Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Can This Be?

Shock and Horror at the continued incarceration of Father Gordon MacRae
Unless you or I have been asleep under a rock for the last decade or two, we have heard about how DNA evidence has exonerated a not insignificant number of prisoners on death row, or in the general prison population of murders, rapes, and other crimes where such evidence was able to be gathered in the days of the investigation of the crimes.

But, we all think that justice, though it may be blind, its blindness is meant not as a problem, but that it is not prejudiced against or for a particular victim or accused perpetrator.  So, we conclude that mistakes happen, and isn't it a good thing that those wrongly incarcerated will one day be freed.  It is of course easy for us, since it isn't us, and besides he/she probably got away with something else anyway.

So, someone proclaims his/her innocence for year after year, when he/she could probably have been paroled simply by saying that he/she had committed the crime, and by showing sincere remorse for having done such a heinous thing, whatever it was.  But, because someone did not know how or desire to fake sincerity and remorse, he/she languished in prison wrongfully, until some group or individual pursued their innocence for years to get them freed.

Justice might be blind, but it appears in not just a few incidences that it is deaf, dumb and stupid as well.  We think that in a criminal court of law that a preponderance of evidence will cause the guilty to be found so, and the innocent to be exonerated.  Most times it works that way.  But not always.

How does one exonerate someone if a crime was never committed?  How does a non crime make its way into the criminal justice system, and how does someone get convicted and sent to prison for 67 years for a non-crime?  Well, it's not easy, but it can be done, and there is at least one example of which I am familiar where the perfect storm conspired for it to be so.

The perfect storm of which I speak is the sexual abuse scandal of Catholic priests.  In the US between 1960 and 2004, 10,667 individuals claimed sexual abuse by 4,392 priests, and 90% of these claims were from prior to 1990.  It seems like a lot, but in fact in the totality of sexual abuse in the US during the time period, it is not even statistically a dot on the radar, not 1%, not even .1%, or even .01%.  Yet, the only sexual abuse we have heard about for 20 years is that by Catholic priests.

There are reasons for this, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said this in a recent post, which is worthy of a read for its own sake:
“For one,” I continued, “we priests deserve the more intense scrutiny, because people trust us more as we dare claim to represent God, so, when one of us do it – even if only a tiny minority of us ever have — it is more disgusting.”
“Two, I’m afraid there are many out there who have no love for the Church, and are itching to ruin us. This is the issue they love to endlessly scourge us with.”
“And, three, I hate to say it,” as I wrapped it up, “there’s a lot of money to be made in suing the Catholic Church, while it’s hardly worth suing any of the other groups I mentioned before.”
The first one is true.  Priests lives should be able to withstand close scrutiny, since they represent Christ to Catholics around the world.  But, lest we get to intense about this, I assure you that my life breaks down under close scrutiny, and I rely on the grace and mercy of God to survive my own sinfulness.

The second one is about the animosity to the Church that goes on daily in our world.  Good on you, Archbishop for saying this, because although it is the truth, most won't believe it.

But, it is the third one that salts the clouds of the perfect storm, and which has led to the incarceration of at least one priest of my electronic acquaintance, Father Gordon MacRae of These Stone Walls.

In the early 90's as the eyes of the US fell on priests and sexual abuse, many of the cases that had occurred and had been buried either by victims who felt ashamed, as victims of sexual abuse often wrongly do, or worse still buried by Church administrators and bishops, who felt shame as well, and sought to protect the Church, came bubbling up to the surface.  As they percolated in our collective consciousness, opportunity surfaced as well.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but greed and opportunity are the parents of copycats.  As reports surfaced of financial payoffs by the Church, new claims of abuse surfaced, and money changed hands with nary a peep, and no evidence beyond a claim that something had happened.

Many priests were correctly caught in their deceptions, but many others were caught in a web of deceit and lies and hidden agendas, not their own, such as Father Gordon.

