The unjust imprisonment and suffering of Catholic priests at the hands of communist, fascist and other evil despots has and will unfortunately never end. Of course, let us not forget that Jesus Christ himself told his apostles that the world will hate them as they hated him. Let us not forget also that Christ was falsely accused and condemned because one man, Pontius Pilate, like most of us, did not have the courage to stand up against the hysterical crowd which did not know, or want to know the truth. As our Lord taught, “The Son of Man came ... not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28)
When such persecutions occur there is little if anything that the Church can do. What if anything even our Holy Father, Pope Francis can do to stop the daily killing of Christians throughout the world today?
However, such unjust punishments are not limited to these regimes, and one such travesty of injustice which has been occurring for the last 21-years, right here in the United States, is the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of Father Gordon MacRae. In 1994 this young and dedicated priest was sentenced by a New Hampshire state judge to the draconian sentence of 33 ½ to 67-years, a virtual life sentence. Because Father MacRae before trial had refused to admit to a crime in which he did not commit and take a plea offer, or while in prison make such an admission of guilt, Father Gordon will probably never be paroled from prison, and is likely to die in jail for a crime which he did not commit.
Any reasonable person examining the trial with any degree of fairness cannot come to the conclusion that the prosecution and continuing imprisonment of Father Gordon is not only a personal tragedy for this good and holy priest, all the clergy and the faithful, but also, a blight on our criminal justice system which refuses to acknowledge the mistake that was made. The machine of the criminal justice system of the State of New Hampshire will never attempt to re-examine this case, and rectify it.
It is without dispute that our society in general is quick to condemn someone accused of committing a crime. This is especially true, when it is an allegation of a sexual crime, and even more especially true when the accuser claims that it occurred at the hands of a Catholic priest. No serious thinker, even one with the most law enforcement conservative mindset, would deny that for the last 25-years, that the deck has been stacked against any priest charged with a sexual offense, and that it is virtually impossible for a priest in the Catholic Church to be judged fairly by a jury, or for that matter a judge.
During the period of time of Father Gordon persecution there was a climate of national hysteria regarding any allegation of sexual offenses, true or false, on anyone under 18-years of age, especially a Catholic priest by the public in general, but especially true of the salacious media which fueled such hysteria. Such a climate made it virtually impossible for a jury to apply the reasonable doubt standard and such juries were and are prone to believe any allegation of sexual misconduct no matter how bizarre the allegations are. Many legal scholars who have examined this period of child sexual hysteria of the 1980’s and 1990’s equate this period to the Salem witch trials of the seventeenth century. The prosecution of Father MacRae was fueled by media hype and media sensationalism which cares little about civil liberties and the presumption of innocence when it comes to allegations of an alleged Catholic sexual abuse case.
Further, at the time of Father MacRae’s prosecution, as one court put it: “[A] series of highly questionable child sex abuse prosecutions ... were fueled by a vast moral panic ... a period in which allegations of outrageously bizarre and often ritualistic child abuse spread like wildfire across the country and garnered world-wide media attention.” “[T]remendous emotion [was] generated by the public” as a result of which “the criminal process often fail[ed]....” Friedman v. Rehal, 618 F.3d 142, 155, 158 (2 Cir. 2010
The genesis of the criminal prosecution of Father Gordon is no different than the ingredients in most other wrongful convictions. The convergence of factors in this case was a perfect storm for this wrongful conviction. In the wake of these factors, Father Gordon had zero chance of receiving a fair trial, and being acquitted of the false charges at trial. As a practicing criminal defense attorney involved in many such cases over the last 25-years, any defendant charged with such a crime must actually prove his or her innocence’s. The scared duty that a jury is charged with in a criminal case, that being, that the defendant is innocent, and that the prosecution has the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, and that the defendant has no burden of proof whatsoever, is often ignored in these types of cases.
To begin with the evidence is overwhelming that the false criminal allegations were brought by a sophisticated-manipulative young man, who had a financial motive to lie. Second, this accuser was trained and couched during the entire criminal process by his civil attorney who was seeking a large payday from the dioceses of Manchester. This accuser, who had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as involvement in the juvenile criminal justice system, had a long history of opportunistic and manipulative lying. Years later after the verdict it was discovered that Father MacRae’s accuser would brag to friends and family members how he manipulated the criminal justice system and the dioceses. The entire prosecution of Father MacRae hinged upon the inconsistent, contradictory, and incredulous testimony of this one accuser. Being a young priest, Father Gordon only mistake was trying to help this young man who had no family support and was heading down the path to destruction.
