What Dreams May Come:
Azazel and the Pursuit of Justice
In “Nightmares and Dreamscapes from the Desert,” a TSW post during Lent last year, I wrote of a recurring dream I’ve had throughout 18 years of imprisonment. The dream had multiple variations and outcomes, all of them anxiety producing, but one version in particular seemed to be an archetype for the dream’s central plot.
You might remember its details. In the dream, I was lost at night in a city vaguely familiar, pursued by a mob hunting me through the dark city streets. I climbed the steps of a Catholic church for refuge. That particular scene came right out of my childhood, and I wrote of it in “A Glorious Mystery for When the Dark Night Rises.” In my dream, however, the church doors were locked and its sanctuary inaccessible.
Left on the stairs of the church with the pursuing mob closing in, I turned from them to face the huge bronze doors. There I saw an immense, finely detailed bas relief of the Crucified Christ cast into the bronze of the huge door. Someone in the mob let loose a stone aimed at me, but it missed me and struck the Crucifix. I awoke muttering something I’ll always remember: “The stone that was meant for me struck Thee.”
I have very vivid dreams in prison, sometimes with plots that seem to run all night long, though I know they don’t. That dream and many others very much like it have been both the cause and effect of anxiety, a problem that every prisoner seems to have in abundance. What’s central to the plot in every variation of the dream is the fact that I am a priest being pursued by a lynch mob.
A lot of people don’t know that “lynch mob” is a term that originated just after America’s Revolutionary War. In 1780, after America gained its independence from Great Britain, Colonial Army Captain William Lynch of Virginia organized his own private army. It was a band of former soldiers intent on seeking and punishing Loyalists, Colonists who remained loyal to Britain during the war. Too often, Captain Lynch’s only evidence came from anonymous informants, and with that spectral evidence he and his mob descended upon farms to summarily convict and hang their occupants. Hence the term, “Lynch mob” which used to be capitalized in the English lexicon.
My lynch mob dream is interesting because from it you can easily pinpoint some of the reality that has befallen many accused priests. With policies that left accused priests standing alone and exposed outside Church doors, the mob – aka, SNAP, VOTF, and much of the secular and Catholic press – closed in for trials without evidence and condemnations without defense. I happen to know first hand that once a priest is so condemned to wear the scarlet letter of accusation, there is great resistance in some Chancery offices to hearing any defense.
Some might think it’s risky to write of such dreams on These Stone Walls. Some think I shouldn’t let people into my psyche so openly, but there’s really not that much going on in here. Besides, I found that writing about the troublesome lynch mob dream robbed it of its power, and I haven’t had it since. Others have come to take its place, however, and I had one recently.
In this new emanation of the dream, I was brought in chains to a court hearing on our new appeal that has been ever so slowly evolving in fits and start since it was filed one year ago. In the new dream, I stood before a judge who in the end ordered all my chains removed and declared me to be free. The lawyers all congratulated each other and shook my hand in the dream, and then they got into their cars and left me standing on the courthouse steps alone. With my bonds of 18 years suddenly removed, I was free. I was also tired and hungry and I realized with anxiety in the dream that for over 18 years I had been a non-person. I had no money, no identity – at least no identity that anyone in my diocese dared acknowledge – and no place to go.
Then it was night in the dream, and I was on the city streets again. I knew I had been there many times before, but there was no mob. I walked to the only place I knew, the parish where I once served 30 years ago. A priest I once knew opened the door and declared, “I cannot help you,” then slammed the door leaving me in the cold. I went into the church through a back door found open, and I fell asleep in a pew, the Blessed Sacrament’s vigil candle burning brightly just a few feet away.
I don’t think I had ever had a dream about falling asleep before. Anyway while it was still dark, I was awakened in the pew by my brother priest who had called the police to have me charged me with trespassing. The chains removed just hours earlier were put back on me, and I was taken back to prison, full circle, to where the dream about freedom began.
The priest at the rectory door, and his “I cannot help you” comment, was also a real experience that Ryan MacDonald wrote of in an article entitled “To Azazel: Father Gordon MacRae and the Gospel of Mercy.” It wounded me deeply when it happened a few years ago. It troubled me again when I read it in Ryan’s article, and yet again when it entered my midwinter night’s bad dream. Obviously, my psyche and soul are telling me that it needs some attention.
