Friday, June 24, 2016

A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph LaPlante's Court

Federal Judge Joseph LaPlante dismissed without testimony Fr Gordon MacRae’s recent hope for justice. No U.S. court has allowed this defendant to utter a single word.

On September 13, 2012, a full year before MacRae’s habeas corpus petition came before Judge LaPlante, the annual “Red Mass” for the legal and law enforcement community took place at Saint Joseph Cathedral up in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire. It was officiated by The Most Reverend Peter A. Libasci, Bishop of Manchester. Following the Mass, Bishop Libasci was a guest of honor as the New Hampshire Catholic Lawyer’s Guild held its annual awards dinner at the Radisson Hotel to honor the 2012 recipient of the St. Thomas More Award.

According to the Catholic Lawyer’s Guild invitation, the award is bestowed upon a Catholic lawyer or judge “who embodies the spirit of St. Thomas More in courage, dedication, integrity, civility, and compassion toward others.” On September 13, 2012 the St. Thomas More Award was presented by Bishop Libasci and the Catholic Lawyer’s Guild to The Honorable Joseph N. LaPlante.

Saint Thomas More would have heard all sides. He would not, as so many have done, simply assume a priest’s guilt. He would not have made comments like “especially a Catholic priest.” He would not have presumed the existence of evidence he had never seen nor heard for himself. He would have gotten to the truth of the matter before tossing the case off his desk. He would not have allowed the continued judicial railroading of an innocent man.

    Sunday, December 6, 2015

    Thomas Merton and Pornchai Moontri: A Prayer for the Year of Mercy

                                                                                 By Ryan A. MacDonald

    Pornchai Moontri was Valedictorian of his high school graduating class of 2012

    Tragedy struck the life of Pornchai Moontri obstructing justice and mercy. Now echoed in a prayer by Thomas Merton, the redemption of Pornchai evokes the Year of Mercy.  

    Some recent posts over on These Stone Walls made me want to revisit something I published a few years ago but never got back to.  It was an article titled “Pornchai Moontri at the Narrow Gate,” and it has always needed a sequel. 

    A lot has come to light since I first ventured into the remarkable life of this remarkable young man.  I have learned a lot about Pornchai’s life, including the fact that at age two in Northern Thailand, he was abandoned to the streets and had to be hospitalized for severe malnutrition before relatives came to rescue him.  Living with the wonderful and kind extended family of his mother, he worked hard in childhood, but he was happy.

    Then, at the vulnerable age of eleven, he was torn from his home, his country, his very identity, and brought to America.  In the ordinary course, this could have been a golden opportunity for a child like Pornchai.  America should have meant a home, an education, a family, nourishment, a life.  Instead, this child was forced by a chain of events into homelessness and despair.  How and why that happened to him at age twelve in 1985 is a shocking story waiting to be told.  And it will be told. But not just yet.

    Speaking and understanding little English, Pornchai was deprived of a home, a family, and guidance at an age when most American children coped with little more than school and homework.  His childhood on the streets was consumed with the bare necessities of mere survival.  On a daily basis, for the second time in his life, Pornchai faced the challenges of finding food, shelter, and the means to survive alone in a foreign land. Six years later, at age 18, a fight and a flight took a life, and Pornchai was sent to prison.

    Today, Pornchai has transformed from within.  He graduated from high school as an honor student in 2012, was Valedictorian of his class, and has since completed post-secondary courses in theology with a Grade Point Average of 4.0 at Catholic Distance University.  Then he earned two diplomas with highest honors in Psychology and Social Work at the Stratford Career Institute.  He did all of this while in prison with some help from friends to pay his tuition, aided by the sale of some magnificent woodworking projects he created in prison. 

    Today, Pornchai is a mentor to his peers, a source of guidance for others in troubled times, and a model of recovery from the darkest of adversities.  Pornchai knows the past will echo throughout his life. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a cross he had carried alone for much of his life.

