount was to be their compensation for abuse they claimed to have suffered at the hands of Father John Geoghan, a priest accused in high profile news stories in Boston. Sean Murphy’s elderly mother became part of the investigation when she forged school records in an attempt to place her two sons in one of the communities where Father Geoghan once served decades earlier. Shortly after the Murphy claim was filed, but not made public, 41-year-old Byron Worth filed a claim from the opposite side of the state with virtually identical details of abuse.

In 2001, Sean Murphy, his mother Sylvia, and Byron Worth were indicted by a Massachusetts grand jury for conspiracy, larceny, and soliciting others to commit larceny. An investigation revealed that a year or so before filing their claims, Sean Murphy and Byron Worth had been inmates at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Shirley, MA where they first met and concocted their scam.

Upon release from prison, they relocated 100 miles apart from each other to give the appearance of independently corroborating their respective claims. They were both sent back to prison for just shy of two more years for the scam. After serving that brief sentence, Sean Murphy was convicted again, this time for a scam involving stolen Super Bowl memorabilia.

The Murphy’s fraud attempt was brought at the height of news media coverage of the many claims for civil damages alleging abuse by Father John Geoghan. Ironically, Geoghan was eventually sentenced to, and then murdered in, the very same prison where Sean Murphy and Byron Worth laid out their plans for the scam and then chose John Geoghan as their target.

The Geoghan case was the very foundation upon which the Catholic Scandal of 2002 was built, and the United States Bishops’ Dallas Charter, and its zero tolerance measures, were enacted. The news media and many secular and Catholic writers committed a fraud of their own by presenting without challenge a view that the Geoghan case was the norm, a clear and typical example of the narrative of abuse and cover-up that dominated media reports of the Catholic scandal for a decade. This was another example of the “Availability Bias” I described last week in “Strike the Shepherd! Behind the Plot to Smear the Pope.”

I wrote of other details in the troubling Father Geoghan case in a 2011 post entitled “SNAP Judgments Part II: Ground Zero of the Catholic Scandal.” It was very much unlike anything else that the Boston area news media had published to date on this topic. It raised a point about fraud that is very widely overlooked: A claim for damages resulting from sexual abuse can be fraudulent even though the claim of abuse itself can be true.

“Court TV” covered John Geoghan’s criminal trial live. Like all criminal trials on Court TV then, prisoners were riveted to their TV screens. One after another during the Geoghan trial, a steady stream of prisoners carne to my cell door to register their outrage. Prisoners are always outraged at sexual abuse, but this time their outrage was not aimed at Geoghan, but at his accuser who in their view was a victim of more than Geoghan’s abuse. He was a victim also of his own greed.

In the only case to result in a criminal trial and testimony under oath in the entire nebulous story of Father John Geoghan, the 20-something year old accuser testified on camera – his identity and face obscured – that a dozen years earlier Geoghan approached him in a community swimming pool. Under the guise of helping the youth climb out of the pool, Geoghan allegedly squeezed his buttocks. This, the witness claimed in his simultaneous civil lawsuit, caused him to suffer a dozen years of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) worthy of six figures in compensatory and punitive damages.

Did the abuse occur? I had and have no reason whatsoever to doubt that young man was telling the truth. Did the damages occur?

Without exception, the prisoners who heard this testimony laughed at the claim, were outraged that it was brought with a straight face, and then were enthralled with the fact that it resulted not only in a conviction and nine-year death sentence for the elderly priest, but a six-figure settlement from the Archdiocese of Boston. The settlement dangled a lure that would have many takers. In the end, both before and after his death at the hands of another inmate in a Massachusetts prison, Geoghan had some 130 accusers all seeking mediated settlements with no offers of proof.

Without doubt, many or most of these claims against Father John Geoghan were true, and absolutely destructive. However, I defy anyone to explain to me how justice was served in that case while the abuse described in “Divine Mercy and the Doors of My Prisons,” a recent guest post at Holy Souls Hermitage, has stayed off everyone’s radar screen for over two decades.


