A Radical Claim
We're not ready to rewrite the story of clergy sex abuse.

Concord (NH) Monitor
April 29, 2005

If Dorothy Rabinowitz is right, everything you think you know about sexual abuse by Catholic priests is suspect.

Who is Dorothy Rabinowitz? Well, she's no amateur. She is a distinguished member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, having won, among other awards, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Her winning entries included columns about Violet, Cheryl and Gerald Amirault, the Malden, Mass., day care center operators convicted in the 1980s of raping and molesting children in their care.

Rabinowitz called the case against the Amiraults "a sham built on accusations coaxed from children drilled in stories about a bad clown and a magic room." It was too convenient by half, she suggested, that the acts the Amiraults supposedly had committed were "identical to those of most of the other renowned prosecutions of child care workers" at the time.

Readers of a two-part commentary written by Rabinowitz this week will notice a similar theme. This time her focus is the prosecution of Roman Catholic priests, a group that she allows includes "true predators." That said, she is certain the clergy sex abuse scandals, "their nonstop press coverage, and the irresistible pressure on the Church to show proof of cleansing resulted in a system that rewarded false claims along with the true."

In particular, she sees false claims behind the imprisonment of Gordon MacRae.

Who is Gordon MacRae? Well, he's not just another priest in whose behalf a diocese settled a civil claim of abuse. MacRae is in prison, at least until 2028, having been convicted in 1994 of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy during counseling sessions in Keene. He subsequently pleaded guilty to abusing three other boys.

Rabinowitz casts doubt on the motivation and judgment of almost everyone connected with MacRae's criminal case: the accusers, the investigating police officer, the lawyers filing related civil claims, even the presiding judge. The inescapable implication is that if MacRae was railroaded, then there must be charlatans all over the country who have conspired to fabricate charges of clergy sexual abuse, confident that the system is ripe for believing anything it hears.

Truth be told, we've been waiting for a New Hampshire priest to say he was falsely accused: that is, a priest who wasn't charged with a crime but who was named in a civil claim after public opinion firmly turned against the church. We're still waiting.

Make no mistake: MacRae is not that priest. He was accused of abuse as early as 1983 and was for years sheltered by diocesan superiors, who discounted the claims against him.

By 2002 it was clear MacRae fit a pattern. He was one of eight New Hampshire priests central to the state's assertion that the Diocese of Manchester had been "willfully blind"to the safety of children abused by clergymen. In 2003, after the church had released its internal files in exchange for avoiding prosecution, the state concluded that the diocese had mishandled accusations of abuse by more than 30 priests over some 60 years.

Rabinowitz's name actually appears in some of the church files on MacRae. Evidently he had reason to hope she would take up his cause and shared with both her and the diocese various assertions that the evidence against him was bogus. After reviewing those claims, however, a top diocesan official concluded in a March 12, 2001, memo to Bishop John McCormack: "I am not convinced that there is an injustice in his conviction."

The timing of this memo is telling. Because it predates the settlement with the state, the writer of the memo, Father Edward Arsenault, wouldn't have feared it becoming public. Had he harbored doubts regarding MacRae's guilt, he certainly would have shared them.


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