    Five years ago, Pornchai also became Catholic on the Feast of Divine Mercy in 2010.  He has since led many others from the dark wood of error down that same path with the example he set as a member of Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s Knights at the Foot of the Cross.  In 2012 on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Pornchai Consecrated himself to Jesus through Mary after completing the “33Days to Morning Glory” retreat.  He was among the first prisoners in the world to do so, and his special witness was chronicled by my fellow journalist, Felix Carroll in “Mary is at Work Here.”

    Marian Helper

    Pornchai Moontri accomplished all of this – or more accurately it was all accomplished within him – while a prisoner in the State of New Hampshire after having emerged from seven years in a long dark night of the soul held in the cruelty of solitary confinement.  For his sheer power of resilience and access to the Force within him, Luke Skywalker has nothing on Pornchai Moontri.

    Late last month, it was my privilege to interview Pornchai via telephone from prison.  As we spoke, I could not help but ponder some of the powerful accounts of radical conversion and new life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture.  His story feels like some of those.  Upon encountering God, Abram became Abraham, Simon became Peter, and Saul – who once persecuted Christ – became Paul.

    Pornchai Moontri has become “Max” – short for Maximilian – in honor of his Patron Saint, a fellow prisoner and traveller on this road, Saint Maximilian Kolbe.  It was this new name that caused me to want to write of Max again after reading Father Gordon MacRae’s wonderful recent post on These Stone Walls:  “PatronSaints:  Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Heaven’s Door."

    It tells the story of how St. Maximilian Kolbe inserted himself into the life of this wrongly imprisoned priest and then, through him, into the life of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri.  It is a breathtaking and remarkable account of Divine Mercy, and required reading during the Jubilee Year of Mercy that commences on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

    Knowing what I know now about Pornchai’s present life and its stark contrast with a tragic past – much of which you can view at the powerful new site, Mercytothe Max – I had some trepidation about broaching some tough subjects, but my concern was premature.  We spoke at length about the trauma and trials of the past, and we ended up agreeing that much of this is a story yet to come.

    So we dwelled mostly on the present and future.  I had lots of questions for Pornchai about the daily life he and “Father G” lead in trying circumstances.  Like a good reporter, I was trying to uncover who these two men really are and how they live and cope with the day to day trials of decades of imprisonment.  Pornchai spoke candidly about their day to day life and the lives of the other prisoners who have become part of their orbit.

    Some of this was painful to hear.  Some of it was very funny.  But in the end, I could use little of what I learned.  These guys will never be fodder for the usual news media or any of the mundane and shallow media that most consumers of the news have come to settle for.  They live on another plane of existence than most, and it is not easy to describe in words.

    One response of Pornchai struck me hard, however.  I have learned a lot about prisons in America. One hard truth is that state prisons virtually starve prisoners, and then sell food to them at a profit.  In the New Hampshire prison, the food budget has been slashed year after year, and the daily caloric intake for those who cannot purchase food is on the level of bare sustenance.

    The prison commissary where our friends may purchase food and supplies once per week has a four-page list of basic food items, hygiene and medical supplies, postage and writing supplies, and even some clothing that prison inmates must provide for themselves.  I wondered how someone like Pornchai, with no solid roots in this country, could possibly endure and cope with prison in these circumstances.

    Pornchai brushed aside the question, but I got my answer from another inmate who asked that I not use his name.  He told me that the prison commissary was closed for three weeks in November, and that everyone in the unit where our two friends live ran completely out of food, coffee, postage, and other necessities.  The inmate said that Father G and Pornchai gave much of the food they had to others with nothing, and by the end of the second week, Pornchai had nothing but two packages of Ramen noodles left, and another week to go before they could purchase any food.  He said Father G and others were going to bed hungry each night, and they kept this to themselves.

    But the inmate who wrote to me also told me that there was a new inmate in that unit who was living in the overflow bunks in the recreation area of this overcrowded prison.  This man is diabetic, and one night had seizures from hypoglycemia. The prisoner said that Pornchai – called “Ponch” by other inmates – brought this man the last two packages of Ramen noodles he had, and told him to come and get hot water for them whenever he needed them.