In the March, 2012 issue of Catalyst, Ave Maria University Law professor Father Michael Orsi wrote a compelling article entitled “Bogus Charges Against Priests Abound.” It was a summary of the well-researched book by The Media Report’s David F. Pierre that we profiled here on These Stone Walls in “A Book Every Priest Should Read: Catholic Priests Falsely Accused.” Father Orsi described my own case as an example of “priests found guilty due to false or dubious claims.” I appreciated that, but what was really behind his interest in affairs of my own Diocese was how very much the ripple effect from notorious claims in Boston spilled over into the neighboring Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, and then spread throughout the U.S.

Ryan A. MacDonald wrote of some of the issues of justice behind the scenes of my own charges in a brief post entitled “A Touch of Deja Vu” that was another dousing with ice water for some. How the exchange of money became so central in my case and others like it was an important and alarming part of David Pierre’s book. The following paragraph is a challenge to those who still believe that due process is justly afforded to priests:

“In 2002, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire faced accusations of abuse from 62 individuals. Rather than spending the resources and the time looking into the merits of the cases, ‘Diocese officials did not even ask for specifics such as dates and specific allegations for the claims’ the New Hampshire Union Leader reported. ‘Some victims made claims in the past month, and because of the timing of negotiations gained closure in just a matter of days,’ reported the Nashua Telegraph. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ a pleased, and much richer, plaintiff attorney admitted.” (Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, p. 80)

In “The Truth About Falsely Accused Priests,” an interview with Catholic World Report, David F. Pierre laid out the foundations for how fraud has flourished in the Catholic abuse narrative. Father George David Byers has also masterfully unmasked such fraud in his recent analysis of The National Catholic Risk Retention Group.

It would be a step in the direction of justice for priests if this post and these accounts of fraud were among the information now being presented to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As Ryan MacDonald concluded so succinctly in more than one analysis of the Catholic scandal, “Greed ranks right up there with lust among the Seven Deadly Sins.”


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. elizabeth says:

    this is all news to me. I am appalled, but not really surprised. I am so sick of being attacked for my Faith and beaten over the head with the abusive Priests scandal club. It’s as if the entire world just waited for such an excuse to pounce. Learning about this, makes me realize my suffering is NOTHING compared to that of innocent Priests, wrongly convicted Priests especially. A new form of martyrdom & suffering maybe, but horrible injustice which needs to be corrected. I cannot imagine what smoke of Satan causes our own Church hierarchy to betray our Priests. I will pray and learn more. god Bless

    • Robert Saunders says:

      It can be very challenging to be a Christian, and even more so to be a good one at that! However, I feel that if I am a Catholic practising Christian , the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
      ‘everything exposed by the light becomes visible, as every that becomes visible is light. ‘ Paul to Ephesians(5:13-14?)
      Please Heavenly Father, keep all my dark sins in the dark where they belong , and all those Children of Yours, God, who are deeply sorry for their sins of the darkness! I ask forgiveness again in the name of your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

  2. Diane Rowe says:

    Father – I work w/my Diocese on a prison ministry team. I read your articles often. In prison, the men who admit their crimes fare pretty well, they can and do find a purpose and renewed faith if they can strive for forgiveness and redemption. How terribly sad when an inmate tells his story and insists upon his innocence and you just get a sense that really and truly he has been wrongfully convicted. No one will listen. If you are in jail the thought (with rolled eyse accompanying) is “yes, you are all innocent”. Not true. I deal with many who will say – I did a bad thing. But my heart really breaks for those who say – I did not do this. I see the pain, and while alI can offer is my prayers and support – I cannot get involved in the cases, we are in a different role, I do see up close that this a despairing and heart wrenching thing. You are in my pryaers and I can see that God is really using you. Small comfort when I am sure you long to take a walk on a sandy beach, or enjoy a baseball game, ride a bike…May God continue to give you strength daily. One day, this will all make sense to you. Jesus will be with you face to face and all the questions will go away. Just glory. In the meantime, bless you. Stay strong.

  3. Justamom says:

    I want to be first in line on that Fraud Task Force. As the parent of a child that was abused by the group that comprises the MAJORITY of their sick abuse on children–family members–I am disgusted at the incessant and immediate attacks, accusations, immediate blog comments etc. against the clergy, even when it is an article on a non-abuse related subject, these people invade and reduce the comments to “they are pedophiles” etc.

    I believe the non-stop commenting and accusations against Priests are not only part of an attempt to destroy the Church, but also done by your “everyday” non-clergy predators in order to take suspicion away from them.

    and it
    frightens me
    makes me sick.
    Just sick.

