Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fr. Gordon J. MacRae: A Curious Case

Fr. Gordon J. MacRae: A Curious Case
by Charlene C. Duline

Precious Lord, take my hand

Thus ends the Year of the Priest. It might also signal the end of the priesthood as we know it. The terrible tar brush of sexual abuse accusations dating from 50 years ago now touches every priest in the United States. Every diocesan priest now is aware that he is only one phone call away from having his priesthood destroyed. One phone call away from being a respected priest and spiritual adviser to his parishioners, to being looked upon as a pervert operating as a priest in order to molest children. Every diocesan priest knows that he is on his own; there is no support from his bishop.

A good example of this is the curious case of Fr. Gordon MacRae, a priest of the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire. When Fr. MacRae was accused, his bishop offered to help fund his legal expenses. It is the rare diocesan priest who has the money to pay for a legal defense. Fr. MacRae accepted his offer. That was the last he heard of the offer. Not one word of help or hope has been issued from his diocese since. His accusers were paid $700,000 and a good priest went to prison for, in effect, the rest of his life. The betrayals continued.

Lead me on, let me stand

Fr. MacRae never stood a chance. During his trial, the judge, Arthur Brennan, apparently had decided that the defendant was guilty and needed to be made an example for others. He instructed the jury to disregard the multitude of inconsistencies in the testimony of the accuser; refused to allow Fr. MacRae and his attorney access to the accuser’s juvenile and adult criminal records, and ignored signals given to the accuser from a witness in the courtroom. The prosecutor was running for a state office, and the conviction of Fr. MacRae was a very public notch on his belt. Between the judge and the prosecutor, it was a match made in hell.

The judge castigated Fr. MacRae for maintaining his innocence, and he also had extremely harsh words for Fr. MacRae’s canon lawyer who testified on Fr. MacRae’s behalf. Furious with Fr. MacRae for insisting that he was innocent, the judge sentenced Fr. MacRae to 33 ½ - 67 yrs for crimes that never happened. Later his accusers said they had been assured that Fr. MacRae would take the plea bargain offered to him, and he would be out of prison in one or two years. Their twisted minds could not fathom that someone with the religious convictions of Fr. MacRae would not succumb to such an offer. They might have been sorry that Fr. MacRae went to prison for the rest of his life, but apparently they were not sorry enough to return the money they obtained fraudulently. Be that as it may, Fr. MacRae knows that he will be delivered one way or another, for didn’t God deliver Daniel from the lions’ den, and David from Goliath, and Jonah from the belly of the whale? Fr. MacRae's faith is what keeps him strong, decisive, brilliant and priestly.

Through the storm, through the night…

When this good priest went to prison, he was greeted by the usual welcoming party reserved for those accused of molesting children: late at night three hooded men came into his cell armed with broomsticks, and beat and kicked him mercilessly. He woke up in the prison’s infirmary where he spent several days recovering from his injuries. From the infirmary he was sent to the “hole,” solitary confinement, for several months. What was he guilty of you ask? He was guilty of being a high profile prisoner, and that made his attackers almost kill him. It was all his fault that he was brutally beaten, and for that he went to solitary for months. Now 16 years later the results of those injuries are manifesting themselves. Fr. MacRae is in constant pain from two collapsed disks in the fourth and fifth vertebrae, highly likely to have been caused by the beating delivered that terrible night so long ago. He says it is unlikely that the prison officials will allow him to have an MRI to determine the extent of his back damage because of the expense. For now, Fr. MacRae is given an over-the-counter pain medication which does nothing to begin to mask the pain, he says. It is becoming increasingly difficult for him to turn his head or to sit for hours on a plastic bucket typing letters or his blog.

I’m tired. I’m weak. I’m worn …

Medical treatment in prison is neither a given, nor is it a right. No matter how sick an inmate is, he has to line up for hours, and hope to see a nurse or someone who has read a first-aid manual. Then, and only then, if that first-aid manual graduate decides the inmate doesn’t need to see a doctor, he won’t see a doctor. Not long ago, one New Hampshire lawmaker proposed hiring veterinarians instead of medical doctors to look after prisoners’ medical needs. His attitude was that prisoners are only slightly above animals, so why shouldn’t they have a veterinarian to look after them, and it would be cheaper. Fortunately his fellow lawmakers did not agree with him.

Fr. MacRae, this priest, this holy man, this noble person, offered to withdraw his defense and remain silent in prison for the rest of his life if his bishop asked him to do so for the good of the Church. “Bishop McCormack later told me that he considered my overture.” The bishop CONSIDERED asking Fr. MacRae to sit quietly in prison for the rest of his life without attempting to save himself, even though the bishop said he knew Fr. MacRae was innocent? That is absolutely unfathomable to me. I’d like to shake both of them - the one for even considering that idiotic notion of staying in prison in order not to embarrass the Church, and the other one for considering such an asinine offer to save his hide. Dear God, forgive me, I just cannot believe You would allow such cruelty, such inconsiderateness, such stupidity to reign in the name of Your Church. What does go on in the minds of men?

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home …

The traditional day of ordination in my Archdiocese is the first Saturday in June. This year there were no men kneeling before the Archbishop for the powerful words ordaining them to the priesthood. Will this change next year? On one hand, we lament this dearth of seminarians. On the other hand, one has to wonder who in his right mind would want to join the number of priests being cast asunder.

Consider the numbers of good priests who proselytize by their very being, who are loved by their parishioners, who work tirelessly, and only during the dark, lonely nights let down their guard and tell our Lord of their struggles. Think how incredibly difficult is for our priests to represent our Church while fearing the wrath of the heathen, and even the wrath of some of their parishioners? One priest said to me, “I now shake hands with the altar servers (the children) and I hug the adults.” He thought that was safe, and so did I at the time. But now I realize that it’s not so safe - God forbid that his hug should accidentally touch a woman’s breast. If she’s a certain type of woman, she’ll be on her way to SNAP and our Archdiocese will be held up by some grubby attorney for millions of dollars. No, our dear priests are not safe anyplace, especially in Church.

Hear my cry, hear my call

I know that our Lord forgave sinners and preached love, compassion and forgiveness. So far, I have heard NONE of that directed to priests in prison. All the rhetoric is about the “victims.” Well, many years ago I was a victim, and nobody has ever apologized to me; nobody has ever thrown any money at me; nobody knows what I still suffer. So, who do I take to court? Is there a Diocese out there with money it can’t give away fast enough, and some attorney who makes his living by suing the Catholic Church, who could help me get some of that money? I could certainly use it for incarcerated priests - to purchase books, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, money for commissary items, money for telephone calls, for postage stamps, for toilet tissue, for shaving cream, shoes, craft projects, etc.

Hold my hand lest I fall …

As for Fr. MacRae, in prison he is saving souls and converting inmates solely by his own example. Those around him feel his spirituality even before they learn that he is a priest. The toughest of the tough hang out at his cell. One precious soul sits in a corner in the cell that Fr. MacRae shares with Pornchai, my Godson, and watches television. Skooter has a cell now that he shares with another inmate, but he prefers to sit on the floor in a corner in the cell of this holy man. Inmates stand in the cell and outside the cell asking for Fr. MacRae’s help with any and everything. His patience is unlimited. He turns no one away. He is amazing. As the song goes: “ … more than amazing, more than marvelous; more than miraculous could ever be …** that’s what Fr. MacRae is to those who live with him, to those who know and love him. His is indeed a curious case that gets “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Read it for yourself:

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home*

*Written by Thomas A. Dorsey
** Sandi Patty