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?


  1. Ah, the truth is emerging about the Father Gordon MacRae case. The dastardly ones of his Diocese must be scurrying around like trapped rats! Fr. Biron's comment to Fr. MacRae is not worthy of a priest's response to another priest asking for help. Fr. Biron has/had the information needed, but chooses to stick his head in the sand and follow the orders handed down years not help Fr. MacRae in any way! Shame on all of you connected to the Diocese of Manchester. Let other priests beware and know they have NO friends in the Diocese of Manchester. If/when accused, you are on your own!

  2. It's difficult to even mention Fr MacRae's name to any priest in this diocese ..... they clam up .... as if afraid any one of them could be thrown under the bus as well ! Bishop McCormack lived in a condo just down the street from me after his retirement, not far from the Bishop's Residence, but recently moved .... who knows where. This all has to come to a head at some point .... how long can the diocese and the court officials keep their heads buried in the sand. Prayers always for Fr. MacRae .... the truth will prevail at some point!

  3. What are they all afraid of? Well, for starters, the truth. Msgr Edward Arsenault, from whom Bishop John McCormack appears to have been taking direction throughout all this, settled the Grover claims and 250 other claims against some 62 priests of the Diocese of Manchester, is now suspended from ministry. He is under investigation by both Church and State officials for alleged financial misconduct and a compromising "adult relationship."

    Edward C. Domaingue, vice-president of the NH Union Leader for 28 years, and a person who wrote and published a number of harsh editorials condemning Fr MacRae and others in the Diocese of Manchester, was recently indicted on eight felony charges of trafficking child pornography.

    At the time Thomas Grover's charges were brought, his mother, Patricia Grover, was a sex abuse investigator for the NH Dept. of Child and Family Services. Grover had also accused his own father of sexual abuse, a fact never reported or investigated by Mrs. Grover or anyone else. While in therapy for his drug addiction, Thomas Grover "accused so many people he appeared to be going for some sex abuse victim world record" according to his counselor. One of his brothers accused another priest besides MacRae. Another brother accused two other priests besides MacRae. None of this was ever investigated because doing so would have revealed a truth inconvenient to both Church and State: that none of this ever happened.

  4. But Father Biron testified for the defense at trial regarding the
    circumstances (locks on doors, glass doors, traffic in office, etc.) in St. Bernard's Rectory. What more could he do?

  5. That is true, and I'm glad this point has been raised. Fr. Biron did testify as a defense witness at the trial of Fr. MacRae. He did testify about locks on the doors, but his testimony was undermined by the prosecutors who kept attacking it. That is not the point here. A great deal of information has surfaced since then, information about Thomas Grover by some of his family members who today say this was all a fraud, information about others in that rectory, and information about the rectory itself. What was asked of Fr. Biron was a simple request that he take a telephone call from Fr. MacRae's new lawyers and a former FBI Agent who spent three years investigating this case. They had simple questions about the rectory layout and location of office space that would have helped immensely in the framing of this appeal. He refused, and he refused in a cold and mean spirited way that flew in the face of the Corporal Works of Mercy. There was no excuse for it, and don't make excuses for him. I can only assume that he refused to help because he was told to refuse to help. I should also make it known that Father MacRae has steadfastly declined to allow me to write about this matter using the names of priests of his diocese as I write the truth. It wasn't until I published my own blog that I was able to write the whole truth. In my opinion, Fr. Biron could still help. He just won't.

  6. Fr. Gordon MacCrae has behaved splendidly as a real man of God.
    Those cassocked hypocrites starting with the bishop, now retired, and his sidekick who is himself a pervert must have sacrificed priests like Fr. Macrae for a deal so they could fill up their pockets. But old age and their own personal demons have been unearthed. You are on your own, Father Gordon. Write. You can writes splendidly. Your writings are your best defense. Let us hope that the Pope himself will happen to come upon this blog of yours and begin the healing process by letting you speak out your defense. In the beginning was the Word...the Word is still with God. Up to this point in time. As sure as the sun rises, you will be vindicated. Saint Joan of Arc was condemned to be burnt at the stake by the presiding judge of the Inquisition...a bishop. Those clerical scoundrels, imperious in their clericalism and careerism, have fed their priests to the swines...and they wonder why there are no vocations? Instead of giving my collection to their churches with pastors like Biron, so unpriestly, so inhuman, I'd rather donate it for the sustenance of Fr. Gordon, unjustly languishing in jail because his confreres who preach love have refused to love him.

