Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bishop Takes Pawn: Plundering The Rights of a Prisoner-Priest (Father Gordon MacRae)

By Ryan A. MacDonald

Bishop John B. McCormack, Aux. Bishop Francis J. Christian and Fr. Edward Arsenault, announce names of accused priests of the Diocese of Manchester.

"I do believe you will agree that we arrived at a point in our handling of these cases where canon and civil law are being eroded to the detriment and I think diminishment, not only of who we are as human beings, but of who we claim to be as Christians." (Catharine Henningsen, Voice of the Faithful Conference, February 5, 2004).

In October, 2000, Mr. Leo Demers - then Director of Engineering for WGBH-TV, the PBS-Boston television station that produces the news program, "Frontline" - approached the Diocese of Manchester after being contacted by "Frontline" producers with an interest in the case of wrongly imprisoned priest, Father Gordon MacRae. Mr. Demers first called Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian who flatly refused to discuss any aspect of the MacRae case. Shortly after, Mr. Demers was then summoned to meet with Bishop John McCormack. According to a sworn affidavit of Mr. Demers, Bishop McCormack informed him in this meeting:

"What I am about to tell you must never leave this room. I believe Father MacRae is innocent and his accusers likely lied, but there is nothing I can do to change a jury verdict."

Mr. Demers decided that he could not in conscience honor the secrecy demand of his bishop when two years later he learned that the bishop sent the case of Father MacRae to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome seeking his canonical dismissal from the priesthood based upon no evidence other than the fact of his convictions.

A New Hampshire attorney has corroborated the statement of Leo Demers with a statement of her own. Her sworn affidavit reveals that in December 2000, she sought a meeting with Bishop McCormack after learning of the possible interest of Dorothy Rabinowitz and The Wall Street Journal in looking at the MacRae case. According to her statement, both Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian were present at that meeting, and both unequivocally stated their respective belief that Father MacRae is in fact innocent of the claims that sent him to prison. The two bishops informed the attorney of their intent to explore and fund an appeal of Father MacRae's trial and sentence.

In 2001, Father Edward Arsenault, Bishop McCormack's "delegate for ministerial conduct," raised the following points in two confidential memos to the Bishop:

"My suggestion is that we address the inequity in Gordon's lack of base remuneration over the last 8 - 10 years {a calculable number) . . . This would alleviate ... the burden from you for extraordinary measures and would be more consistent with Church law."

"It was unfair of the Diocese not to assist Gordon with funding an appeal of his sentence leaving him with a public defender for his only remaining hope for appeal."

"We ought to admit to Gordon that we have no reason to doubt that the Grovers [the accusers] may have embellished their testimony to suit their own purposes and that we have never supported Detective Mclaughlin's tactics.”

The "base remuneration" never took place. However, other confidential memos to Bishop McCormack from other Diocesan personnel reveal their doubts about the trial testimony against Father MacRae, including these excerpts from a memo from Diocesan Attorney Bradford Cook:

"Throughout this process it was obvious that all of the Grovers were expansive in their testimony and it was aimed at getting a certain result, and frankly none of the attorneys involved in the criminal or civil cases trusted their testimony to be completely accurate. Whether it was all trumped up or totally manufactured is impossible to know . . . That it was embellished was clear."

"Detective McLaughlin has been the instigator of many cases in the Keene area and seems to be a crusader on sexual abuse cases, engaging in questionable activities which border on entrapment on occasion."

"As to the involvement of Father Scruton or anyone else at St. Bernard's, clearly there were several members of the clergy located at that church who had problems and it is impossible to discount that one or more of them may have been involved with one or more of the Grovers." (article continued)


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