WHAT THE JEWS KNOW OF JUSTICE
Ryan MacDonald’s use of the term, “To Azazel” in his title was very clever. It’s a mysterious term, used in Scripture on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when the high priest placed his hands on a goat upon which was imposed all the sins and transgressions of the people. This Scripture passage in the Book of Leviticus (16: 8-10; 20-28) was the origin of the term “scapegoat.” The scapegoat was then sent into the desert, “To Azazel.”
The actual meaning of “Azazel” is uncertain. It appears to be both a name and a place, or even a social standing. According to the Jewish Apocryphal book, 1 Enoch (8:1; 10: 4-6), Azazel is the name of a fallen angel, a demon of the desert. The name also denotes the region to which the scapegoat is sent bearing the sins of others. Its place in the desert is the land of the lost, a place from which the scapegoat is never allowed to return.
One of our earliest TSW subscribers is Jacob, a devoutly Jewish man from the San Francisco Bay area. Jacob writes to me on occasion, though as usual I’m very delinquent in responding. One of Jacob’s letters has always stood out. He wrote that the pursuit of justice is valued very highly in the Jewish community. He wrote that the Torah admonishes us three times that, “Justice, justice, justice shalt thou seek.”
Catholics – and I’m not excluding bishops and priests – could learn a few things about justice from our spiritual ancestors, the Jews. Late last month, a TSW reader sent me an example in a surprising December 16 blog post entitled “Father Gordon MacRae – Imprisoned for Abuse Payoff?” It was posted by psychologist and rabbinical scholar, Daas Torah on his website of the same name. The site is subtitled “Issues of Jewish Identity.” Daas Torah has authored several books on child and domestic abuse in the Jewish community and is considered an expert in this field.
After a decade of official Catholic efforts to appear sufficiently harsh and unmerciful in heavy-handed condemnation of accused priests, Catholic leaders might take a cue from Daas Torah and the Jewish community’s grappling with these same issues. Some of the comments by Daas Torah’s readers on his post about me reveal a basic tenet of justice that somehow became lost as we addressed the burgeoning Catholic scandal a decade ago. Daas Torah’s Jewish readers are firm in their opinion that victims of real abuse are not at all served by presumptions of guilt and sabotaging the rights of the accused. Here’s an example by a commentator reacting to Daas Torah’s presentation of the case against me:
“Innocent victims who were targeted by false allegations . . . is another thing the victim community does not want to hear . . . Don’t assume that all victims consider themselves to be well-represented by the political activists. Many victims are exceptionally sensitive to injustice. This is also true in the Catholic community, where groups like SNAP want to bury cases like MacRae’s because they undermine sound-bite propaganda.”
Daas Torah’s post included a link to a 2012 update on this story. As a prisoner with no on-line access, I had only a printed version that was sent to me so I had to ask someone to go online to find out what this “update” link was. Surprisingly, it’s a link to an article by Ryan MacDonald entitled, “Judge Arthur Brennan Sentenced Father Gordon MacRae to Die in Prison.”
Fellow Catholics, take note of this. Salvation came to us from the Jews. And lest any of us wonder whether Catholics are ready to hear another side of this decade of scandal in the Catholic Church, we need look no further than The Media Report which a few weeks ago posted its year end “Top Ten Stories of 2012.” In Part 2 of that post, the Top Five, The Media Report’s most visited and cited story of 2012 was David Pierre’s coverage of my defense in “Exclusive Report: Alarming New Evidence May Exonerate Imprisoned Priest.”
Whether 2013 brings freedom remains an uphill climb, but there are signs that it may at least bring forth truth, and there is indeed a certain freedom in truth. The loud lynch mob of SNAP and VOTF have toned down their rhetoric noticeably as facts and new evidence emerged over the last year. Just as in my dream, most of them seem to have simply disappeared.
I have never issued a plea that my brother priests and bishop open the rectory doors to take up the cause of my defense. That would be a lot to ask as the lynch mob roams the streets. But there is a defense, and it is the truth, and a blatant refusal to hear it leaves justice in the realm of Azazel.
In our “Hits and Misses of 2012,” I cited Bill Donohue at The Catholic League and David Pierre at The Media Report for being undaunted witnesses to the truth. And I am very much aware of the dozens of dedicated Catholic bloggers who routinely cite and link to These Stone Walls. They include Bishop Rene Gracida at Abyssus Abyssum, Father George David Byers at Holy Souls Hermitage, Father John Zuhlsdorf at What Does the Prayer Really Say?, and Deacon John Giglio at Deacon John’s Space, Scott Reichert at About.com Catholicism, and our very own graphic artist, Vincenzo, at Sancte Pater.
