Truth in Justice:
Was the Wrong Catholic Priest Sent to Prison?
By Ryan A. MacDonald
The judge and jury who sent Father Gordon MacRae to prison in 1994 did not know that his accusers also accused another priest who fled the state before trial.
In the last decade of media coverage of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, scant attention has been paid to the probability of false claims against innocent priests. When one understands the role of the contingency fee bar in the mediated settlements of claims against Catholic dioceses, it becomes a virtual certainty that some priests have been falsely accused for money.
One such case was profiled in a riveting two-part series of articles by Dorothy Rabinowitz (“A Priest’s Story,” The Wall Street Journal, April 27/28, 2005). Ms. Rabinowitz was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her compelling disclosures about false witness and witch hunt sexual abuse prosecutions in American courts of law. Her coverage of the travesty by which Father Gordon MacRae was convicted is a troubling account of how justice can be distorted by accusers and lawyers who have a financial stake in its outcome. It’s a story, as described by the late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus in First Things magazine (June/July 2009), “of a Church and a justice system that seem indifferent to justice.”
One glaring omission from the prosecutorial rhetoric in the Father MacRae case is the fact that he could have left prison over fourteen years ago had he actually been guilty and willing to say so. On multiple occasions before and during his 1994 trial, MacRae was offered pre-trial plea deals by the state’s prosecutor with the approval of his accusers. In exchange for a plea of guilty in lieu of a trial, MacRae could have served a prison sentence of only one to three years and could have left prison over fourteen years ago. Of course, the jury never knew of MacRae’s repeated refusals of such a deal.
Judge Arthur Brennan, however, likely did know of this when he sentenced the priest to sixty-seven years in prison, more than twenty times the maximum sentence that the state was prepared to impose if MacRae would plead guilty.
The National Center for Reason and Justice (www.ncrj.org) now endorses the appellate defense of Father Gordon MacRae, and sponsors a website at www.TheseStoneWalls.com. It contains a comprehensive case history for which this writer and others contributed substantial research. The late Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote that case of Father Gordon MacRae “must come to light and will be instrumental in a reform.” Most other Catholic Church officials, however, have carefully avoided looking too deeply into this matter. Their silence about it is becoming a scandal of its own.
There is a good deal more that Father MacRae’s jury never knew, and more even than the story uncovered by Dorothy Rabinowitz and exposed in The Wall Street Journal. Her articles described well that police and prosecutors who depicted Gordon MacRae as a serial offender ignored the fact that his accusers were serial victims who had accused others of the identical behaviors they attributed to Father MacRae while demanding settlements from the Catholic Church.
There is far more to this story, however, than what has to date appeared in print. The central accusers in the 1994 criminal prosecution of Fr. Gordon MacRae also accused another priest. This fact never came before MacRae’s jury, and has never appeared in any media coverage of the case. How that priest – Father Stephen Scruton – evaded questions from Church and state officials and the news media for years is a perplexing mystery. The story of Fr. Stephen Scruton’s presence in this case was hidden in plain sight, and raises many questions about the truthfulness of the accusers and the integrity of the investigation and prosecution of MacRae. Here are the facts: In June of 1990, twenty year old “T.B.” met with Keene, NH police detective James McLaughlin for an interview about a claim that he was sexually assaulted at the age of fifteen by Father Stephen Scruton. What follows is a segment of Detective McLaughlin’s report of that interview.(Note: this and other verbatim excerpts from police reports contain graphic sexual content):
Case No. 90035705 Report dated June 20. 1990. pQ06; “Father Scruton was a regular at the YMCA. [TB] went to the YMCA with Father Scruton…When they did arrive they decided to use the hot tub…[TB] showed me on a diagram where he and Father Scruton were seated…At one point Father Scruton took one of his feet and placed it between [TB’s] legs and rubbed his genitals…The touching was intentional and not a mistake. A rubbing motion was used by Father Scruton. To lift his foot and place it between [TB’s] legs would have been an intentional act…I asked [T.B.] where he stood on civil lawsuits.”
