Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Fr Gordon MacRae Case, Whack-a-Mole Justice Holds Court

By Ryan A. MacDonald

I grew up in the sprawling metropolis of New York City. My parents, being somewhat refined folks, took me to all of the city's great cultural institutions, all within walking distance or a subway ride of home. During summer trips to a friend's Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire home, however, all that hard won culture was cast off at a Weir's Beach arcade where I excelled at a game called "Whack-a-Mole." Armed with a heavy padded mallet, there was something cathartic about clobbering those moles popping up in rapid succession. In the summer of 1994, I was hands down the “Whack-a-Mole"champ of Weir's Beach. 

I was completely insulated back then, of course, from something happening in another corner of New Hampshire that year. As I played "Whack-a-Mole," Catholic priest Gordon MacRae, today winding up nineteen years in prison, was fighting for his life and freedom in Cheshire County Superior Court sixty miles away in Keene, NH. Having studied in depth that debacle of a trial and all that preceded it, I know I've lost my "Whack-a-Mole" title to some folks in the "Live Free or Die" state.
As I prepare to publish this article, I have just learned that a pending habeas corpus appeal in the Father MacRae case was denied by Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler without a hearing on its new evidence or merits.  This will bring about further appeals and additional media scrutiny of this case. The latest in a series of articles on the MacRae case by Wall Street Journal investigative writer, Dorothy Rabinowitz, drew international attention to this injustice. At, "The Trials of FatherMacRae" (May 11, 2013) was the most viewed and most emailed article of that week. At last count, it generated over 52,000 links and was cited in whole or in part in hundreds of other venues. 
Among the more than 150 comments posted at the article's on-line version, a few were from New Hampshire resident, Ms. Carolyn Disco, an outspoken critic of the Diocese of Manchester and of Father MacRae (who, by the way she has never met, seen, or spoken with). In posted comments at WSJ and other sites over recent years, Ms. Disco has played a skillful game of "Whack-a-Mole," knocking down any and every exculpatory fact to vie for points in the one-sided propaganda game that fueled MacRae's trial, sent him to prison, and keeps him there today. A few years ago, Carolyn Disco was honored by SNAP, the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests, for her outspoken pursuit of New Hampshire's accused priests.

No one else among the Diocese of Manchester's 65+ accused Catholic clergy merits more of Carolyn Disco's vitriolic comments in number, volume, and tone than Gordon MacRae. He also happens to be the only New Hampshire priest who publicly maintains that he was falsely accused. A growing volume of compelling evidence backs up that claim.

I have tracked and documented Ms. Disco's comments from a number of venues over recent years.  The most misleading is a repeated and insulting claim that MacRae himself somehow convinced journalists, legal investigators, and other experts all of whom, in the Disco mythology, supposedly rely only on the imprisoned priest as their sole source for information in this case. When anything new surfaces, MacRae is described by Ms. Disco and a few other SNAP-connected detractors as a skillful manipulator alleged to possess some magical ability to convince many people of his innocence.
Carolyn Disco would have us believe that from a cell in the New Hampshire State Prison, Gordon MacRae, Prisoner No. 67546, somehow mesmerized a Pulitzer-winning member of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board into taking only his word for it, to consider nothing but his own point of view. Then, in this jaundiced view, MacRae's hypnotic powers from inside prison convinced me and a number of other writers. Supposedly my eight published articles on this case, each containing exhaustive research, overlooked everything but MacRae's own spin.
Then, in the Disco mythology, MacRae went on to similarly convince a career and highly decorated veteran FBI agent who independently investigated this case for three years before concluding in a recent court document that he "discovered no evidence that Gordon MacRae committed the crimes charged or any other crimes." The truth is that when hard questions were finally being asked, not one of this priest's accusers would talk.

Thomas Grover, whose claims sent the priest to a life sentence in prison, reportedly did not present as someone egregiously victimized. Today taking refuge in a Native American reservation in Arizona, he presented as someone caught in a monumental lie. He refused to answer any questions, saying only that he wants a lawyer.

