Monday, September 29, 2014

A BOMBSHELL OF INJUSTICE IN KEENE, NEW HAMPSHIRE!

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




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?


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 WSJ.com, "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 "TheMediaReport.com 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, Bishop-Accountability.org.

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?" 





JUSTICE OR PREJUDICE?

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.