Dorothy Rabinowitz of the WSJ, who has been following for years the tragedy of the trumped-up sex abuse charges against Father Gordon MacRae, has a blood-boiling update on the MacRase case today. Excerpt:
In due course there would be the civil settlement: $195,000 for [alleged abuse victim and key state witness] Mr. [Thomas] Grover and his attorneys. The payday—which the plaintiff had told the court he sought only to meet expenses for therapy—became an occasion for ecstatic celebration by Mr. Grover and friends. The party’s high point, captured by photographs now in possession of Father MacRae’s lawyers, shows the celebrants dancing around, waving stacks of $50 bills fresh from the bank.
The prospect of financial reward for anyone coming forward with accusations was no secret to teenage males in Keene, N.H., in the early 1990s. Some of them were members of that marginal society, in and out of trouble with the law, it fell to Father MacRae to counsel. Steven Wollschlager, who had been one of them—he would himself serve time for felony robbery—recalled that period of the 1990s in a 2008 statement to Father MacRae’s legal team. That it might not be in the best interest of a man with his own past legal troubles to give testimony undermining a high-profile state prosecution did not, apparently, deter him. “All the kids were aware,” Mr. Wollschlager recalled, “that the church was giving out large sums of money to keep the allegations from becoming public.”
This knowledge, Mr. Wollschlager said, fed the interest of local teens in joining the allegations. It was in this context that Detective James McLaughlin, sex-crimes investigator for the Keene police department, would turn his attention to the priest and play a key role in the effort to build a case against him. The full history of how Father MacRae came to be charged was reported on these pages in “A Priest’s Story,” April 27-28, 2005.
Mr. Wollschlager recalled that in 1994 Mr. McLaughlin summoned him to a meeting. As a young man, Mr. Wollschlager said, he had received counseling from Father MacRae. The main subject of the meeting with the detective was lawsuits and money and the priest. “All I had to do is make up a story,” Mr. Wollschlager said, and he too “could receive a large amount of money.” The detective “reminded me of my young child and girlfriend,” Mr. Wollschlager attests, and told him “that life would be easier for us.”
Eventually lured by the promise, Mr. Wollschlager said, he invented some claims of abuse. But summoned to a grand-jury hearing, he balked, telling an official that he refused to testify. He explains, in his statement, “I could not bring myself to give perjured testimony against MacRae, who had only tried to help me.” Asked for response to this charge, Mr. McLaughlin says it is “a fabrication.”
Along with the lure of financial settlements, the MacRae case was driven by that other potent force—the fevered atmosphere in which charges were built, the presumption of innocence buried. An atmosphere in which it was unthinkable—it still is today—not to credit as truthful every accuser charging a Catholic priest with molestation. There is no clearer testament to the times than the public statement in September 1993 issued by Father MacRae’s own diocese in Manchester well before the trial began: “The Church is a victim of the actions of Gordon MacRae as well as the individuals.” Diocesan officials had evidently found it inconvenient to dally while due process took its course.