Then MacRae convinced author, David F. Pierre, whose 2012 book, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused has a chapter analyzing MacRae's trial and other accusations and who asserted in his site that " has thoroughly examined Fr. MacRae's case." Then MacRae convinced author and psychologist, James Valladares, Ph.D., whose 2012 book, Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast was an exhaustive exploration of the injustices visited upon this imprisoned priest by both Church and State.
Then, in Ms. Disco's mythology, this conniving priest conned the entire Board of Directors of the Boston based National Center for Reason and Justice whose team of wrongful conviction experts spent a year looking at the MacRae case before unanimously agreeing to sponsor it for further appeals. Then MacRae convinced the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights based in New York to overlook all input but his own before repeatedly coming to the imprisoned priest's defense. Then before any of this began, MacRae convinced a nationally known polygraph expert by passing two pre-trial polygraph examinations. Of interest, my repeated calls for his accusers to undergo similar polygraph tests have been met with silence.

I have written numerous articles outlining my serious doubts about the justice of the case against Father Gordon MacRae and the legitimacy of his imprisonment. I have spent a lot of time ferreting out all the information I can obtain on this case, including that posted at Ms. Disco's favored source,

It was these very documents that finally convinced me of the innocence of this wrongly convicted priest. Anyone who knows anything about personal injury law and the contingency bar will dismiss in hand the many outrageous claims posed in lawsuit writs that comprise much of the material at this prosecutorial site. Claims in lawsuits are designed to achieve one end: to publicly embarrass a third party into agreeing to a lucrative settlement without any discovery process or testimony offered under oath in a court of law. The information in lawsuits is written and published for this singular end by lawyers who contract in advance to take forty percent or more of every settlement. 
In New Hampshire, upwards of $30 million to $40 million has been handed over to these lawyers and their claimants by the Diocese of Manchester. Nationwide, settlements have surpassed $3 billion.The wild claims of these self-serving lawyers are published with no effort at corroboration. These documents comprise the bulk of the "court documents" MacRae's detractors are always referring to in posted comments.
The most disturbing aspect of the MacRae case is the manipulation of facts and information that prevailed behind the scenes. Keene, NH Detective James McLaughlin wrote several reports of his investigation of this case, and all are available at the Bishop-Accountability website that Carolyn Disco is so eager for everyone to see. These reports are confusing because the website has blackened out the names of the "victims," most of whom would themselves be in jail if the entire truth of this case was allowed to emerge.
I just happen to have an unredacted set of Det. James McLaughlin's police reports in the MacRae case. An immediate problem is that Det. McLaughlin had a uniformly followed practice of audio and video recording interviews in virtually every claim of abuse he investigated before and after his work on the MacRae case. In his investigation of another Catholic priest just a year before the MacRae case surfaced, the detective's report began with his meticulously preparing and preserving both audio and video recordings of his interviews with the claimant. In an article McLaughlin wrote at the time, he described such recordings as standard procedure. As a member of the NH Attorney General's Task Force on Child Abuse in the early 1990s, McLaughlin trained other police officers to record every interview.
In the case he choreographed against Father Gordon MacRae, however, Detective McLaughlin did not record a single interview with any of the accusers. This is odd, and it has never been explained. His reports are written in a rambling narrative style that makes it impossible to determine the source of the various claims, many of which seem to come not from the accusers, but from McLaughlin himself. In many instances, the young men McLaughlin interviewed denied that MacRae ever did anything wrong. In editorial comments, McLaughlin then described why he thought the accusers were lying in their denials.
These interviews go on for page after page with McLaughlin badgering these teens to accuse the priest of something. The badgering is interspersed with editorial comments by McLaughlin detailing his uncorroborated suspicions about the priest's sexual orientation. In one documented instance recently uncovered by a career FBI special agent now investigating the MacRae case, a former accuser described being allegedly solicited by McLaughlin to falsely accuse the priest for "a large sum of money," by offering perjured testimony to a Grand Jury, something the young man ultimately declined to do.
But the most egregious injustices in these reports are their omissions. In a report that MacRae attempted to solicit teenager, Jon Plankey in 1988, for example, McLaughlin failed to document that Jon Plankey made the same accusation against a county employee supervising Plankey in a summer job program. Then Plankey accused a Congregational church choir director of solicitation and taking lewd photographs of him. Then Plankey accused another man of solicitation. Then he accused MacRae. Throughout all this, the report indicates, Plankey was working for McLaughlin in "a family-owned business." Today, Jon Plankey refused to answer questions about this case. His brother, however, told a new investigator that the entire Plankey claim was "a fraud for money."
Such serial victimization seemed to be across the board with MacRae's accusers, but none of these facts made it into Detective McLaughlin’s reports. Jonathan Grover accused MacRae, but he also accused Father Stephen Scruton of the identical behaviors he attributed to MacRae. Thomas Grover accused MacRae, but he also accused his adoptive father of sexual abuse, then he, too, accused Father Stephen Scruton. In fact, "he accused so many people he seemed to be going for some sex abuse victim world record" according to the report of a counselor who treated him. David Grover accused MacRae, but before that he accused two other unnamed priests, then he also accused Father Stephen Scruton. These details were not mentioned in McLaughlin's reports.  I have outlined this duplicity along with citations from the respective police reports in "Truth in Justice: Was the Wrong Catholic Priest Sent to Prison?" 


