Due Process for Accused Priests

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his work on a phenomenon in psychology and marketing called “availability bias.” Kahneman demonstrated the human tendency to give a proposition validity just by how easily it comes to mind. An uncorroborated statement can be widely seen as true merely because the media has repeated it.

Also in 2002, the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal swept out of Boston to dominate news headlines across the country. Many commentators writing on the scandal have, knowingly or not, employed availability bias to justify draconian revisions in law and policy. The revelations of priestly scandal have evolved a number of examples of availability bias—snippets of ostensible fact repeated so often in the news media that they assume the visage of unassailable truth.

Among these is a claim that civil statutes of limitations for victims of sexual abuse to sue for monetary compensation must be extended or discarded. The claim that “victims of sexual abuse require years or decades to recognize they were abused and report it” is classic availability bias. This mantra has bolstered the interests of self-serving contingency lawyers and various agenda-driven groups using the scandal for their own ends, but the premise lacks both context and proof.

The prison system in which I have spent the last 14 years houses nearly 3,000 prisoners. Estimates of those convicted of sexual offenses range from 25 to 40 percent. This translates into a population of up to 1,200 sexual offenders in this one prison with thousands more in the state’s parole system or otherwise monitored by the state as registered sex offenders.

 Three among these thousands of convicted men are Catholic priests, one accused a few months after claimed offenses in the early 1990s while the other two faced charges from decades ago.

The thousands of other men convicted of sexual abuse are accused parents, grandparents, step-parents, foster parents, uncles, teachers, ministers, scout leaders, and so on, and for them the typical time lapse between abuse and the victim reporting it was measured in weeks or months, not years—and certainly not decades. There is simply no evidence to support the claim that victims of sexual abuse require decades to come forward. With but rare exceptions, only Catholic priests face the daunting and sometimes hopeless task of defending themselves against sex abuse claims that are many years or decades old.

So what sets the accusers of priests apart from other claimants? The John Jay study commissioned by the U.S. Bishops revealed that the highest percentage of accusers of Catholic priests came forward not in the 1960s to 1980s when the abuse was claimed to have occurred, but between 2002 and 2004 when Catholic dioceses entered, or were forced into, mediated or “blanket” settlements…. (Read the rest here.)

A most excellent article which describes a very disturbing possibility. I highly recommend everyone reading it in its entirety.

It was written by a Father Gordon MacRae,  who is in prison for claims alleged to have occurred in 1983, and for which he maintains his innocence. Very, very sad if true. But, in the light of eternity, his sacrifice will be rewarded for the sins of his brothers.

On September 23, 2008, Father Gordon MacRae marked 14 years in a cell in the New Hampshire State Prison. Father MacRae is 55 years old. The crimes for which he was accused and convicted are claimed to have occurred when he was between 25 and 30 years old. Brought with no evidence or corroboration whatsoever, the claims were accompanied by lawsuits settled for hundreds of thousands of dollars despite much evidence of fraud. On April 27 and 28, 2005, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The Wall Street Journal published an account of the travesty of justice by which Father Gordon MacRae was convicted (see “A Priest’s Story” above). It is a story, as described in First Things magazine, of “a Church and a justice system that seem indifferent to justice.”

In the years since the panic-driven and selective release of files and other accumulated claims and demands for money – but no evidence – some began to take a closer look under the surface of the case against Father Gordon MacRae. What is found there is troubling to anyone concerned for the state of due process, justice, and liberty in America. (Source)

One thought on “Due Process for Accused Priests

  1. I noted your reference to “Due Process for Accused Priests,” an article by wrongly imprisoned priest Fr. Gordon MacRae. I was very glad to see your promotion of this. You may be very interested in reading his blog, and especially his most recent post, “I Got Stoned With the Pope,” at http://www.TheseStoneWalls.com. This one should be passed around.
    All the best.

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