Recently I wrote about what was happening with Father Gordon MacRae and his trusted friend and fellow journeyer Pornchai Maximilium Moontri and their exploits in the faith in response to this article of his.
I read Father MacRae's weekly missive during my Wednesday morning prayer time, and often, I think, God clarifies for me some of what Father MacRae has to say and how it impacts my life, and maybe gives me words to encourage him and Pornchai (at least I hope so).
While reading and praying over Father MacRae's recent article, the word "exploit" came to mind, a word I know, but would never use in conversation. It is a great word, but not one for common parlance. But, it was, in fact, a perfect word to describe what is happening behind These Stone Walls.
But since writing that article about their exploits, I could not get the word out of my mind. I wrote about the noun exploit which means "exciting acts" and also can mean"notable or heroic actions." But that is exploit as a noun.
But, exploit is also a transitive verb, meaning that it is an action done to another person, thing or group of persons or things. It is exploit as a transitive verb that has been playing in my mind these last few days. I think I described the exploits of Father Gordon and Pornchai well enough last week, so now it is time to look at the transitive verb exploit as it relates to them.
I often wonder if what I am writing is honoring to God, and is being faithful to what He is calling me to do. I not only wonder but sometimes agonize as well. Most of this particular article was completed by Tuesday of this week, and I thought it would be a second perspective on what I had written in response to Father Gordon's article from last week.
But, for some reason I could not seem to complete it and so it sat on my computer until now. Apparently, I could not complete it because it was not really a follow up on Father Gordon's article, but somewhat of an explanation of the guest posting yesterday of Father James Valladares, the author of the book Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast.
Exploit as a verb often means to take advantage of someone or something, such as a farmer who exploits the land he owns to grow crops. This taking advantage is a positive thing, but much of exploiting is not about beneficial or benign use of something, but of taking advantage of someone or something unjustly or unethically for one's benefit either directly or indirectly.
That brings us back to Father Gordon, and to Pornchai.
Father Gordon, as readers of These Stone Walls, and those who have done their research elsewhere know, is in jail as a Catholic priest convicted for sexual abuse of a minor. He was convicted in fact, exploited by various persons and groups who derived an advantage by imprisoning him, and his guilt or innocence had little to do with it.
The truth of the matter is that for Father Gordon to have committed the crimes for which he is incarcerated, he would have had to have been places where he was not, and the places where he was and was supposed to have committed some of the offences would have had to be private, such that his actions could have been hidden from others in his office area, which they were not.
In other words Father Gordon was exploited both unethically and unjustly by individuals and groups that conspired to destroy him and his good name, unsuccessfully in the end, I might add. Who exploited him?
Father Valladares writes of the dichotomy that exists between persons who have accused priests and religious of sexual abuse, where their primary motive is obviously financial gain, and the priests they accuse of crimes from the distant past with no evidence whatsoever.
The exploiters here start with a combination of litigation lawyers, who in a resurrection of ambulance chasers of the medical malpractice run for the money, had shifted their attention to the fiscal treasury of the Catholic Church, and fast buck artists, professional victims who are looking for a score. Often, this has been the case.
But, even more in the case of Father Gordon MacRae, the criminal justice system in the State of New Hampshire, from the investigator who championed the flawed case against Father MacRae to the prosecutor who pursued the flawed case to completion, to Judge Brennan, the jurist who heard and adjudicated the case, exploited Father MacRae.
Sadly, his own bishop, and now his successor participated in this exploitation, and in fact the whole United States Catholic Council of Bishops tacitly did so and continue to do so, as well. As the shark feeding frenzy over priest sexual abuse was getting into full swing, the Bishop of the Diocese of Manchester New Hampshire basically accepted all claims of abuse on their face. As Father Valladares points out at least 62 claims of abuse were made against the diocese, and were accepted on their face.
Meanwhile, Father Gordon has continued to be exploited for the last 20 years by the penal system of New Hampshire, since he is in prison on false testimony and conviction.
Alongside him in prison are many other men who were exploited, and I dare say that most to all of them have been exploited in some way in their lifetimes. But, Pornchai, whose story we know at least some snippets of, is a good example of this further exploitation.
Pornchai was born in Thailand, was abandoned by his mother at age 2, and then recovered by his mother from family he lived with at age 11, and brought with her husband and her to America, against his will. Using someone for your own selfish purposes is a form of exploitation, and of that his own mother is guilty. But, she delivered him into the hands of her husband, who as Pornchai's step father chose to sexually abuse him for the next 3 years. He was exploited by those who were supposed to love and cherish him.
Then at age 18, he killed a man, and the exploitation hits kept coming. Like Father Gordon his defense was inadequate, and so he became a prisoner, and eventually made his way to the New Hampshire State Prison for Men.
A version of Pornchai's story is the story of all prisoners, not that they do not deserve incarceration for what they have done, but that there is more to them than what they have done. The penal system assigns prisoners a number, by which they are identified. They are dehumanized and degraded by a penal system meant to protect the outside world from them. Isn't that a simplified definition of exploitation?
So, here in a state prison, we have two men (and more) who have been and continue to be exploited, and the story could end there and we could go back to our morning coffee, but here the story turns.
The exploitation turns to exploits, and for Father Gordon and for Pornchai, Michel Ciresi and others. Imprisonment turns to freedom.
You may be able to take the priest out of the church, but you cannot take the Church out of the priest, and Father Gordon has continued in his priesthood while in prison these last 20 years. He had been alter christus for the men in the prison, though many do not know it, and some of them have been Christ for him as well. So, there have been many exploits of faith over the years, because faith is not extinguished by stone walls.
So, it seems appropriate to me that Father Gordon, Pornchai et al completed the Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus following the retreat format of "33 Days to Morning Glory" by Father Michael Gaitley.
Imagine Morning Glory in a prison. But, it is, and Father Gordon and Pornchai are no longer the exploited, but are living lives filled with exploits as they explore their journey of faith with Our Blessed Mother as their guide, and Our Saviour as their focus.
There is a lesson for all of us in their story, and the lesson is that we are not the product of what was done to us, even if we conspired in the doing, but we are beloved children of God destined for greater things. The only thing we have to do is what Mary did, when the angel appeared to her. We just have to say "Yes."
If Father Gordon, and Pornchai can be free though still housed in a prison, can we not accept the freedom of trusting in God from the prisons of our lives?