Father Gordon has been an inmate of the New Hampshire State prison for about 17 years as of now, for a crime or set of crimes that never could have logistically happened, and which earned those claiming that they did handsome settlements from the local diocese.  You can read the case history of the case against Father Gordon here.

One writer, Ryan A MacDonald, who lives in London England, has taken up Father Gordon's cause, and has done considerable research into it.  Though he has had much of his work published, he has taken it on himself to create a blog for this purpose.  It is called very appropriately "A RAM in the Thicket".

Here is his dedication of the blog:
When God stayed Abraham's hand, sparing Isaac, "Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns, and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son." Genesis 22:13. A Ram in the Thicket is a blog by Ryan A. MacDonald (RAM), a writer, Catholic convert, and advocate for the Church as a mirror of justice in the public square. Too often in the current climate the Church's own sons - our priests - are sacrificed to satisfy the demands of contingency lawyers, insurance companies, and a scandal-hungry news media. This blog is dedicated to those priests who are accused falsely, or with wild exaggeration, and who wait with patience and fidelity for their reflection in the mirror of justice that our Church must be.
In his latest post, Ryan opens up a can of worms that is worthy of reading, To Azazel: Father Gordon MacRae and the Gospel of Mercy .

Ryan presented in this posting about the abandonment of Father Gordon by his brother priests, and by his own Bishop.

In a 2001 confidential memo to Bishop McCormack, diocesan attorney Bradford E. Cook wrote: "There were certainly imperfections in the judge's handling of [MacRae's trial]." In regard to the actual claims against Father MacRae he wrote: "Whether it was all trumped up or totally manufactured is impossible to know .... That it was embellished is clear.” The diocesan attorney cited that a number of other priests where Father MacRae served were also accused - some by the same people who accused MacRae: "It is impossible to discount that one or more of them may have been involved with one or more of [MacRae's accusers]."

In another confidential 2001 memo, diocesan Chancellor Rev. Edward Arsenault noted that errors occurred in MacRae's trial, and cited the unfairness of the diocese's refusal to assist him with an appeal forcing him to rely on a public defender for his only remaining hope for justice. Arsenault recommended that the diocese deal with the matter of funding an appellate defense for MacRae by coming up with a remedy for "the lack of base remuneration" from the diocese as required by Church law. On the very verge of these Church officials finally stepping to the plate to help their priest, the 2002 national scandal implicated Bishop McCormack and cast Father Gordon MacRae back into the abyss.

Two persons, a New Hampshire attorney and a former television news producer, have attested under oath that in 2000 Bishop McCormack told them of his belief that Father MacRae is innocent of the claims for which he is in prison, then demanded secrecy, saying, "None of this can ever leave this room."

So, here we have a situation, where Father Gordon's own superiors in the Roman Catholic Church, are pretty sure that he is not guilty of any crimes, and yet no one has lifted a finger to defend him originally, or to assist him today. 

In the name of Our God of Mercy, how can this be?


Michael Brandon said...

TrustsInJesus has left a new comment on your post "How Can This Be?":

I followed your link at Fr. MacRae's blog. Thank you for posting your reflections, and for doing your part to spread the word about this most grievous injustice. Fr. MacRae is suffering daily -and has been for 17 years- to raise our awareness about this issue (I detest calling it an "issue" as though it were merely something to be set before a think-tank, ignoring the fact that these priests are living, flesh and blood ministers of the Church). I ache that he is not able to serve the Church as a free man, but were it not for coming to understand the details of his unjust captivity, I probably would not have had my typical 21st century Americanized Catholic heart moved to such depths. May God bless your writings!

Michael Brandon said...

Dear Trust In Jesus:

I lost your comment and had to cut and paste to get it back in under my o en name.

Thank you for your kind words. I have been troubled by the treatment of Father MacRae for some time now. If you look on the left side of my blog, you will see "MacRae" in the index which links to several posts that are about him alone or him and the situation of priests unfairly treated.

God Bless You
Michael Brandon