  4. Juan says:

    Father Gordon,

    Thank you for your thorough account of some important truths – so often manipulated, ignored and even rejected – concerning the Abuse of the Abuse Crisis. At times I had to read twice to convince me I had read right.

    I wholeheartedly subscribe to your desire that your post and these accounts make it to the Vatican. It appears as something obvious that the Vatican has the moral duty to do something practical about the Abuse of the Abuse Crisis. This matter (and others too) may encounter rough waters out there but “nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37) and this surely is a holy enterprise.

    Easter blessings to you, Father Gordon; to you, Pornchai; and to everybody else in the house and outside the house as well.


  5. Dorothy R. Stein says:

    I just posted this comment on Father Byers’ site, but it fits very well here since you mentioned settlements from the Diocese of Manchester, NH. Let’s be fair and just, and also thorough. I just found this article from a link on These Stone Walls. The Judas Crisis manifests itself in many more ways than in the relationship between bishops, priests and insurance companies, and the perfect example comes right out of the State of New Hampshire where the Diocese of Manchester is located. Edward C. Domaingue, who was editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader for 28 years, wrote editorials excoriating accused priests, the Diocese of Manchester, and Father Gordon MacRae himself. Last month, Edward Domaingue was arrested on child pornography charges after being turned in to the police by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Additional charges are expected. If Mr. Domaingue were a Catholic priest like Father MacRae, the story of his arrest for child pornography trafficking would have been a front page headline. Being the statewide newspaper’s recently retired editor, however, the story was buried in a three-inch blurb deep inside the paper. Father MacRae was right in one of his posts awhile back. “Be wary of crusaders!” The Judas Crisis seems to be an epidemic in the “Live Free or Die State.”

  6. Jeannie Ash says:

    Of course the Catholic church needs a fraud task force, as does America, but it may have been that not until now, when we live in times as wicked as the Old Testament, has the youngest generation been put in the position to hold up a mirror to three generations of degeneracy.

    An article came out a few weeks ago positing that what was happening in the church was completely in line with what was happening out in the secular culture then AND now. Those pushing most for this kangaroo justice are such hypocrites that the high priests and pharisees would be busy taking notes.

    I do believe that the appointments made by John Paul II and of Benedict XVI are now coming of age with a Pope who can vigorously walk the walk completely immune to any attempt to similarly smear him with the ‘scandal’, and primed by the massive work done by his predecessors and himself fired by the tribulation of his years in Latin America.

    I foresee martyrs, but I also foresee a future born of it. Your witness and the growing support by people who cannot be dismissed as silly, bigoted or malicious will be of immeasurable worth.

    God bless you, Father Gordon.

  7. philip says:

    As you know, your persecution is closely united to Christs and many Saints. You will not be abandoned as they we’re not abandoned, rather the messengers from God will continue to frequent your heart, bringing with them solice, divine refreshment and the acknowledgment that in this persecution many, many young men are entering the seminaries to prove the passage; “Where sin abounds, Grace abounds all the more.”
    Take courage. You are persona Christi.
    Peace. St. Maximilian Kolbe is interceding on your behalf.

  8. Fr Gordon , I shall continue to pray for you & Pornchai, IHS.

  9. jacquie miles says:

    Of course we need a Fraud Task Force……………….but will we ever get one? I was told by a priest years ago that of all the different churches, the Catholic Church will be attacked more than others. Why? He went on to say because it is the one true church & the devil must attack it. He knows the other churches will fall but the Church will always prevail.

  10. Claire says:

    I do hope someone in the Church Hierarchy brings these cases to the Pope’s attention. How do bishops who allow their priests to be attacked this way think they will not be called to account for this injustice by Jesus Christ himself. I often think of this when I pray for yourself and all falsely accused priests. God is not a disinterested spectator in the affairs of men…be they priests or bishops. God love you. Praying for you and your friend Pornchai.

  11. Gina Nakagawa says:

    Great article and so very sadly true!

  12. Mary Jean Scudieri says:

    Hi Father!

    My prayer every day is that this will be addressed by our new Pope, Francis.
    Too many of the hierarchy have thrown too many good people under the bus. Makes me wonder why.
    I will share this article so that others will become aware and hopefully pass it on also. Blessings to you and Pornchai.

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