    I asked Pornchai why he did this.  He seemed embarrassed that I had learned of it, but finally said, “I’ve been hungry and know what it’s like.  It’s what St. Maximilian would have done.  It’s what he would want me to do.”  He didn’t seem to want me to write about this, but of all the struggles he copes with day to day for 24 years in prison, this incident seems the one that best defines him.  This is the guy the justice system up there just described as showing inadequate “evidence that you have made a substantial and sustained effort to lead a positive and productive life.”

    I asked Pornchai – “Max” – if he was discouraged by the recent denial of his Clemency Petition for commutation of his sentence after 24 years in prison. After all, I just read this week that the maximum sentence in the U.S. federal prisons for inmates convicted of that same crime is 23 years, and Pornchai has already surpassed that. He said that he plans to try again next summer, but what he really wanted to talk about was Pope Francis.

    Max told me that he and Father Gordon MacRae both listened to Pope Francis address a jointsession of Congress during his recent visit to the United States, and Max was very excited to hear the Holy Father mention Thomas Merton.  Max said that Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that a reader of These Stone Walls printed and sent to him last year.  He said that this prayer has become the defining sense of his life, past, present and future. Max said that this is now his prayer for the Year of Mercy.  I struggled to contain my emotions as Max read it to me:

     My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)

    So our friend Pornchai is now Pornchai-Max, and I for one welcome the addition.  At some point – hopefully a year from now if justice and mercy prevail – he will be released from the prison to which he was consigned at age 18.  At that point, he will be detained elsewhere until his deportation to Thailand, a country he has not seen since childhood.

    Last year Felix Carroll and Marian Press published a wonderful book, Love, Lost, Found, with a chapter that chronicles the story of Porchai Moontri and his Divine Mercy conversion.  The Divine Mercy apostolate in Bangkok has become very interested in Pornchai-Max, and plans to receive him when he arrives.  But he will have to start his life over and that is no easy task.  As this coming Year of Mercy commences, lets make this a mission of mercy.

    If you, or anyone you know, wants to help restore a life and future for Pornchai, gifts to a fund for him can be sent via the Pay-Pal link at the Home Page of TheseStone Walls.  Simply mention in your message that your gift is to be used for the support of Pornchai Moontri and it will be marked for this purpose by his Godmother, Charlene Duline, who manages that Pay-Pal account.  You may also make checks out to Pornchai Moontri and mail to me at:
                Pornchai Moontri
                c/o Ryan A. MacDonald
                P.O. Box 68732
                Indianapolis, IN 46268-0732

    To assist in the support of both Fr. Gordon and Pornchai you may use the same PayPal link above or  address your check to:
                Fr. Gordon J. MacRae
    P.O. Box 205
                Wilmington, MA 01887-0205

    Inquiries can be sent to me at

    Thank you for reading.  Let the Year of Mercy commence!

    Love, Lost, Found:  17 Divine Mercy Conversions by Felix Carroll is available at

    Thursday, September 24, 2015

    A Small Glimmer of Justice Found in The Fisher's Net Awards

    These Stone Walls is a finalist for Best Social Justice Site

    These Stone Walls, the blog of falsely accused priest Fr Gordon MacRae, is a finalist for The Fisher's
    Net Award for Best Social Justice Site, an ironic achievement given that justice is denied this priest.

    In the sometimes dark forest of Internet research, I came upon a ray of light one day, an online endeavor called The Fisher's Net Awards.  It's an international effort to recognize the finest website or web presence, in any of ten categories, that best represents the mission and teachings of the Catholic Church.  According to The Fisher's Net Awards website, "nominees must exemplify excellence in online media utilising creative use of design and technology or exceptional content."

    I went to The Fisher's Net Awards site and did some exploring.  While there, I decided to nominate These Stone Walls for the category of "Best Blog."  I thought it would go nowhere, and nowhere is exactly where it went. There are some 20 million blogs and thousands of them describe themselves as Catholic blogs.  I thought the sheer volume of competition would overwhelm my nomination of the blog of a priest unjustly in prison.

    The nominations for this award closed on September 8 so I went back there to have a final look. Sure enough, These Stone Walls was missing from the long list of finalists in the "Best Blog" category.  I spent some time reviewing the sites listed, and voted for the Catholic blog I thought best fit the criteria for exceptional content even though it wasn't the one I nominated.

