Whatever you think about the guilt of Catholic priests accused over the last two decades of the Church's sex abuse scandal, this short post may alter that view. I won't do your thinking for you or tell you what to conclude.
Some things just speak for themselves. Pay a little attention to the details and look for common denominators, and then sometimes a light just goes on in your mind. This may be one of those times. Read the following citations from the story behind the story in the case against imprisoned New Hampshire priest, Father Gordon MacRae, then draw your own conclusions.
On the evening of November 14, 1988, a transcript of an episode of the "Geraldo Rivera" Show was faxed from its studio to the Keene, New Hampshire office of Detective James McLaughlin. The title of the show was "The Church's Sexual Watergate." I have a copy of the transcript indicating the date and origin of its transmission and a discovery number identifying it as part of Detective McLaughlin's "investigation" file. Here's an excerpt:
Source: "The Church's Sexual Watergate," Geraldo Live: 11/14/1988:
Geraldo: "What did the priest do to you, Greg?"
Greg Ridel: "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 with his foot in a hot tub, I believe it was, at the YMCA. From there it went to what you might call role playing in the rectory where the priests live."
Shocking stuff! Jump ahead about a year and a half. Keene, NH Detective Jim McLaughlin has an interview with "Todd," a young man about to bring a lawsuit accusing a Catholic priest who was in the area several years earlier. Here's an excerpt of that police report:
Source: Case No. 90035705 Dated 06/06/1990, p. 006:
“Father [Stephen] Scruton was a regular at the YMCA.
Todd went to the YMCA with Father Scruton ••• When they did arrive they decided to use the hot tub. Todd 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
Todd's legs and rubbed his genitals ••• The touching was intentional and not a mistake. A rubbing motion was used by
Father Scruton ••• I asked Todd where he stood on civil lawsuits."
Now jump ahead another year and a half. Detective Jim McLaughlin has another interview with another young man from Keene about to file another lawsuit against another Catholic priest. Here's an excerpt of that police report:
Source: Case No. 93010850 Dated 08-27-1992 p.004:
"When Jonathan Grover was twelve or thirteen years of age he would spend nights in the Keene rectory . . . After racquetball
at the YMCA Father MacRae would have Jonathan Grover take a whirl pool with him and at times Father Scruton would join
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 (sic) against his genitals. Grover was unsure
if the priests were acting in concert or if they were unaware of each other's actions."
If the above three accounts were written by novelists, two of them would surely be accused of plagiarism. But that's not the only problem with that third account. Jonathan Grover was twenty-three years old when he sat in Detective McLaughlin's office allegedly relating this story. I write "allegedly" because, contrary to his own policies and protocols, the detective did not create a single audio or video recording of this or any interview in the entire MacRae case. We don't know who related what to whom.
What we do know, however, is that Father Gordon MacRae was never assigned to the Keene parish where these things were claimed to have happened until Jonathan Grover was fourteen years old. Father Scruton was never assigned to the Keene Parish until Grover was sixteen years old. Yet all three are there in that hot tub when Grover was twelve, just like the kid in the “Geraldo” transcript.
Strangely, another refutation of the third YMCA hot tub account above comes from “Todd,” the claimant in the second account. He revealed that at the times all these events were claimed to have occurred, he was a sixteen-year-old employee of the Keene YMCA, and says the YMCA’s strictly enforced rules would have barred Jonathan Grover from any use of the YMCA hot tub until he was sixteen years old.
In subsequent reports, Detective McLaughlin wrote of giving Grover a copy of Father MacRae’s resume “to help him with his dates.” Father Scruton was never mentioned again. By the time this case was over, Jonathan Grover had $195,000.00 in his pocket provided in settlement by the Diocese of Manchester with no corroboration of the account. When Father MacRae objected from his prison cell, he was simply dropped as a defendant giving him no standing to object.
The mysteries do not end there. About a year and a half after Detective McLaughlin wrote that third report describing a simultaneous sexual assault of Jonathan Grover by two priests, Fathers MacRae and Scruton, the detective responded to a question under oath:
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) of 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.”
The discrepancies in the above account of claims against Father Gordon MacRae are typical of this case. There's a lot left unexplained. One of MacRae's accusers, for example, was "an employee" of Detective McLaughlin "in a family-owned business" at the time he accused the priest. But a closer examination of the file reveals that this accuser never actually went to the detective at all. It was the other way around, and what served as probable cause for this detective launching a child sex abuse investigation was - are you ready for this? - a rumor that Father MacRae had once given the 15-year-old boy a ride home from school. According to the detective’s 1988 report, this alone “pointed to possible pedophilic activity on the part of MacRae.”
Armed with his suspicion, the detective interviewed twenty- six present and former teenaged acquaintances of the priest.
Not one would accuse him. Then, finally, the detective interviewed Jon Plankey, his employee, who supplied what the detective wanted. First, he claimed, MacRae had attempted to solicit 15-year-old Plankey for sex. Then, months later, he added that MacRae also took lewd photographs of him.
The photographs were never found. The photographs were never even looked for. Nothing in the case file indicates that the detective did anything at all to corroborate or refute the young man's claims about photos. Questioned a dozen years later by a Wall Street Journal reporter, however, the detective admitted, "there was never any evidence of child pornography."
The detective's police report omitted a few other important details as well. Before accusing Father MacRae, Jon Plankey also accused a county employee of soliciting him for sex. Then he accused a Congregational church choir director of soliciting him for sex and taking lewd photographs of him. Then he accused another man of soliciting him for sex.
He finally hit pay dirt, however, when he accused a Catholic priest. Jon Plankey has repeatedly declined to be interviewed or to answer any questions about this case, but his brother seemed eager to talk. He says the entire Plankey claim was a fraud brought for settlement money.
The above accounts are not the only such stories defying credibility in the case against Father Gordon MacRae. There are other accounts with even bigger holes than the above. Most alarming has been the role of the New Hampshire news media and victim advocacy groups like BishopAccountability. The above discrepancies have been hiding in plain sight for years, but New Hampshire seems not to have any news venue with the means or the will to investigate beyond what is fed to them by police and prosecutors.
The people at BishopAccountability have been quick to post on their website all the dirt they could find about Father Gordon MacRae. However, they have been entirely unresponsive to my repeated requests that they also publish reports I have investigated and researched - reports that directly refute information BishopAccountability staff has previously published without any attempt at corroboration. In other words, these victim "advocates" have the story they want. Nothing else is necessary.
For more information on the troubling case against Father Gordon MacRae, I invite you to read the following links:
Ryan A. MacDonald is a contributor to Spero News. He has written extensively on the Catholic sex abuse crisis in both print and on-line venues. He blogs at ARamintheThicket.