One of Carolyn Disco's more revealing comments appeared on June 8, 2013 at 12:31 a.m. at the America magazine website. The comment was posted on an article by Duquesne law professor Nicholas P. Cafardi reviewing the book, Mortal Sins by Michael D'Antonio. The comment under Ms. Disco's name includes the following: "Our attorney general found 'willful blindness, conscious ignorance and flagrant indifference to the danger priests posed to children' on the part of NH bishops."

If Ms. Disco quoted the NH attorney general accurately, then the quote is alarming. Note that it does not appear to distinguish "offender" priests, or even "accused" priests, from "all" priests. Statistically, Catholic priests pose no more risk to children and young people than do Protestant ministers, scout leaders, or public school teachers.  For a public official - especially one sworn to uphold justice - to single out the priesthood itself as some sort of special locus of sexual abuse belies a generalization and prejudice that may render that official unfit for public service. 

Carolyn Disco should provide a source and identity for this quote. It may have been attributed to former NH Attorney General Kelly Ayotte who went on from that position to election as a U.S. Senator. It may also have been attributed to her predecessor, former NH Attorney General Peter Heed.  Prior to holding that office, Peter Heed was a contingency lawyer who gained personal profit from the Catholic abuse scandal in New Hampshire. He brought suit against the Diocese of Manchester on behalf of one of MacRae's accusers, Jon Plankey whose serial victimization claims, described above, have never been explained.

In 2004 - a year after prosecution of the Diocese of Manchester by the NH Attorney General - Peter Heed resigned as Attorney General amid allegations that he "inappropriately touched a woman at a state-sponsored domestic and sexual violence conference" according to the NH Sunday News (January 26, 2013).  He went on to become Cheshire County (NH) prosecutor, a position from which he resigned in December 2012 to sign on with a local personal injury law firm that obtained multiple settlements from the Diocese of Manchester.  In January, 2013, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated and refused a state police blood alcohol test. If Ms. Disco's quote is attributed to former AG Peter Heed, his financial gain from these issues renders such a biased opinion moot.          

In 2003, Senior Assistant Attorney General William Delker prosecuted the Diocese of Manchester using what he himself described as a "novel" theory of law. Following an unprecedented Agreement to publish the files of accused priests as part of his settlement with the Diocese, Mr. Delker described the MacRae case as "one of the worst" in the Diocese of Manchester. It's a statement that Carolyn Disco is fond of quoting in her posted comments.
In 2005, The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz published a two-part series on the Father MacRae case in which she exposed much of the duplicity and corruption behind this case including the multiple claims of abuse brought against other persons by Father MacRae's accusers. In a local news article after publication of the WSJ series, William Delker was quoted as stating that Rabinowitz "did not present any new information in the case." In other words, he and other prosecutors knew of the fraud and corruption in the background of this case, but it didn't make any difference. Like so many others for whom these high-profile cases became a career booster, William Delker went on to become a New Hampshire Superior Court judge.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Fr. G. et all: I just finished "Sharing" with every RC org I could find, including "The Irish Voice", "The Vatican", FB page & web-site...The USCCB, Again...Yep, yesterdays was gone..but am sending them messages anyway.. & several RC Diocese throughout the Country...I'm being as "Nice" as possible, respecting their office...but, I let them know that was why! Because most of the Bishops don't seem to respect it, doesn't mean the rest of us should forget!! You are all in my prayers, God Bless you all, & Fr. Gordon...I do not intend to quit badgering them. So, I imagine I'll start having problems with 'hackers' soon...My Grandson's good with Computers though..:)


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