    Then I opened up a few other categories to scroll through their list of nominees.  When I looked at the nominees for "Best Social Justice Site," I was startled to see These Stone Walls listed among the five finalists. I voted again, thinking I might be in a tiny minority.

    A week or so later, I began to come across some social media buzz about this category so I went back to it.  I was shocked to see the voting tally for These Stone Walls stretch all the way across the page with more than 70% of the votes.  I can only attribute this outpouring of support to one thing:  among the hearts of Catholics, there are many who recognize the need to bring some small glimmer of justice to the story behind These Stone Walls.

    This is not the first public acclaim that the consistently exceptional content at These Stone Walls has produced.  But it is the first main stream Catholic recognition on an international scale.  Please lend your support to this endeavor by visiting The Fisher's Net Awards, by reviewing the nominees, and by voting in each of the ten categories listed there. Please also spread word of this effort among your social media contacts.

    And if you deem it worthy, please join the votes and voices of many in recognition of These Stone Walls, a voice in the wilderness that raises the bar in the Catholic online world.  You can vote only once in each category, and voting closes on December 1, 2015.

    Monday, September 29, 2014


    It's true that there has been a cover-up in the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, but it's not the one you think.  It happened 20 years ago in Keene, New Hampshire.

    Every time I write about this story, my Inbox fills with messages from readers stunned and appalled by the facts of the 1994 trial of Fr Gordon MacRae.  A minority pose questions such as "How do you know he is innocent?" to which I usually reply, "What makes you think he may not be?" Then the tirades begin, but they never answer my question.

    Those who labor to suppress this case of false accusation preface their answers with statements like, "Priests did terrible things and bishops covered it up!" "We all know these priests are guilty," and "The Catholic Church is a child raping institution!" (from a SNAP member).  The prevailing logic here is that Father MacRae went to prison in 1994 for the sins of the Church, the sins of the bishops, and the sins of the priesthood.  For many silent Catholics who just want to move on from The Scandal, that is okay.  It is not okay.
    In the trial of Father MacRae, the sole evidence was the word of Thomas Grover, a 27-year-old, 220-pound man with a criminal rap sheet for assault, theft, forgery, and narcotics charges - all kept from the jury by Judge Arthur Brennan.  Grover had a long history of drug abuse, and gained nearly $200,000 for "telling a lie and sticking to it," as his ex-wife describes his testimony. His ex-wife also says, today, that he punched her and broke her nose before the trial. 
    And yet throughout this case, with all these factors in plain sight of everyone but the jury, not one  person questioned whether this man might be lying for money.  Not the zealous detective who today reportedly responded to the question of injustice with one of his own: "Why didn't MacRae just take the plea deal?"  Not the two prosecutors, one of whom was fired after this trial while the other later committed suicide.  Not Judge Arthur Brennan who sent this priest to prison for decades while citing evidence that no one has ever seen, evidence that never existed.

    Nor was the possibility of lying for money ever openly considered by anyone in the Diocese of Manchester when they wrote six-figure checks to pay Grover and his brothers off.  By the time it was all over, Thomas Grover, Jonathan Grover, David Grover and Jay Grover - all "remembering" their claims in the same week over a decade later - emerged from the case with combined settlements of over $650,000.  MacRae took, and passed, two pre-trial polygraph (lie detector) tests in this case.  Thomas Grover and his brothers never assented to take a polygraph.
    Read the rest of this riveting story:  "Bombshells and Black Ops in the Father MacRae Case"

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Justice and a Priest's Right of Defense in the Diocese of Manchester

    St. Bernard Church, Keene, NH: Justice and a Priest's Right of Defense in the Diocese of Manchester

