Father Gordon J. MacRae may finally be freed soon, after serving more than twenty years in prison. Father MacRae, whose story is told on the blog These Stone Walls, has long been believed to be innocent of the alleged crimes for which he was convicted in 1994. This week, though, he will be back in court–where his case will be reviewed with fresh eyes.
The clergy abuse scandal was fresh in the news, and there was a lot of anger toward the Church when Father MacRae was accused of sexual assault in 1994. His accuser was 27-year-old Thomas Grover–a man with a long history of volence, theft, and drug charges. Although the charges against Fr. MacRae were uncorroborated, and although Grover himself stood to benefit substantially from filing a complaint against the priest, the court found Father MacRae guilty.
Offered a plea deal which would have brought only two or three years in jail, Father MacRae declined. He was innocent and refused to confess to any crime, even a misdemeanor offense. He was found guilty without evidence or corroborating testimony. New Hampshire Judge Arthur Brennan then imposed a harsh 33 1/2-year to 67-year sentence in the New Hampshire State Penitentiary.
On March 17, 2015, Father MacRae will have his day in court. His website, These Stone Walls, carries an update regarding the scheduled Habeas Corpus hearing:
There has been a very positive development in the Federal Habeas Corpus appeal of Father Gordon MacRae. United States District Court Judge Joseph LaPlante has ordered a hearing to consider oral arguments in the case slated for March 17, 2015 at 10 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Concord, NH. Father MacRae’s legal team will have to fly up from New York for this. Please keep this hearing in your prayers.
The crimes of which Father MacRae was accused and convicted supposedly occurred when he was between 25 and 30 years of age. He’s 62 years old now, and will likely die in prison unless his sentence is revoked.
His case has received attention from journalists and from voices within the Church. In 2005, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board, published an account of the travesty of justice by which Father MacRae was convicted. Her report was described by Father Richard John Neuhaus in First Things magazine as “a story of a Church and a justice system that seem indifferent to justice.”
In September 2008, Father Neuhaus published an editorial in First Things calling the case “A Kafkaesque Tale.”
Father Michael Orsi, writing for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, insisted that Bogus Charges Against Priests Abound.
The late Cardinal Avery Dulles believed in Father MacRae’s innocence, and encouraged him to write his story. Cardinal Dulles wrote in 2005:
“Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials.”
The following year, Cardinal Dulles invited Father MacRae to contribute a chapter to the volume of Christian literature from believers who were unjustly imprisoned.
As Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote, Father MacRae’s case is troubling to anyone concerned for the state of due process, justice, and liberty in America. Catholics and others who value the integrity of the judicial system will be watching this week for signs that the case against Father MacRae might be revisited.
Please continue to keep him in your prayers.