In the early 1990’s it was common knowledge in New Hampshire, like all of the dioceses in the United States, that the Diocese of New Hampshire was paying huge sums of money to any young man claiming to have been abused by their priests. Further, that the Diocese was making these payments without conducting any investigations to determine the validity of the claims. In short, it was a windfall for predatory civil personal injury attorneys making money off the backs of faithful parishioners, and a dream come true for scammers and fraudsters looking to cash in. Such was the person of Tom Grover, a foster-child of the Grover’s, who sought the help of Father Gordon to counsel and help their child. Grover’s parents without any recourse struggled with their son who suffered from alcohol and drug abuse as well as mental health problems and frequent run-ins with the law. Many years later when Grover became aware of the large amounts of money that the Diocese was paying out, Grover, saw his opportunity to make a large amount of money, by thanking Father Gordon for all the that he had done for him by weaving a string of lies which would be impossible for Father Gordon to refute.
Notwithstanding that there was not a single witness accept Grover, and Grover’s story bordered on the absurd, since he claimed that he was assaulted by Father Gordon in non-private areas, the New Hampshire Diocese paid him nearly $200,000.00.
Based on legal papers submitted in federal court, credible witnesses have now been located and have come forwarded willing to testify that Grover admitted committing perjury at trial, and bragging about how he scammed the diocese and the criminal justice system. Grover’s former wife, and step-son, have admitted that Grover was a “compulsive liar”, “manipulator”, “drama queen” and “hustler”, who has a long history of lying to get what he wanted. When confronted with his lies, Gover “would lose his temper”, and admit himself into the psychiatric unit at the Elliott Hospital. While seek “help”, Gover would accuse others of molesting him as well. Grover accused other clergyman, his foster father and baby sitters when he was a child. In addition to Grover’s psychological and alcohol and drug addition, Grover had an extensive criminal history prior to making his false allegations against Father Gordon. Grover was arrested and convicted for two burglary, two forgery, and two thefts. theft by deception, assault on a police officer, and aggravated assault on his former wife, when he broke her nose during one of many beatings that he administered to her. Lastly, his former wife considered him a sexual predator, and never left her two daughters from another relationship alone with him while they were living together because of the way he would constantly eye and grope them.
In April of 2005, when the lead detective James McLaughlin was confronted with these sobering facts about Grover in the Wall Street Journal article about the unjust conviction of Father Gordon. In response to his botched and incompetent investigation of Father Gordon, McLaughlin made himself a self-appointed psychologist and responded remarkably by saying. “So we had all these elevated activities with our male victims, so in a sense, when you have a victim present that has this baggage, it's corroborative of their victimization," “Story of Jailed Priest Retold”, The Union Leader (Manchester NH) April 28, 2005
At trial Grover lied and told the jury that he needed money from his law suit from the Diocese for therapy because of the “abuse.” However, after his $200,000.00, payday and after the trial was over, Grover did not attend one therapy session but took his former wife to Arizona, where he blew it all on alcohol, drugs, cars, pornography and gambling. In fact on that trip he lost about $70,000.00 on a Las Vegas gambling junket. In addition, he stiffed the casino another $50.000.00 on a credit line which he fraudulently applied for by providing false information about his job and income. The casino eventually attempted to collect with a collection action which was unsuccessful. His wife finally left him in 1998 when the money was gone, and Grover was caught in bed with her biological sister.
At trial Grover’s testimony did not boarder on the absurd it was absurd. His shifty testimony was fantastic, nonsensical and contradictory. When he was spoon-fed by the direct questioning by the prosecutor he was able recite his rehearsed testimony. However, on cross-examination it was far different. Every time he was trapped in a lie or inconsistent statement he fell back on his rehearsed line, by saying the question: “overloads my mind and.... leaves me more or less in shock for days after....” When Grover was confronted as to why he did not report the abuse for 10-years, and until he spoke to his civil attorneys, he claimed that he repressed the abuse, and it was “difficult to talk [about it] in front of people”
The fundamental question must be asked about our criminal justice system; how could any reasonable jury, who has the sworn duty to acquit Father Gordon, find him guilty under this type of incredulous testimony. The State had the burden of proving beyond any reasonable doubt of Father Gordon’s guilt. How could they have gotten it so wrong? In other words, before a jury could find him guilty they would have to have found Grover’s testimony completely credible. Under our criminal justice system no competent and reasonable jury should have found this type of testimony sufficient to convict a Catholic Priest who had previous to these series of false allegations had never been convicted of anything but a traffic moving violation.
Not unlike other unjust conviction, the law enforcement investigation of Father Gordon was not only overzealous but was intentionally unfair. The lead detective McLaughlin was not interested in a fair and impartial investigation but rather was only interested in creating and spinning the facts to support his and eventually the prosecutions theory of the case. In addition, McLaughlin also suppressed any facts which clearly pointed out that Father Gordon was innocent of the false allegations made by the accuser. McLaughlin engaged in investigating this matter in a way that was patently unfair and used his power as a law enforcement officer to suppress witnesses who were willing to testify for Father Gordon.