In his reports about this claim, Det. McLaughlin described in detail that his interviews with “T.B.” were both audio and video recorded and the recordings were preserved as evidence. The detective also described that he arranged for “T.B.” to undergo a polygraph test. (According to “T.B.”, today, Fr. Scruton was also asked to take a polygraph, but refused).
In the end, Fr. Scruton entered a plea of guilty to a charge of misdemeanor sexual assault. He was sentenced to probation and a suspended jail term. “T.B.” went on to file a lawsuit against the Diocese of Manchester and received an undisclosed settlement.
Three years before the “T.B.” claim, Fr. Stephen Scruton was placed on administrative leave by the Diocese of Manchester. On Easter Sunday afternoon in 1987, Fr. Scruton was charged in Keene with indecent exposure and homosexual activity at a local park. According to the police report, Scruton cited the stress of Holy Week services as the cause of his arrest.
PART II: DEJA VU
Two years after Det. McLaughlin’s report about Scruton molesting “T.B.” with his foot in the hot tub of the YMCA, the detective interviewed another Keene resident with an identical claim, this time alleging that two priests – Fr. Stephen Scruton and Fr. Gordon MacRae – molested him simultaneously.
In 1992, 23-year-old Jonathan (Jon) Grover was discharged from the U.S. Navy following a DUI arrest. He and “T.B.” above knew each other and had attended the same high school in Keene. On August 27, 1992, Jon Grover became the first of three adult brothers to accuse Fr. Gordon MacRae of sexual abuse alleged to have occurred over a decade earlier. In his first of several interviews with Det. McLaughlin, Grover accused both Fr. Gordon MacRae and Fr. Stephen Scruton:
Case No. 93010850 Report dated Aug. 27, 1992. p002. ¶1;
“[Jonathan] Grover also gave information about another priest identified as Father Scruton as also sexually abusing him on at least two occasions.”
-Also on p003, ¶4;
“When [Jonathan] Grover was twelve (12) or thirteen (13) years old he would spend nights in the Keene rectory (St. Bernards). Father MacRae would fondle and perform fellatio on Grover when he spent the night. On one of these visits…Father Scruton came into the room and continued the oral sex (fellatio) on Grover.”
-Also on p004. ¶3;
After racquetball at the YMCA Father MacRae would have [Jonathan] Grover take a whirl pool with him and at times Father Scruton joined them. It was during these times that Grover would be seated in the whirlpool and both Father MacRae and Father Scruton would be joined in conversation and they would alternate in rubbing their foot against his genitals. Grover was unsure if the priests were acting in concert or if they were unaware of each other’s actions.”
There were multiple problems with Grover’s claims, not least being that the detective who wrote the report is the same detective who wrote the report on the identical “T.B.” claim less than two years earlier. In the claims of Jonathan Grover, however, the detective gave no indication that any of the content was the least bit familiar.
It defies belief that a small town police detective could write a report alleging that a priest fondled a teenager’s genitals with his foot in a YMCA hot tub, and then two years later write virtually the same report about the same priest doing the same thing in the same place with another teenager – this time also naming a second priest – and yet there was no mention at all of the Scruton, “T.B.” claim from two years before; no indication that the new claim was at all familiar.
The Jonathan Grover interview above was the first of several reports by Det. McLaughlin detailing claims brought by three adult brothers. Jonathan, David and Thomas Grover all came forward within weeks of each other, all claiming to have been sexually abused as teens more than a decade earlier. All three brothers initially implicated both Father MacRae and Father Scruton acting both together and separately. Yet the file reveals no evidence whatsoever that Fr. Scruton was investigated or even questioned about Jon Grover’s claims.
And that’s only part of the mystery. Det. McLaughlin’s discovery file in the MacRae prosecution revealed a strange document, a transcript from a “Geraldo Rivera Show” dated November 14, 1988 titled, “The Church’s Sexual Watergate.” The transcript appears to have been sent via fax from the “Geraldo Show two years before either of the above reports were written. Here is a segment:
Source; “The Church’s Sexual Watergate.” TI/14/1QRR Geraldo;
“What did the priest do to you, Greg?” Greg Ride; “Around the age of 12 or so, he and I went to a YMCA. And I was an altar boy at the time. And the first time I was ever touched…he began stroking my penis in a hot tub, I believe it was, at a YMCA. From there it went to what you might call role playing in the rectory where the priests stay.”
