Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories. David F. Pierre. CreateSpace Publishers. 2011. 190 pages.
If you’ve been wondering what might make a thoughtful and practical gift for your parish priest this Christmas, consider arming him – and yourself – with the truth. It might seem a strange thing to give the priests you know a book about every priest’s worst nightmare, but doing so – and reading it yourself – could very well be an act of generosity, justice, and mercy.
A few weeks ago, I received a copy of David F. Pierre’s newest book, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories (The Media Report, 2011). The book documents the stories of six priests who have suffered under the millstone of false witness over the last decade of scandal in the Catholic Church, and their arduous trek to exoneration. Having lived in this nightmare for close to two decades, I could not put the book down.
But David Pierre also included a seventh account that has not – not yet, anyway – had a happy ending, and it made my hands tremble. It’s Chapter 20 in his book, and it’s entitled “Guilty or Falsely Accused? The Disputed Case of Fr. Gordon MacRae, Diocese of Manchester, NH.”
I could feel my anxiety rise as the chapter title jumped off the Table of Contents at me, and I braced myself. I have seen the words “the case of Fr. Gordon MacRae” abused and manipulated in the mainstream media far too often to expect anything just and fair. What makes the case “disputed” is the fact that I was convicted in a 1994 trial, and, in covering that fact, most in the news media have overlooked the devil in the details.
Not so for David F. Pierre. He presents in this new book a factual analysis of my trial, and what he calls “an alarming opposite side…that has not been widely told.” David Pierre did his homework, and captured well “The Twilight Zone” aura around my trial, exposing how spectral wisps of rumor and innuendo were reshaped by a prosecutor to get a conviction with no evidence at all. David Pierre simply took the story that has been hiding in plain sight, and stated it in plain speech. The result could rival the legal thrillers of John Grisham and Scott Turow. Sometimes real life makes for the most gripping drama.
AS THE OTHER SHOE FALLS
But the chapter on my trial isn’t why I recommend that you consider this book as a gift to your parish priest. Just three hours after David Pierre’s book, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused arrived in my hands, I received a letter from an old friend, “Father C,” a 71-year-old priest who retired from full time ministry just months ago. Father C has been a faithful and much beloved priest for over 45 years, and I knew how much he looked forward to retirement and “senior priest” status in his diocese. Many older pastors look forward to ministry as priests free of all the administrative responsibilities of a large urban parish. Few priests can ever actually retire, but Father C looked forward to the title, “senior priest,” and deserved it.
Then the other shoe fell. During the last decade in the child sexual abuse witch hunt, Father C’s name showed up on a contingency lawyer’s personal “suspect” list. Despite the fact that no claims or accusations were ever brought against Father C, this lawyer doggedly pursued something against the priest because he thought he could eventually drive an accuser out of the past. In a decade of stalking Father C, the shameless lawyer could find no one to accuse the priest, and his witch hunt tactics eventually backfired. The lawyer was suspended from the practice of law for falsifying evidence and for what a judge called “a personal vendetta against the Catholic Church.”
Ironically, the Introduction to David Pierre’s new book covers the story of this very lawyer as an example of how greed drives the Catholic scandal. Now, just months after Father C’s retirement, he has been accused in a claim driven by this same ex-lawyer. The claim is from almost thirty years ago, and the accuser is a man Father C has never met or even ever heard of. And – I hope you’re sitting down for this – Father C is the FIFTH priest this same man has accused over the last decade. When he runs out of money, this con artist has gotten away with simply creating another “recovered” memory and selecting another priest to accuse.
Rut despite all that, thanks to the U.S. Bishops’ SNAP-friendly, one-size-fits-all “Dallas Charter,” Father C is suspended, his faculties as a priest revoked, and he is banished from church property. Father C must spend his retirement years under a cloud of suspicion with an imposed alienation from the Church and priesthood unless and until he can prove the thirty-year-old claim never occurred.
This same story has happened to many “senior priests” at the hands of con men posing as victims whose cause is championed by lawyers who score 40 percent of every settlement plus expenses. I wrote of an almost identical account in “The Exile of Father Dominic Menna” on These Stone Walls.
Father C’s letter told of the crushing weight of this terribly painful end to a half century of faithful priestly witness and ministry. He added at the end of his letter:
“I want you to know that These Stone Walls has been an inspiration and a beacon of hope to me in this valley of tears.”
That’s when I was no longer able to hold back my own. I wish our bishops and priests would read “If Night Befalls Your Father, You Don’t Discard Him,” a July post on TSW. The story of old men being “credibly accused” (aka “settlement”) and then cast out alone and adrift is itself getting awfully old.
A lot of people write to ask me what they can do about all this. Please bear with me. I’m getting to that. But first, I want to convey to you just how vulnerable all priests are right now, and just how oblivious most of them are to the danger lurking at the other end of the telephone line. As I wrote in “A Treacherous Descent,” ignorance of persecution is not bliss. It is dangerous.
In the same week that I received both David Pierre’s book and Father C’s tormented letter, a SNAP member sent an e-mail message that was read to me. It was in response to my post, “SNAP’s Last Gasp: The Pope’s Crimes Against Humanity.” The SNAP member wanted me to know that I may well be innocent of any crimes, but I am wrong to defend myself, wrong to defend the Pope, and wrong to defend the Church. She wrote that if five people accuse a priest and four of them are lying, the Church should settle with all five just to be certain the real victim is compensated. And if five priests are accused and four of them are innocent, all five should “shut up and go to prison” just to be sure justice has been done for the victims of the guilty one, and for “having the arrogance to become priests in the first place.”
