You may be asking yourself that question, as well you should. Let me introduce myself. I am black, Catholic and female. I know what it is to be a pariah. I also know what it is to be a victim of a violent rape. But I am a child of God, and His loving mercy allows me to minister to priests in prison for the same offense that I suffered – not at the hands of a priest. In the past few weeks some of our more visible entertainers have said rape is not rape when committed by a celebrity, and they seem to conclude that there are degrees of rape. Rape is rape – always has been and always will be.
I hasten to add that not all priests in prison are guilty, and not all accused priests are guilty. Yes, many have fallen from grace, but they remain priests because that special mark can never be erased. Most of our Church leaders are so afraid of being heckled by the likes of SNAP and VOTF that in their haste to dispense with the priests they view as troublesome, they have swiftly thrown those priests to the wolves, slammed shut the Church doors, and seemingly have forbidden the priests in their dioceses from having any contact with imprisoned priests. Indeed, they have willingly sacrificed their common sense.
As a victim of rape at age 11, held down on a bed with a gun to my head, I know there is no way that I can ever forget that. I am surprised that anybody believes that a rape victim suddenly remembers being raped some 30 or 40 yrs. later. As the Church offered more and more money, many “victims” suddenly began to “remember” being raped by a priest. Those millionaires and their greedy lawyers are enjoying their money now, but they will have to face the Lord on Judgment Day. I would love to be a fly on the wall on that Day.
Some of you may remember reading the article I wrote that was published in the National Catholic Reporter on July 20, 2007, titled, “Throwaway Priests.” I wanted to know how our Catholic priests in prison were being treated. The response was overwhelming. I heard from priests in dioceses, priests in prison, priests who married, and priests who had left the Church for various reasons. I now write to some 30-40 priests in prison who have opened their hearts to me. I ask what they need and try to obtain newspaper and magazine subscriptions; books; money for telephone and commissary items. Friends who initially frowned on my ministry are now helping a bit. Every now and then someone will send $25 or so to purchase paper, ink cartridges, or stamps. I am thrilled with that. I have asked friends not to send me any more birthday or Christmas presents, but instead to send the money to Fr. Gordon J. MacRae’s defense fund.
Our priests in prison don’t want sympathy and they don’t whine. They don’t hate anyone and they aren’t angry at anyone. For the most part, they are puzzled as to the silence from their brother priests. That is what hurts them most of all: the lack of visits or messages from their brother priests, some of whom have had the audacity to tell these wounded priests that they want no contact with them. What a slap in the face. It’s as if their being in prison is contagious, and a letter to or from them will contaminate those outside. In fact, every priest is only one telephone call away from being behind iron bars themselves. I remind you again that every priest in prison is not guilty.
The Catholic Church that I joined (after much angst from a reluctant mother), taught about love, forgiveness, compassion, and justice. I have seen precious little of that vis-a-vis our priests in prison, and they are OUR priests in prison. Many of the imprisoned priests are very elderly and don’t have family members still alive. Priests in prison suffer from the lack of Catholic materials. Few have access to a priest or a confessor. Some imprisoned close to their home parish have never had a visitor from anyone connected to that parish. Their families live in fear that some organization unworthy of being named here, will find out where they live and picket their neighborhoods, and on it goes. I call that unabated hate and ignorance. What kind of people are we who sit by silently, never asking publicly for prayers for priests in prison? No one ever speaks of forgiveness and compassion in their regard. No one ever asks What Would Jesus Do? Why? Because they know the answer.
From their pulpits our bishops literally embrace “victims” and beseech us to pray for them as they, the “victims” reach for the money being thrown at them which is probably more welcomed than the prayers. Few of their former parishioners care enough to reach out to them. I have felt the presence of our Lord every day since the night a gun was held to my head. I was going to die that night; the rapist told me so. He said he was going to kill both of us after that horrible act. I could only think of my mother walking in and finding us dead. I had to spare her that. I was traumatized, but the Lord must have given me the words to convince him that I would remain silent. I was silent for 45 years, but I never forgot. I wish I could have.
I pray that we may be responsible, forgiving, compassionate and loving members of our Church.
I pray that we see the plank in our eyes before we complain about the splinter in the eyes of others.
I pray that our Lord will wrap our incarcerated priests in His loving mercy.
I pray that priests who live under bridges as vagrants, will somehow find comfort in the words of our Lord that He will never abandon them.
I pray that the love that we have for each other will be enough to share with our sick and wounded priests.