If three novelists had written the above scripts about sexual abuse in a YMCA hot tub, surely two of them would be accused of plagiarism. But the problems don’t end there. Jonathan Grover stated that he was twelve or thirteen when he spent overnights with Fr. MacRae at the St. Bernard Rectory in Keene, NH. Father MacRae was never there prior to June 15, 1983 when Grover would have been fourteen years old. Fr. Stephen Scruton was never there until mid-June, 1985 when Grover was sixteen years old.
In addition to Jon Grover’s claims about Fr. Scruton in the above reports, Det. McLaughlin had Grover write a letter to Fr. MacRae in a sort of “sting” attempt that failed. From the police file, it appears that Grover declined to write the letter so the detective wrote it posing as Grover based on the information Grover gave him:
Letter of Jonathan Grover dated 10/05/92;
“The sex between us was very special to me…Another thing I need an answer to is about Father Scruton. One night you were having oral sex with me and then left. Father Scruton came in and finished. Were you doing a favor for him? If so shouldn’t you have asked me first?”
After receiving the letter, Father MacRae wrote back stating that he now knows the letter writer cannot be Jonathan Grover because Mr. Grover would know that what was described in that letter never took place.
In a subsequent police report months later, the detective wrote that he gave Grover a copy of Father MacRae’s resume to help him get his dates straight. The detective then covered the discrepancy about Fr. MacRae’s assignment there by editorializing in the report:
“In my experience, victims of sexual abuse remember themselves as being younger than they were at the time of abuse.”
The fix was in, but only in part. Grover still had not yet detected the fact that Fr. Scruton was not present at that parish until two years after Grover’s revised claims about when he was abused. Scruton’s name continued to appear in the interview reports:
Case No. 93010850 Report dated Dec. 1. 1992, p003, f4, 5;
“I spoke with Jon Grover and asked him to think of the two incidents of fellatio by MacRae which took place in the rectory during the summer of 1983.
I asked Jon Grover about who might have seen him stay the night in the rectory. Jon stated that Father Scruton was a witness to his having stayed the night.”
At some point after the above report was written, it was discovered that Fr. Stephen Scruton wasn’t present in Keene until Jonathan Grover was sixteen years old. A legitimate investigator would have at that point questioned whether Grover had been telling the truth. Instead, the name of Fr. Stephen Scruton was simply dropped from all subsequent reports of interviews with Grover as if it had never even come up. It was at that point that Jon Grover’s older brothers, Thomas and David, came forward with their own set of claims.
Det. McLaughlin interviewed Father Scruton in the 1990 “T.B.” claim above, but there is no evidence that he ever asked Scruton if he and Father MacRae simultaneously raped Jon Grover as alleged. In fact, the detective was forced to respond to interrogatories under oath in 1994 with the following inexplicable result:
Question: “Have you ever had a conversation with Rev. Stephen Scruton regarding Gordon MacRae? If so, please indicate the date of the conversation(s) and provide a copy of your report(s) on the conversation(s).”
Answer: “On occasion, I have had conversations with Reverend Stephen Scruton, however, I have no recollection of ever discussing any actions of Gordon MacRae with the Reverend Scruton.”
PART III: NOW COMES DAVID GROVER
In his 1990 report of accusations by 20-year-old “T.B.” against Fr. Stephen Scruton alone, Detective McLaughlin carefully documented that he prepared both audio and video recordings of every interview with “T.B.” in this investigation. In other documents – including articles written by Detective McLaughlin himself in that time period – recording such interviews seemed to be his standard procedure. He even documented that he arranged for “T.B.” to undergo a polygraph examination.
In contrast, not one of his multiple interviews with Jon Grover, David Grover, and Thomas Grover were recorded. In none of his reports of these interviews is there any mention of any recordings at all. This seems to be contrary to the detective’s own protocol and standard operating procedure. Without recordings of interviews it is very difficult to determine what exactly was said in the interviews. We have only the detective’s reports to go on, and they raise many unanswered questions.