BACK TO SALEM – CIRCA 1692
Then came the scariest notion of all. I’ve been following the news media’s newest sound bite, “Scandal at Penn State.” Now come the contingency lawyers, and some of you may have noted some familiar names among them. Jeff Anderson – the same lawyer who became a multi-millionaire when he vowed to “sue the sh– out of the Catholic Church everywhere” (his very own words) – is leading the media charge to restate the Penn State Scandal in its inevitable monetary terms.
What happened at Penn State, if true (it’s all still “alleged” at this writing), is tragic. But I welcome the media pursuit of the truth. Despite all the efforts by SNAP leaders to drag the Catholic Church into the Penn State story – and thereby assure some on-going headlines for themselves – the effort is failing under the sheer weight of sexual abuse in the American education system. If this lid is peeled back fully, what just might be exposed is the extent to which the Catholic Church and priesthood have been wrongfully scapegoated and vilified as some sort of special locus of sexual abuse. Only time will tell whether the news media has the courage to expose and air out all the dust of this full story. I have my doubts.
What links the Penn State story with the priesthood scandal is the reality that people with social agendas have already latched onto it to exploit it for their own ends. In an article by William M. Welch in USA Today (“Sandusky: He ‘horsed around’,” Nov. 15) SNAP advisor and contingency lawyer Marci Hamilton also re-stated the nature of what constitutes child abuse worthy of a cash settlement, and I found it a very scary thing.
“Even when a child is just touched in passing by an adult, it can affect them.”
So now, for Marci Hamilton, the bar for child sexual abuse has been recast to include claims for damages in even the most innocent and inadvertent brush-up between any adult and any child. Under such a standard, no priest is safe from decades-old and money driven abuse claims. No teacher is safe. No coach is safe. No doctor or nurse is safe. No parent, grandparent, step-parent or foster parent is safe.
For Marci Hamilton, every child should now live in a world in which even the merest human contact from any adult, and especially men, could be seen as a criminal act – decades later – but for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of contingency lawyers – like Marci Hamilton, for example! David Pierre profiled Marci Hamilton in his new book:
“Under the banner of ‘protecting children,’ [Marci]Hamilton has made it her crusade to lobby state legislatures to remove the statute of limitations in order to inflict maximum financial and institutional damages to the Catholic Church.” (Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, p. 101).
This is an important point. Groups like SNAP, Voice of the Faithful, and Bishop-Accountability have been lobbying for a decade to remove statutes of limitations in order to “bring molesters to justice.” Don’t be lulled into a false sense that justice is behind this. The Supreme Court has already ruled that statutes of limitations for criminal prosecutions cannot be extended and then applied retroactively. This is not about “bringing molesters to justice.”
No, this entire agenda is about civil statutes of limitations so that – as Marci Hamilton now proposes – even an innocent touch can later be re-framed as abuse if a deep pocket like the Catholic Church is in the background of the accused. This is all about money. Just money. People who set out to serve both God and money usually end up not believing in God.
One civil liberties expert has written to me about the efforts of Marci Hamilton to inflict “justice” on the Catholic Church:
“[Marci] Hamilton is part of a group that believes they can and should accomplish certain ‘human rights’ and ‘civil rights’ goals by resort to means that are anathema to civil liberties, free speech, due process, reasonable punishments, and other civilized values . . . I consider myself to be a liberal civil libertarian, but I would not recognize a world run by people like Hamilton, nor would I want to live in such a world.”
CALL TO ACTION
So many readers have asked me what they can do to stop such evil from proliferating. The most effective way you can help is to arm yourself with the truth and then use it as a compass to point others in the same direction. Too many priests contribute to the presumption of guilt when their brothers are accused. Too many gain their distance from the accused, ostracize them, and blindly convince themselves that the same fate cannot befall them. It can, and it is the responsibility of those of us who know this to tell them of the danger.
You might remember David F. Pierre, Jr. as the host of The Media Report, a site I have often recommended on These Stone Walls. His previous book, Double Standard: Abuse Scandals and the Attack on the Catholic Church was a real service to the Church because of its lucid explanation of how the Church’s painful – and all too real – grappling with sexual abuse transformed into a contingency lawyer’s feeding frenzy with no regard for truth or justice. These two books together should be on the shelf of every priest and bishop.
I highly recommend Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories. It takes a giant step in conveying to the Church the human dimension of what happens to priests when their priesthood is for sale to anyone who points a finger. Having these facts and stories in the open in a compelling book format is a great service to the Church and priesthood. It is a great service to the people of God who have suffered a decade under the millstone of scandal.
Just as we were getting ready to post this, I learned that my friend, “Father C” was cleared of any wrongdoing by a Diocesan Review Board. It’s got to be a record for any such exoneration. It’s also a hopeful sign that at least not every diocese is ready to cave in to litigious con men and their “victim advocates” all too ready to take up their cause whether it’s true or not. But this story is also proof of the need for David Pierre’s book.
My call to action is as simple as that. Help us spread news of this book. Consider giving it to the priests you know. Consider reading it yourself. Above all, encourage the priests you know and make them a part of your daily prayer.
And there is another way you can help, especially now as we prepare to revisit my own case for a possible new appeal in the new year. If you like this post – or any other – you can help by tweeting it, pinging it, sending a link to your e-mail contacts, Facebook pages, and posting the link in comments on other blogs and Catholic websites. There is a viral effect among faithful Catholics, and its power should not be overlooked.
Fr. Gordon MacRae is a Spero columnist who blogs at TheseStoneWalls.