Rev. Joseph E.
Documents and Background
In January 2007, PBS Frontline broadcast a superb documentary about the
Catholic abuse crisis called Hand of God — the
story of survivor Paul Cultrera and his family's search for the truth
about Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham. No other film brings such intimacy, subtlety,
and humor to the crisis, and the thematic range is extraordinary. See
site and the Hand of God homepage.
The links below will allow you to look again at documents
and speeches that are crucial to the film and to the revelations of the
Birmingham cases, starting with Paul Cultrera's Statement to Bishop McCormack,
with links to the documents that Cultrera quotes.
Paul Cultrera: A Statement to 'Bishop'
"I have flown across the country from Sacramento, California,
the town where I now live to Salem, the town where I was born
and grew up, to ask John McCormack some questions. I hope you
will all understand why I do not address John as "father".
My father is here in the audience, and John McCormack does not
deserve to share that title with him. Nor can I refer to John
as "bishop" because based on my experience with him,
I don't believe that he merits that title either.
"When I went to the archdiocese of Boston in 1994 to report
that 30 years before at St James parish in Salem Joseph Birmingham
had used the confessional to lure me into his world of sexual
molestation, I was in the dark as to Birmingham's history, and
in fact still thought I may have been his only target. At that
time, only two years had passed since I had talked for the first
time to anyone about what had been my most tightly kept 30 year
The "Smoking Gun" and
Other Birmingham Documents
The woman in this photograph is Sister Grace
Kenning, a key figure in St. James' parish as the community coped
with the devastation brought upon it by Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham.
The documents show that Kenning resisted Birmingham and comforted
his victims, but as a parish school principal, she was also constrained
by her limited role and the power of the priests and chancery
Other documents released
in 2002 showed at last that the archdiocese had known as early
as 1964 that Birmingham was abusing children. This collection
documents the tenacity of the survivors and their families, and
the way in which Birmingham's transfers frustrated people's efforts
to prevent the archdiocese from putting new parishes at risk.
The documents also reveal the role that confession can play in
the grooming of victims and the silencing afterward. Browse
Mom and Dad,
I want to thank you for listening to me tonight when I called
about the article in the Globe. I understand how difficult this
whole thing is for you, and how difficult it would be for you
to see my name in an article that talks about my being abused
by Birmingham. I understand because it was that same sense of
shame and embarrassment that kept me quiet for 30 years, and that
would have kept me quiet for the rest of my life if it wasn't
for the fact that Hartley opened up the doors of the vault where
I had been hiding my secret by asking me directly what had happened
to me. At that moment I couldn't duck the truth any longer, as
I could see clearly how much harm my silence had brought to our
marriage. For all those years that I kept my secret, I lived with
the fear that someone would find out what happened to me, and
that they would think there was something the matter with me,
that it had been my fault, and that I would be treated like an
outcast. But instead what I found was that when people learned
what had happened, they helped me to see that there was nothing
to be ashamed of. To
read more ...
Names Archdiocese, N.H. Bishop
A former Salem man who alleges he was sexually molested hundreds
of times by a parish priest in the 1960s said that Bishop John B.
McCormack of Manchester, N.H., who was assigned to the same Salem
parish at the time, saw the priest taking him to his rectory bedroom
and did nothing to stop it.
McCormack, who was an auxiliary bishop in Boston under Cardinal
Bernard F. Law, said through a spokesman the allegation by James
Hogan is false. But in response to Globe inquiries, he acknowledged
that he was warned more than 30 years ago that the Rev. Joseph
E. Birmingham was molesting children at St. James parish in Salem. Read
the story that broke the story...
Serial Abuse and Serial Transfers
The transfer of accused priests into communities where
their past crimes are unknown is the central tragedy of the Catholic
crisis, its defining characteristic. The career of Joseph E. Birmingham,
as it has been pieced together by Paul Cultrera and other survivors,
reveals the dynamic at its most virulent.
Birmingham was known to be a serial abuser in his first assignment,
yet when courageous survivors and their parents came to the chancery
to force a change, Birmingham was moved to another parish, this
time with a large school. Our timeline of Birmingham's career
provides links to survivor witness in each parish and helps to
clarify the complicity of the archdiocese in his crimes. View
the timeline ..