After a stint in the U.S. Army, David Grover settled in Colorado Springs, CO. In 1988, at the age of 23, he decided to return to Keene, NH. Grover contacted MacRae asking permission to stay with him for a few weeks instead of returning to his cramped childhood home. MacRae agreed, but with some conditions. Grover had to find work, had to remain substance free, and had to find other housing within three weeks.
Two weeks after his arrival, according to Father MacRae, the 23-year-old had not looked for work, was drinking heavily, and caused a disruption by damaging a neighbor’s car. MacRae asked Grover to leave. Disgruntled, Grover moved in with his adoptive father, Elmer Grover, who had divorced from Grover’s adoptive mother and remarried. (Before their divorce, the Grovers adopted eight children).
A year later in 1988, David Grover was interviewed by Det. McLaughlin who was fishing for someone to accuse MacRae. Grover, requesting anonymity, told McLaughlin a story. He said that one night when he was twelve years old, he spent an overnight with MacRae at the Keene rectory, and MacRae “massaged” his back. That was the extent of David Grover’s 1988 complaint, but it wasn’t even possible. MacRae had never been in the Keene rectory before being assigned there on June 15, 1983, two weeks before David Grover’s eighteenth birthday and a month before Grover joined the U.S. Army.
In 1993, five years after his 1988 “massage” story, David Grover appeared for another interview with Det. McLaughlin. This time he reported that he had been driving his car when he heard news reports about Church settlements in the notorious 1993 “Father Porter” case in Massachusetts. According to the report, Grover pulled over and wept as a flood of memories of sexual abuse overwhelmed him. David Grover then gave an account of being repeatedly raped by MacRae in the Keene rectory starting in 1977 when he was twelve years old, and claimed the assaults continued in the Keene rectory until he was sixteen years old. An immediate problem, as in his brother’s earlier claims, was that MacRae’s personnel file showed that he first met the Grover family as a summer seminarian intern in a neighboring town in 1979 when David Grover was 14 years old. The Grover’s moved to Keene in 1981, but MacRae was never there until June 15, 1983, just two weeks before David Grover turned eighteen on July 1, 1983.
MacRae was not charged with any of David Grover’s accounts, and the file contained no evidence that there was any investigation at all. Not one of the dozen priests and lay people employed at the Keene rectory in the times alleged by David Grover was ever questioned. David Grover’s lurid claims became the subject of a civil lawsuit, but no charges.
Several months after telling the above story, David Grover appeared in Det. McLaughlin’s office again with a completely different account. He said that in the spring of 1982, at age sixteen, he traveled with Father MacRae to St. John the Evangelist Rectory in Hudson, NH. In this new report, Grover decided to go with MacRae “because they had a positive relationship and Grover had no reason to suspect that anything might be wrong.” The report overlooked the fact that just a few months earlier, Grover described being raped by MacRae between the ages of twelve and sixteen.
In David Grover’s newest account, he claimed that at age sixteen MacRae brought him to a first floor bedroom in the Hudson rectory (“with a picture of Jesus on the wall”) and told him to just do as he is told. MacRae left, according to the report, then two older priests came into the room and raped the sixteen-year-old. One priest was described as “heavy set and balding.”
Fr. MacRae was never charged with this, and not one person living or working at the Hudson rectory was ever questioned. Those who were later questioned by MacRae’s defense counsel unanimously concluded that Grover’s story could not have been true. There was no first floor bedroom in that rectory and not one of the dozen people who worked there had ever seen Father MacRae there accompanied by a teenager. At age 16 in 1982, David Grover was over six feet tall. As an African-American he would have stood out in a Catholic rectory in New Hampshire in 1982, but not one person, when finally asked, reported ever seeing him.
There were other problems with this story. The two priests assigned to St. John Rectory in Hudson in 1982 were Father Stephen Scruton and Father Mark Fleming. Father Stephen Scruton did fit the description of David Grover’s claimed assailant. However, just three years later in 1985, Father Scruton became the pastor of David Grover’s parish in Keene. Wouldn’t it have been reasonable that at some time in the ensuing two years, David Grover might have looked up and thought, “That sure looks like the priest who raped me when I was sixteen!”? Also, for a year prior to being ordained, Father Fleming was also assigned to the Keene parish and was known to David Grover. In 1993, however, Grover claimed to have no knowledge of the identity of his assailants.