    By Ryan A. MacDonald     
    A right of defense for accused priests is supported on paper in the Diocese of Manchester, but in one case it has been suppressed and obstructed at every turn.
    I became quite familiar with the scene above during a short trip this past summer. A nice 4-hour drive from New York took me along Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River.  From Brattleboro, Vermont (locals call it "Brat") I drove east on Route 9 for 18 miles to the picturesque City of Keene, New Hampshire and its much admired downtown Main Street.
    Keene is a small city with a population of about 23,500 - not counting the 5,000 students enrolled in Keene State College.  The social and economic hub of southwest New Hampshire, it boasts the widest Main Street in the United States, and its bustling downtown collection of quaint and busy shops, restaurants, a theatre, offices, and concerts on the Keene Commons is the envy of many cities its size.  Keene's downtown begins at the doors of St. Bernard Church, today part of a three-parish community known as the Parish of the Holy Spirit.
    Saint Bernard Church and Rectory are depicted above. The building in the background is Saint Joseph RegionalCatholic School (grades K to 8). The entire complex is bordered on the left by the bustling campus of Keene State College, and on the right by busy downtown Keene. Across the wide, heavily traveled Main Street from the rectory is the region's largest and busiest U.S. Post Office, a pizza take-out, and a convenience store conducting a brisk college town business 24/7.


    Just above is a closer view of the Main Street driveway between Saint Bernard Church and Rectory.      It's a scene I wanted to see for myself, and was the reason for my summer drive to Keene.  Note the flat roofed adjunct just to the left of the building.  It was added on at some point to the large old mansion that became St. Bernard Rectory.

    The rounded doorway on the building's left side was in 1983 the rectory's main business entrance. Just to its left is a large window. In 1980, a closed circuit television camera was installed just above that door because the rectory had been the scene of a number of urban burglaries and an armed robbery or two.  In the late 1970s, two priests and the pastor's elderly mother were tied up in the rectory basement while the house was ransacked and robbed in the middle of the night.
    On the other side of that door in the 1980s was the desk of a receptionist and secretary staffed in two shifts from 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM.  There was also a waiting area for parishioners wanting to see one of the four priests assigned there in the early 1980s, and for daily clients of the region's busy St. Vincent DePaul Society seeking assistance with food, clothing, and emergency shelter.
    On the right of the church building just across the narrow driveway from the rectory was the most heavily used entrance and exit for parish activities. These doorways to the church and rectory were the busiest places in or around that parish church.  The photo above was taken very early in the morning.  At virtually any other time, it is a hubbub of activity.

    Note the large window just to the left of the rectory's main entrance with its monitoring TV camera.  It was just behind this highly visible office window - in full view of the daily hustle and bustle of Main Street traffic and the steady stream of visitors into and out of this busy rectory and church - that 27-year-old Thomas Grover claimed that he was four times sexually assaulted by Father Gordon MacRae between April and November of 1983.
    It was here behind this highly visible window where Grover claimed that in the months just prior to his 16th birthday he sought MacRae out for counseling for his drug addiction, but instead was threatened, berated, made to cry, and then raped.  It was here that 220-pound Thomas Grover claimed to have returned four times from week to week unable to remember the sexual assaults he claimed to have occurred during previous visits. 

    Like so many who have looked at this case, I was aghast when I first became familiar with the details of the trial of Father MacRae.  I wrote of this trial in an article entitled "Judge Arthur Brennan Sentenced Fr Gordon MacRae to Die in Prison." As The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote recently in "The Trials of Father MacRae":
    "Those aware of the facts of this case find it hard to imagine that any court today would ignore the perversion of justice it represents."

    Once I became aware of the facts of this case, I had to see for myself exactly where this was all claimed to have taken place. What I saw in the scenes depicted above is a compelling visual to accompany something Attorney Robert Rosenthal included in his appeal briefs to the New Hampshire courts:
    "In what the petitioner asserts has been revealed as a scam to obtain a cash settlement from the Catholic church, Tom Grover, a drug addict alcoholic and criminal, accused Father Gordon MacRae of molesting him years before.  Grover's civil suit - featuring MacRae's conviction - earned him nearly $200,000.  No witnesses to the alleged acts could be found, despite that they were to have occurred in busy places. Grover's claims were contradicted by objective facts (e.g. inoperable locks that he claimed worked, acts in an office to which MacRae did not have access, claims about a chess set that had not [yet] been purchased)."

