Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham
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 the Frontline 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' McCormack
"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 secret." To read more...

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 officials.

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 the documents...

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 ...

Suit 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 ..


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.