The file contains no indication that Hudson police or anyone else investigated this claim at all. There was no evidence that it ever took place beyond David Grover’s own unbelievable account. However, in sentencing Father MacRae to 67 years in prison after his 1994 trial, Judge Arthur Brennan cited:
“The evidence of your taking David Grover to Hudson for the sexual gratification of two of your associates is clear and convincing.”
There was yet another problem with David Grover’s claim that was unknown to Father MacRae and his legal counsel at trial in 1994. It just so happened that Fathers Stephen Scruton and Mark Fleming were in fact investigated by the Diocese of Manchester and state officials for the 1983 sexual abuse of three brothers in the Hudson rectory. They were not the Grover brothers – who lived fifty miles away in Keene – and there was never any indication that Father MacRae was either involved in, or even aware of, the Hudson case.
In 2003, after files were released by the Diocese of Manchester in an unprecedented agreement with state prosecutors, The Nashua Telegraph reported:
“A former Hudson priest who was later convicted of sex crimes blew the whistle on another priest…The Rev. Stephen Scruton, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Hudson in 1983, told the diocese he saw the Rev. Mark Fleming engaged in a sexual act with a minor at the rectory, according to diocesan files released this week.
Scruton told Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian – a priest and the diocesan chancellor in 1983 – about how Fleming had become friendly with three young boys, all brothers…Scruton alleged that he saw Fleming molesting a boy in his rectory room, the file said…A criminal investigation in 1983 revealed that Fleming had abused three children, the file said. In subsequent diocesan files, Fleming admits to the abuse.” (Albert McKeon, The Nashua Telegraph, March 6, 2003).
The Diocese of Manchester may have been very motivated to keep the Scruton/Fleming case confidential, and the newest details of David Grover’s claims may have threatened that agenda. At a minimum, the diocese may have had a moral obligation to divulge these facts to Fr. MacRae’s defense, but chose not to. It was immediately following news reports of Grover’s Hudson claims that officials of the diocese denounced Fr. MacRae in a stinging pre-trial press release:
“The Church has been a victim of the actions of Gordon MacRae as well as these individuals…It is clear that he will never again function as a priest.”
PART IV: ENTER THOMAS GROVER
The next of the brothers to accuse Fr. Gordon MacRae in 1994 was Thomas, (D.O.B. 11/16/67). Because the claimants were severed for trial, it was the claims of Thomas Grover alone that were aired in MacRae’s 1994 trial, though Judge Arthur Brennan considered the other claims when handing down the priest’s 67-year prison sentence.
Like his brothers Jon and David before him, Thomas also implicated Fr. Stephen Scruton early on, and claimed that MacRae’s abuse of him occurred years before both priests were in the parish. In 1987, after the highly publicized arrest of Fr. Scruton on an unrelated sex charge in Keene, Thomas Grover alleged that Scruton had enticed him to view pornographic homosexual videotapes in Scruton’s living quarters at the Keene rectory. Grover brought the complaint to Fr. MacRae who reported it to the Diocese of Manchester, though Scruton had already been removed from the parish. MacRae says today that he asked Grover, who was nearly 20 at the time, why he just didn’t get up and walk away. Grover had no answer.
Six years later, Thomas Grover would make the same claim about Fr. MacRae himself. Grover alleged to Det. McLaughlin that he discovered pornographic videotapes in MacRae’s living quarters, an eleventh hour claim that – like the rest of the Grovers’ story – MacRae has always denied and for which no evidence has ever surfaced to support it.
While a patient at a drug treatment center in 1987, Thomas Grover told his therapist that two people had sexually abused him. The first person he identified was his adoptive father. When the counselor asked, “Do you mean Mr. Grover?” Thomas responded, “Yes, among others,” according to the counselor. Grover also said he was abused by an unnamed “clergyman.” At trial, Grover testified that he identified MacRae as his abuser, but the treatment counselor refuted that saying that Grover did not identify anyone except “Mr. Grover.” The counselor then pointed out that Thomas Grover identified Fr. MacRae by name in only one place: he wrote MacRae’s name on his discharge contract from the facility as the person he planned to ask to be his contact and sponsor in sobriety.