To make matter worst Father Gordon’s bishop at the time of his trial did not support Father Gordon but in fact allowed his office to issue a press release prior to trial which literally condemned Father Gordon. This misstatement by the bishop did two things; first, the bishop caved into public pressure, and help fuel the media hysteria, and second, it unquestionably tainted the potential jury pool, insuring the prosecution of a conviction. The bishop did not stand up for one of his priest’s with courage, but rather retreated to bureaucratic-clericalism, more worried about pleasing his civil lawyers, insurance carrier and the potential civil liability of the diocese. Hence, the bishop either negligently or intentionally treated Father Gordon as an expendable temporary employee. This abandonment by the diocese has continued 21-years later. The bishop’s technique accomplished nothing because the diocese paid out, without conducting any independent investigation, monetary awards to Father Gordon accuser. The greater cost of course for the diocese and its bishop was its betrayal of filial and fraternal trust to Father Gordon which under canon law he was obligated to maintain at the minimum, pre-verdict. Not only was Father Gordon not able to count on his bishop for support, but the bishop, negligently or intentionally acted in such a way as to give the message to the public that Father Gordon was guilty. Whether or not Father Gordon was sacrificed by the bishop on the altar of insurance considerations and their lawyers only the bishop could answer that question. To date it is conservatively estimated that the Church in the United States has paid 2.5 billion in claims because of the sexual abuse scandal. How many of these claims were outright false which the United States dioceses paid out is only a guess. In any case, at the behest of the insurance carrier, or out of the lack of any compassion for one of his own, the bishop distances himself from Father MacRae and left him on his own.
If the cards were not already stacked against Father Gordon his criminal defense attorney at trial was no help. At trial Father Gordon was represented by a New Mexico criminal attorney, Ron Koch, who became deceased in the year 2000, at the age of 49. Although this attorney did his best to defend Father Gordon, he nevertheless made critical trial errors which hurt Father Gordon’s defense and opened the door for the prosecutor to introduce prejudicial evidence which the trial judge had already ruled was inadmissible and not relevant. Mr. Koch was forced to split his time between his active criminal practice in New Mexico and preparing for Father’s Gordon’s trial, which Mr. Koch was unable to do. Accordingly, unable to do both, Mr. Koch failed to conduct important pretrial discovery and adequate preparation of the case for trial. Accordingly, it is without dispute that Father Gordon’s trial counsel was unprepared and out matched, and under these facts Father Gordon’s trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective, and accordingly Father Gordon’s constitutional rights to procedural due process and a fair trial were eviscerated. Mr. Koch failed to interview critical witnesses for the defense, failed to subpoena critical witnesses for the defense, failed to go to the scene in which Grove alleged that he had been touched, and lastly, preserve attorney-client privileged documents which Koch turned over to the prosecution.
Many people unfamiliar with the criminal justice system in the United States believe that the criminal justice eventually corrects an unjust conviction. This sadly is the exception and not the rule. Under our judicial system the jury verdict is final, and most appeals, regardless as to the justice of the verdict are denied. Father Gordon is going on his 22-years of imprisonment. Every appeal has been rejected, every judge hearing his case has turned their back on his pleas for justice. On March 17, 2015, a federal district court judge who many had high hopes would grant Father MacRae’s writ of habeas corpus, instead granted the State of New Hampshire’s motion to dismiss on the pleadings. The judge did not even grant Father Gordon an evidential hearing on Father Gordon's claim of innocence. Father’s Gordon appeal to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals is tenuous at best. Aside from a miracle or pardon from the Governor of New Hampshire or the President of the United States, it is most likely that Father Gordon will die a martyr’s death in prison, or if lucky, be release a very old man.
The Catholic Church cannot bring the fullness of the truth without its priests. Every priest in the Church, good, bad, or indifferent, has been selected by God for this mission. The Church has no alternative but to pursue and fight for authentic justice, and it must start with Father Gordon. No pope, cardinal, bishop, priest, and faithful laity can sit by and permit this injustice to continue. Diabolic advocacy and persecution of the Church has and will continue. Satin knows its enemy, and his enemy is the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and in particular its clergy. Satin’s relentless pursuit against the only game in town, the only institutional defender of natural law in the entire world, from the moment of conception to the natural death is the Church.
St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests, understood this all to well, who also was subjected to outrageous lies about his character, when he made the profound statement over 150 years ago: “When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest, there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice, there is no religion.”
At the end of our brief temporal life all of us will be judged for what we “did and failed to do”; did we all do what is “right and just?”
Vincent James Sanzone, Jr., Esq., is a lover of his Catholic faith, a practicing criminal defense attorney in New Jersey for the last 25-years. Attorney Sanzone is a member of the New Jersey Bar Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, and the Legal Center for Defense of Life. He is admitted to the bar in the State of New Jersey, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Federal Appeals Courts for the Third and Fourth Circuits. In addition, he has been admitted to practice pro hac vice in Southern District of New York, and Federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Attorney Sanzone has argued successfully before the New Jersey Supreme Court, and has tried hundreds of criminal trials in his 25-year as a criminal defense attorney. Many of his clients were minority young men and women whom were acquitted of all the charges at trial and went on to live exemplary lives.
“... for the ones 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.
Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq.
P.O. Box 261
277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth (Union County) New Jersey 07207