    Thomas Grover claimed that these assaults occurred in this office commencing in April 1983 and ending just as he turned 16 years old in mid-November 1983.  Father Gordon MacRae did not arrive at St.Bernard Church until mid-June 1983, and did not have access to this particular office because it was occupied by another priest until the end of July 1983.  Upon learning this pre-trial, Grover then vaguely moved one of his claimed assaults to an adjacent busy office to which MacRae also had no access that summer.
    In the summer of 1983, St. Bernard Rectory employed a full and part-time staff of twelve, including the four priests who lived in this house, and a total staff of 25 parish and school employees all coming and going throughout the day and evening.  And yet, the prosecution produced not a single witness to these acts. No one ever testified to seeing Thomas Grover there. No one ever opened the door to admit him, or saw him leave. No one ever claimed to have heard anything. 

    A lock Grover claimed that MacRae used to secure the office door had been dismantled and painted over years before the priest arrived. An ornate marble chess set Grover claimed was inside that office during the assaults was not purchased by the priest until three years later in 1986.  Today, Grover's former wife, Trina Ghedoni says that Grover admitted to her that he perjured himself throughout the MacRae trial, and said he offered perjured testimony about the chess set because "it was what he was told to say."

    The one person who could have helped to inform this appellate defense - Father Robert Biron, a prominent pastor in the Diocese of Manchester - refused to help. The above scene was his office several years before MacRae arrived, and again for several more years after MacRae left St. Bernard's.  Father Biron might have spoken to the improbability of much of what had been claimed.  He might have described the painted over office door lock that didn't work, the shade on the office window that wasn't there in 1983, the absence of air conditioning requiring that this office window remain wide open to the scene overlooking the main entrance and busy Main Street throughout summer months.
     Father Robert Biron might have attested to the traffic; to the noise of people coming and going, noise that easily penetrated that office door in both directions. He might have attested to the waiting area just outside that office door, and its steady stream of people.  But he refused.  In his answer to Father MacRae's plea as the investigation for this appeal began, Father Biron wrote on his official Our Lady of Fatima Parish stationery,
    "I can't be of any help to you, and don't see the necessity of entertaining any further correspondence from you." (Letter of Father Robert Biron, January 19, 2009)

    I wrote of this letter and others from priests of Fr. MacRae's diocese in "To Azazel:  Father Gordon MacRae and The Gospel of Mercy." Father Biron's cold letter was received by the imprisoned priest just after the Bishop of Manchester at the time, now retired Bishop John McCormack, insisted to Vatican officials and others that he and the Diocese of Manchester fully support Father MacRae's right of defense.

    Earlier, Bishop McCormack offered Father MacRae $40,000 toward an appellate defense, but with conditions: he wanted the diocese to choose MacRae's lawyers, wanted the priest to sever all contact with Dorothy Rabinowitz and The Wall Street Journal, and wanted him to agree not to review the history and merits of this case, appealing only his sentence and not the convictions.  Bishop McCormack then reneged on his offer in a grueling and cruel "stringing along" of this imprisoned priest that I described in detail in "Bishop Takes Pawn: Plundering the Rights of a Prisoner-Priest."

    When Father Gordon MacRae was on trial in 1994, and the prosecution finished presenting its case, which consisted of nothing more than Thomas Grover's hysteria and evasiveness, Judge Arthur Brennan instructed Fr MacRae not to take the stand in his own defense or else the judge would open the door for Thomas Grover's brothers to testify to their own false claims brought in civil suits.  Gordon  MacRae was the only person never heard from in this trial.

    When Judge Arthur Brennan sentenced Father MacRae to more than 30x what had been offered in a plea deal, the judge never permitted the priest to speak.  Now, today, both New Hampshire courts receiving this appeal have dismissed it without Fr. MacRae being allowed to utter a word. Even in the Diocese of Manchester, the Bishop presented Father MacRae's case for dismissal to the Holy See without his ever even knowing what was put forward or having any opportunity to defend himself.  Fortunately, to date, the Holy See has not seen fit to act solely on such unilateral information. The silence forced upon Father Gordon MacRae has been deeply unjust. This case must move forward and be fully heard.  

    What are they all afraid of?