    1. Good for you, I agree. Many of the Church's higher-ups have been cruel to those who became saints, like Joan of Arc, St. Francis, and Padre Pio.

      I think it blasphemy to write a refusal of help (Fr. Biron) on Our Lady of Fatima stationery. I hope they ALL go to confession one day and the confessor says they must tell the truth and repent to be absolved from their crimes...Perhaps they do not even believe what Jesus taught,who knows?

  7. Having been a criminal defense attorney for 25-years I have never read of a more appalling case of an unjust conviction. Good people of faith and courage must unite and do everything possible to reverse this miscarriage of justice. Is there any difference between the imprisonment of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Father Gordon; I think not. Both suffered because they were Catholic Priest. Any Bishop who abandons his priests will face the consequences at judgment day. Why does it seem that our Bishops are politicians first and so quick to appease satan's agents, such as the press, trial lawyers looking to make a quick buck, and others. Didn't they (the bishops) realize long ago that once satan smells blood he will never let up.

    Thank you for this Blog Mr. MacDonald.

    Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq. (A.M.D.G.)

    "...for the one's with great difficulty and no clear evidence of success plot away at the task of awakening in just a few men, a small spark of faith, of hope and of charity." Karl Rahner, S.J.

  8. As a Catholic, I am appalled.

    As a former worker with damaged and sexually abused kids, I wonder what Mrs. Grover is most afraid of? Perhaps that she might have to consider whether her husband abused one or more of her sons.

    As the wife of an also-wrongly- convicted-man, I can well believe that those who might have helped just didn't - why? - because they are afraid that if their name gets out in the public domain then they could well be wrongly accused.

    And don't let anyone say that Courts know better these days. They do not. Credence is still given to the claimant over the defendant and whatever evidence he can muster after 40 years. Even to the extent in my husband's case where the Judge saw fit to ignore business records that contradicted the claimants' stories and which showed he was not on duty, but on Recreation Leave and Study Leave.

    I was interested in Fr. MacRae saying that the convicts inside his prison estimate half of the allegations are false. I have been suggesting the figure was perhaps about one-in-three and might perhaps rise as high as one-in-two depending on the cohort of claimant, based on an analysis of those claimants I knew to have been wrong in their evidence to one of the case studies at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse Allegations in Australia 2013-2018 because these claimants had a commonality of severe early childhood abuse, often also including sexual abuse, and they mostly, simply had wrongful, merged memories of abuse some forty years later. Some, of course, were obviously lying.

    Although one cannot deny that sexual abuse of children has occurred all over the world by people such as priests, teachers, sporting coaches, house-parents, foster-parents and welfare workers - but mostly in fact, it has occurred within the family unit by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and step-fathers, I would like to suggest that what is happening with these witch-hunts and the public's readiness to believe every allegation, is a psychological defence mechanism where people can think to themselves something like, "Well I might cheat on the tax-man, I might cheat on my wife, I might cheat on my boss etc., but I WOULD NEVER SEXUALLY ABUSE A CHILD, and therefore I am not THAT bad".

    What is happening is spiritual warfare - and these wrongly accused and convicted men are in fact martyrs in a sense.

    I will continue to fight for an Appeal for my elderly, sick husband, although I will now have to rely on Legal Aid if it is granted because we have had to sell our home to pay legal bills and I am now in debt to one child that I can never repay.

    But I think we should all pray that these men, of whatever religious persuasion, or none, come to a place of forgiveness for their accusers if they have not already done so, and have the ability and willingness to offer their sufferings up to God to be used to help bring about God's reign on this earth.

    Before my husband's Trial he had a dream that Blessed Mother Mary was crying and he gently asked her what was the matter - could he help. She indicated that he was already helping. Whilst wrongful imprisonment is not in the same league, I think we should never forget the value of Jesus' suffering.

    I pray for and hope for justice, but I am aware that it might not occur in this life.

    May God bless Fr. MacRae

    1. I thank you for this astute comment, and I am so sorry to hear about the plight of your husband. It is a painfully familiar story. In fact, Thomas Grover did accuse his own father of sexually abusing him. His mother, Patricia Grover, was a sex abuse investigator for Child Protective Services in New Hampshire but she never reported the fact that her son Thomas accused her husband. His therapist in a drug treatment center said that he "accused so many men of sexual abuse that our staff thought he was going for some sort of sexual abuse world record, but he never accused Father MacRae." It was only when the prospect of lots of money loomed that MacRae was added to his long list of abusers.


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