Thomas Grover’s central testimony at the MacRae trial was simple. He said that over a decade earlier at the age of 15 in the summer of 1983, he sought MacRae out for counseling sessions for his drug problem. Grover testified that MacRae berated him, made him cry, then raped him at each of four counseling sessions. When asked why, at age 15, he would return from week to week after being raped, Grover said, “I don’t know how I got there. I repressed it.” He then went on to describe out-of-body experiences and all the heavily coached symptoms of P.T.S.D.
In the end, Jon, David, and Thomas Grover walked away from the case with a total of $575,000 in settlements from the Diocese of Manchester. Immediately after the settlement checks were issued – over Fr. MacRae’s strenuous objections from his prison cell – yet another Grover brother emerged. This time it was Jay Grover, the oldest of the four.
In 1988, Jay Grover was interviewed by Det. McLaughlin at the same time his brother, David told his impossible story about receiving a massage in the Keene rectory at age 12. Interviewed in prison in 1988, Jay Grover told the detective that MacRae had once helped him a great deal, and that absolutely nothing sexual had ever occurred. McLaughlin pushed, but Jay Grover was clear. There was never any sexual abuse.
Ten years later, after his brothers received their checks, Jay Grover changed his mind and brought his own newly discovered memory. Nothing was filed in any court of law. Grover’s lawyer simply demanded money from the Diocese of Manchester, and got it. When MacRae objected to the settlement by insisting that this claim, like the other Grover claims, never took place, he was reportedly told, “We agree. But this is how we’re going to handle it.”
PART V: A PRIEST IN HIDING
Fr. Stephen Scruton’s own history beyond the Grover/MacRae case may shed some light on his and the Diocese of Manchester’s reluctance to come to MacRae’s defense. Suspicions were cast upon Fr. Scruton long before this case arose.
As described above, Stephen Scruton was arrested by Marlborough (NH) police on Easter Sunday afternoon in 1987. He was charged with lewd conduct and indecent exposure in a wooded area just outside Keene. Before his removal from the Keene parish a month after this arrest, Scruton allegedly embezzled $20,000 in parish funds. This was reported to Church officials in 1987 by Fr. MacRae who was instructed to recover the funds from Scruton who was then being treated for sexual addiction at Golden Valley Health Care Center in Minnesota.
Fr. Scruton’s 1987 arrest was not his first skirmish with the law. In 1984, a year after he and Fr. Mark Fleming were investigated for the abuse of three Hudson boys, Scruton was arrested by Londonderry (NH) police for lewd conduct and indecent exposure at a highway rest area there. He was reportedly also arrested for lewd conduct in Massachusetts, but the charges were later dropped.
After a brief leave of absence following those two arrests, the Diocese of Manchester assigned Fr. Scruton to a parish in Bennington, NH. He was removed after six months when the parish administrator, the Rev. Gerald Joyal, accused him of embezzling funds from that parish.
From there, Scruton was placed at the Keene parish as Fr. MacRae’s pastor in June, 1985. In 1986, a third priest in Keene, Fr. Michael Barrett, resigned citing Scruton’s bizarre behavior and repeated untrue accusations he was making against Fr. Barrett. Fr. MacRae contacted the Diocese of Manchester on several occasions with complaints about his boss’s behavior. In each instance, MacRae was reportedly told by (then) Msgr. Francis Christian to confront Scruton himself.
When diocesan files were released to the public in 2003, it became clear that Fr. Scruton had been accused in multiple civil claims settled by the Diocese of Manchester for allegedly abusing a number of young men in three other New Hampshire communities.
The most troubling incident, however, occurred in October, 1979. While preparing for a trip to Ireland, Fr. Scruton asked a neighboring priest, Fr. Joseph Sands, to cover for him at the St. Rose of Lima Parish in Littleton (NH) where Scruton was pastor. Shortly after Scruton left for the trip, a young man arrived reportedly looking for Scruton. He was let into the rectory by the parish secretary at which point he brandished a gun. The man held the secretary and her young son at gun point while the secretary summoned Fr. Sands since Scruton was enroute to Ireland.
