|Judge Stands by
Priest's Sex Abuse Sentence
By Denis Paiste
Manchester, NH — Superior Court Judge Arthur Brennan yesterday stood by his sentencing of suspended priest Gordon MacRae, whose trial and imprisonment were the subject of a two-part essay in the Wall Street Journal this week.
"I did my best to be fair and impartial in the case, and the jury made its decision, and I carefully considered the arguments of both sides at sentencing and made the decision to sentence Gordon MacRae to a substantial sentence based on the arguments I heard and the considerations of sentencing in New Hampshire," Brennan said yesterday in a telephone interview from Sullivan County Superior Court.
MacRae received the maximum New Hampshire prison sentence in November 1994 of 33½ to 67 years for sexual assault on a male between 13 and 16 years old.
The sentencing followed a three-day hearing in which five victims described how MacRae befriended them as teenagers and then sexually molested them. Only one alleged victim testified during the jury trial.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz's articles Wednesday and yesterday focused not only on the question of MacRae's guilt or innocence, but also on the system that allows anonymous accusers to receive financial settlements for allegations of sexual abuse against priests.
By the end of 2004, Rabinowitz reported Wednesday, the Diocese of Manchester had paid $22,210,400 in settlements of claims against priests by accusers.
"I wanted to illustrate one of the driving forces of miscarriages of justice, and I think more and more people, it's not just me, have noticed that personal injury lawyers are driving many cases, and I don't think that's in dispute, that would not have been brought otherwise, and I think Father (Ed) Arsenault knows that," Rabinowitz said in a telephone interview yesterday.
The Rev. Arsenault is the bishop's delegate for ministerial conduct.
Named in article
Yesterday, Peter E. Hutchins of the Manchester law firm Wiggin and Nourie took the Journal to task for naming one of his clients who reached a confidential financial settlement with the diocese for alleged abuse by MacRae.
"It came as a complete shock to both him and I to find out that his name had been disclosed twice in the Wall Street Journal, an international publication," Hutchins said.
"Because we originally filed our lawsuit against the diocese in April of 2002 and we filed it as a class action, it allowed these people to bring forward their claims but not have to go public with their names," Hutchins said in a telephone interview. "Many of them had not even told their wives, let alone their children or their co-workers.
"Confidentiality was of utmost concern, and I can tell you that it was factored into the settlement amounts, specifically, the settlement amounts were less than they might have been because of the diocese agreeing to allow our clients to maintain their anonymity," he said.
"That is why the particular breach of this confidentiality with regard to the client named in the Wall Street Journal article is so egregious," Hutchins said.
In an e-mail message yesterday afternoon, Hutchins said, "She did not take the time to speak with my client or I."
New Hampshire Union Leader policy is not to report the names of victims of sexual abuse.
Rabinowitz yesterday defended the Journal's naming of one of MacRae's accusers in the civil class-action lawsuit. "I'll tell you why because the cloak of anonymity is the worst encouragement for a false abuse climate; that is the problem," she said during an interview.
McRae goes to trial
In yesterday's installment, "A Priest's Story — Part II," Rabinowitz, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, wrote that, "There would be, in the end, just one trial — on accusations by Thomas Grover that the priest had assaulted him sexually during counseling sessions in a rectory office, and elsewhere."
A statement issued by the diocese shortly before MacRae's trial portrayed the church as a victim of MacRae's alleged actions. "This statement by his diocese, effectively declaring him guilty just as he was about to go to trial, shook him to the core," Rabinowitz wrote.
"If the events leading to Fr. MacRae's prosecution had all the makings of dark fiction, the trial itself perfectly reflected the realities confronting defendants in cases of this kind," the article continued.
Grover, she wrote, had a civil lawsuit in the works against the Diocese of Manchester contemporaneously with MacRae's trial on Grover's allegations against him. Yet, she wrote, Judge Brennan "refused to allow into evidence Thomas Grover's long juvenile history of theft, assault, forgery and drug offenses.
"In New Hampshire, where juries need only find the accuser credible in sex abuse cases, with no proofs required, this was no insignificant restriction," Rabinowitz wrote in the article on the Journal's Opinion page.
Among Grover's allegations, she reported, were that during the summer of 1983, at age 15, he had been assaulted sexually by the priest in successive counseling sessions; that he had blackouts that caused him to go to each new counseling session with no memory that he had been sodomized and otherwise assaulted the session before; and that the priest had chased him with a car.
"'And he had a gun,' the accuser told the court, " the Journal column continued, " 'and he was threatening me and telling me over and over that he would hurt me, kill me, if I tried to tell anybody, that no one would believe me.'"
In a telephone interview yesterday, Rabinowitz said she had asked MacRae many times if he was innocent and he repeatedly said he is innocent.
"I certainly think that the trial and accusations like this that defy the laws of time and space and factually, let us not talk about surmises, where the facts of the record are so stunning in their defiance of rationality, that this is a case that cries out for the suspicion, a very powerful suspicion, that justice was not done, and this I will tell you, I expect a judge who was presiding over a court in a time of fear and sweeping rage over real abuse, I expect him not to be swept away and I expect him to uphold the statutes of rationality and justice, which he did not do, which his sentence shows," she said.
MacRae is a medium-security prisoner at the New Hampshire State Prison, where his four consecutive 7½- to 15-year sentences will keep him behind bars until at least 2028, when he will be 75 years old. New Hampshire Union Leader requested an interview with MacRae through prison officials Wednesday.
Yesterday, prison spokesman Jeff Lyons said MacRae informed officials he wanted to wait until Monday to decide whether to grant an interview and he wanted to talk to his attorneys.
A denial of involvement
Asked yesterday whether she had previously written about MacRae's case, Rabinowitz said she had not. But she gave conflicting accounts of how her name and that of an attorney who specializes in appeals appeared together in internal Diocesan communications dating to the fall of 2001, released as part of the Diocese' March 2003 settlement with the state Attorney General's Office over widespread allegations of priestly abuse.
"I haven't been involved in this case," Rabinowitz said. "I cannot help somebody using my name. There was no litigation going on. They were discussing the possibilities of getting an attorney, I knew this attorney. . .this attorney did not take the case."
"I read the documents and I have the same documents that you have," she said. "Gordon MacRae is in prison, and I hadn't even met him."
Later, in the same telephone interview, Rabinowitz said, "Robert Rosenthal was an attorney who does very well in appeals cases. . .and so when asked for a name, I produced that name."
Asked who had asked for the name, she said, "Father MacRae, and I believe it was Father Diebold, the canon advocate for Father MacRae."
She continued, "And if you suggest that I had any involvement in this case legally before, I will hold you to account because this is an utter lie and a cheap one."
Bishop's delegate for ministerial conduct Arsenault said yesterday, "Without looking at the documents, what I can tell you is Dorothy Rabinowitz was introduced into Gordon's situation by Gordon.
"Her introduction to us was by way of Gordon. . . I would say as
early as 2001," Arsenault said. "I have not experienced her
to be objective; my experience of her is she approaches Gordon's situation
as an advocate."
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