Many others have carried links to some posts on These Stone Walls including Spirit Daily, the National Catholic Register blog, Catholic Canada, New Zealand Conservative, Friends of Justice, and dozens of others. I add to them the example of Daas Torah for whom justice and truth are clearly not expendable as he grapples with these same issues in the Orthodox Jewish community.
In 2012, These Stone Walls had nearly a quarter-million pageviews thanks to you. No midwinternight’s bad dream can stand against those open to truth and justice.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please nominate These Stone Walls for the About Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards. Please log in and vote in each of these categories! Just copy/paste this info:
These Stone Walls
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Fr. Gordon J. MacRae
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The late Cardinal Avery Dulles and The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus encouraged Father MacRae to write. Cardinal Dulles wrote in 2005: “Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials.” READ MORE
Recently I responded on FACEBOOK to CNN’s Piers Morgan after listening to a crude rant from a guest, castigating Piers for his anti-assault weapon stand. The guest, who claims to own 50 guns, was one of the instigators on a petition to send Piers back to Britain. My response strongly supported Piers and stated my negative opinion of the guest.
Within 24 hours of my post, I was “unfriended” by 3 people. I smiled and chalked that up to a badge of honor. But, I didn’t have to spend 18 years in prison for my opinions as you have done for simply being a priest.
It is my hope and prayer that 2013 brings you freedom. I applaud you for your grace in suffering.
I wonder if something went wrong but for a long while, I have not been receiving your updates, Father, via e-mail. However, I have not forgotten to pray for you at Mass, especially when I have not been hearing from you.
Your dreams are so vivid and they almost sound too real. I am participating in the 90-day Bible Challenge and we have just gone through the story of Joseph, the ‘Dreamer’. I’m curious as to how he would interpret yours.
When summoned by Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, Joseph replied, “It is not I, but God, who will respond to the well-being of Pharaoh.” (Gen 41:16)
The LORD Who sees everything, Father, will respond to your well-being.
Josefina Caliso, OFS says:
Dear Father Gordon:
My parish, St Stanislaus Kosta in Chicago will hopefully resume its 24/7 Adoration. The church is much undergoing restoration/renovation so Adoration is 4pm-715am Monday-Friday and 24 hours weekends for now. Our pastor is a holy priest and he consecrated our parish to Our Lady.He wrote A Mother’s Plea re this. St Stanislaus Kostka Church is always there for you. Our monstrance is called “Our Lady of the Sign, the Ark of Mercy”. Josephine+
Gail Ramplen says:
Father Gordon, I pray for you constantly, Courage. The last mile is the hardest when frustration and doubt raise their heads to engulf us. As the saying goes, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. I wish the hierarchy, not to mention the secular forces who value justice, would have the moral fibre to support you and the wisdom and generosity to work out a plan for your rehabilitation. The shame is America’s.
please God Truth and Justice will prevail in 2013! God bless and strengthen you now and in the years to come.
Anthony Wheeler says:
This left me with a really dark and creepy feeling about the very nature of scapegoats. I have read somewhere that the official Catholic response to accused priests over the last decade has been more Calvinist than Catholic. I think I read this in an article by Ryan Macdonald, and he is right on target. The bishops must protect young people, of course, but as Daas Torah points out, no one does that by destroying the rights of the accused and then casting them into the desert. As always this was very well written.
Bernadette McK says:
What a beautiful message from Fr George. There must be so many who would like to meet you ‘on the courtyard steps’. I am sure the steps would not be big enough to contain everyone. All those of us who have followed you behind the stone walls via your inspirational blog would wish to be there.
Continuing prayers for you Fr Gordon from the other side of the pond.
Father I pray to the Blessed Mother and ask her to send all the choir of Virtue Angels to your aid.
Fr. Byers is right this is you Father Gordon at your best….
St. Michael protect Fr.Gordon.
Gina Nakagawa says:
I nominated you for all three categories, Father. If worst comes to worst, there is an extra room in our home that you would be most welcome to use. It would be an honor.
I have to tell you, we have had goats. We love goats. They are smart, warm-hearted, and have a wonderful sense of humor!
God bless and keep you, Father
Please God, I’ll meet you on the courthouse steps, and, please God, there will always be a Holy Souls Hermitage in which you can take refuge.
Prayers and blessings, in solidarity. I beg yours.
Father George David Byers