State police surrounded the house, and hostage negotiations ensued for the better part of a day. At the end of the day, the gunman murdered Fr. Sands, then turned the gun on a young woman who accompanied him there, and then turned the gun on himself. Three people lay dead in the Littleton rectory. The case file was reportedly ordered sealed by (then) Governor Hugh Gallen, a member of the Littleton parish and a long time friend of Father Scruton. A source close to the Diocese of Manchester, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that the young man was looking for Father Stephen Scruton to exact revenge for an undisclosed incident that allegedly took place a year earlier.
At Fr. MacRae’s trial in 1994, the name of Father Stephen Scruton never came up. MacRae and his defense counsel were subject to a limiting order by Judge Arthur Brennan which prevented them from addressing any time period beyond the summer of 1983, the time of the indictments. The jury never heard of the Grover brothers’ claims about Father Scruton.
Before trial, however, Fr. MacRae’s defense lawyer made repeated efforts to interview Scruton. MacRae expected Scruton to say what he already knew: that the Grover claims were entirely untrue of both priests. The evidence was strong that Scruton’s presence in Keene could not reconcile with any of what Jon or David Grover said of him.
However, multiple attempts to interview Fr. Scruton before the 1994 trial met with silence. Church officials claimed they did not know where Scruton was. When finally located, MacRae’s lawyers sent Scruton an itemized list of his presence in the Grovers’ claims. Scruton would not respond, and has never denied any of it despite the clear time discrepancies in the claims.
Unexplained evidence of a relationship between Father Stephen Scruton and the Grover brothers included a series of checks written from parish accounts to Jon and Thomas Grover that were filled out and signed by Rev. Stephen Scruton. Eight attempts to contact Scruton by mail were met with silence.
As the day of trial loomed in 1994, Fr. MacRae’s lawyer contacted a lawyer representing Fr. Scruton and informed him that a subpoena would be issued that day to force an interview about this case. The lawyer promised that Fr. Scruton would appear the following day without the subpoena. The next morning the lawyer reported that Scruton fled the state, and claimed no one knew where he was.
In November of 2008, 14 years into Fr. MacRae’s 67-year sentence, Fr. Stephen Scruton was located in Newburyport (MA) by a new investigator, a former F.B.I, special agent reviewing this case. Reached by telephone, Scruton was reportedly highly agitated and nervous when the investigator identified his purpose for calling. An unknown male voice could be heard in the background saying, “Steve, if this is something that will help Gordon I think you should do it.”
Fr. Stephen Scruton reluctantly agreed to be interviewed by the investigator, and a date was set for two weeks later. On the day of the interview, however, Fr. Scruton refused to open his door saying that he had “consulted with someone” and now declines to answer any questions. A summary was then mailed to Fr. Scruton outlining his presence in this case and asking him to reconsider cooperating by telling the simple truth.
Within days of his receipt of that summary, Fr. Stephen Scruton suffered a mysterious fall – reportedly down the steps at his therapist’s office – and never regained consciousness. He died a month later in January, 2009.
Fr. Stephen Scruton took the truth with him. Despite having been administratively dismissed from the priesthood, he was buried in his priestly vestments though there was no obituary, no traditional notification of any kind. Father Stephen Scruton’s unexplained presence in the case against Fr. Gordon MacRae – along with a rather vast collection of other exculpatory information – had been hiding in plain sight for nearly fifteen years, but inaccessible to the imprisoned priest.
In a confidential internal memo to Bishop John McCormack in 2001, diocesan attorney Bradford Cook wrote of the claims against Fr. MacRae:
“As to the involvement of Father Scruton or anyone else at St. Bernard’s, clearly there were several members of the clergy located at that church who had problems and it is impossible to discount that one or more of them may have been involved with one or more of the Grovers.”
There are those who still assure a wrongly imprisoned priest that “the truth will set you free.” That’s true. But first, someone has to tell it.
Ryan A. MacDonald has published extensively in both Catholic and secular venues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.