NH Resources – February 2002
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N.H. bishop played key role in handling sex-abuse cases in Mass.
By Annmarie Timmins
The head of New Hampshire’s Catholic churches was in charge of handling sexual abuse allegations against priests in Massachusetts during the time when the church is now accused of minimizing such cases.
Bishop John McCormack’s role has come under scrutiny in light of cases made against former priest John Geoghan of Massachusetts, who church officials kept on even as parishioners complained of his sexual abuse.
Geoghan was defrocked in 1998 and is facing 90 civil lawsuits from some of the 130 people who say he sexually molested them over at least three decades. This month, Geoghan was convicted of molesting a boy a decade ago.
McCormack, who oversaw the investigation of sexual abuse complaints against Geoghan and others for the Archdiocese of Boston from 1990 to 1994, is being sued along with Geoghan in a few of those civil cases.
McCormack was unavailable for comment last week. But as a result of the
civil lawsuits, he was deposed by the victims’ lawyer for nearly
five hours in August. A 130-page record of that interview was made public
last week. Numerous memory lapses prevented
Once, McCormack sent Geoghan to a doctor with experience treating alcoholics but not pedophiles. Another time, he said he was against involving more doctors and preferred to decide what to do about Geoghan’s standing within the church.
Nowhere does it show McCormack pressed for Geoghan’s removal, and The Boston Globe’s review of the entire court file indicates McCormack is not on record elsewhere asking for that removal. One of McCormack’s spokesmen said he could not answer questions about the deposition; another said he did not know the answer.
According to his deposition, McCormack had an equally vague memory of
any of the specific complaints his office took about Geoghan.
McCormack was also an enthusiastic supporter of beefing up the church’s
sexual misconduct policy by creating a way for the church to put a priest
on administrative leave while allegations against him were investigated.
That is now allowed under canon law.
McCormack went to work for Cardinal Bernard Law, the head of the Archdiocese of Boston, in 1984, taking care of general personnel matters for the ministerial staff within the archdiocese. McCormack got the job without an application or an interview on the recommendation of a bishop who had taught canon law when McCormack was in the seminary.
Throughout the civil and criminal trials against Geoghan, the church has been accused of having been lax in its response to complaints of sexual abuse, especially those against Geoghan.
Just before McCormack left the archdiocese in 1994 for a short sabbatical he spent in a Manchester monastery, Law added to his duties by putting him in charge of reviewing the policy the church followed.
As part of that, Law asked McCormack to go through files of every priest to determine whether any contained reports of sexual misconduct and if action needed to be taken.
That review prompted Geoghan’s move out of parishes and into the retirement home for priests, which he helped manage. The deposition doesn’t make clear who recommended the move, but McCormack wrote the memo announcing it would happen.
The questioning attorney asked McCormack if the church’s intent in moving Geoghan to the retirement home was to keep him away from children. McCormack said it was to “preclude it, not just limit it.”
By then, the church had had numerous complaints against Geoghan. And McCormack had been in charge of handling such complaints of sexual misconduct for nearly three years.
Even seeing memos he had signed or made notations on regarding Geoghan did not enhance McCormack’s memory.
He said in his deposition that Geoghan wasn’t the only priest being accused of sexual misconduct, although his lawyer directed him not to say how many were accused. McGee said McCormack had nearly 1,000 priests to supervise in the archdiocese and relied on a staff to help him with those complaints.
Internal memos released as part of the cases against Geoghan show that church leaders knew of Geoghan’s history of abuse and responded by nurturing rather than reprimanding him. None, however, have specifically shown that McCormack had acted similarly.
But the church’s policy on handling such complaints was one Law had asked McCormack to review and enhance. In his depositions, McCormack described what the church came up with in the early 1990s as a result.
“We would meet with the man, report the allegation, learn his response, and based on that, make an assessment whether there was some credibility to the allegation,” McCormack said. “In view of that (we) would ask him to take an administrative leave and would ask him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation so that we could get a better understanding of how he was handling the sexual issues . . . in terms of the allegation.”
But McCormack couldn’t tell the attorney how that policy differed from what was in place.
“I can’t remember,” he said.
Speaking for McCormack on Wednesday, McGee said there were no substantive changes.
“I think it was taking a policy that was in place and putting it
in writing,” he said.
By Associated Press
Manchester -- Roman Catholic leaders on Friday gave prosecutors the names of 14 priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors in New Hampshire during the quarter century that ended in 1987.
Bishop John B. McCormack also acknowledged that some of the 14 were returned
to duty after doctors deemed them fit, a practice he acknowledged Friday
McCormack was a top church official in Boston before becoming bishop in Manchester in 1998. He and Law are among those named in dozens of civil lawsuits accusing the Boston archdiocese of turning a blind eye toward pedophile priests.
"What I report is sad in one way because it is about sin, sickness and crime," McCormack said at a news conference Friday. "And yet in another way it is hopeful news in that our church and community will know that no priest is now serving in ministry who has to our knowledge engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor."
Of the 14 priests, one — the Rev. John R. Poirier of Holy Family Parish in Gorham, formerly of St. Joseph's Church in Dover — was actively working. He was barred from working as a priest effective Friday. Seven other priests, all retired or previously suspended, received the same discipline in the past.
The remaining six were retired or on sick leave. Effective Friday, they were barred from celebrating Mass.
After meeting with officials from the diocese and consulting county prosecutors, Attorney General Philip McLaughlin said this week he knew of no priests under investigation for sexually abusing children. Friday’s report presumably will lead to investigations.
"I would expect that the attorney general, now having the information,
will do his duty," said the Rev. Edward Arsenault, diocesan chancellor.
Three New Hampshire priests convicted in the 1990s of sexually abusing minors were not on the list. The Rev. Gordon MacRae and the Rev. Roger Fortier are serving prison terms. The Rev. Leo Shea received a three- to six-year prison term when he was convicted in 1994. He is retired and living in Danbury, according to the 2001 diocesan directory.
Also not on the list is the Rev. Frederick Guthrie, 65, of Newbury, Mass. He was arrested in November in Nashua and charged with using a computer to solicit a minor.
In Massachusetts, Law has apologized for transferring former priest John
Geoghan to other churches after learning of accusations against him.
Church officials in Massachusetts have scoured records for accusations against other priests. Eighty Massachusetts priests have been identified in recent weeks as having abused children during the past 40 years.
Arsenault said a review of New Hampshire records began last week. At meetings with the accused priests Thursday, all reacted with "a deep sense of sadness," he said.
McCormack will tell New Hampshire Catholics about the allegations in a letter scheduled to be discussed at churches around the state this weekend.
"Today is a difficult day, but I hope that you will see this painful disclosure in the context of hundreds of years of faithful service by priests to the people of New Hampshire," McCormack said. "I firmly believe with faith in the Lord of Life that our future is full of hope."
The 14 priests are: John R. Poirier, Gorham; Albert L. Boulanger, retired,
of Manchester; Gerard F. Chalifour, retired, of Manchester; Robert J.
Densmore, retired, of Manchester; Raymond H. Laferriere, retired, of Manchester;
Conrad V. LaForest, sick leave, of Winnisquam; Romeo J. Valliere, retired,
of Berlin; Paul L. Aube, suspended, of Manchester; Eugene Pelletier, retired,
of Manchester; Albion F. Bulger, retired, of Nashua; Joseph A. Cote, retired,
of Berlin; Joseph T. Maguire, retired, of Hyannis, Mass.; Stephen Scruton,
suspended, of Dover; and Francis J. Talbot, suspended, of Manchester.
By Albert McKeon and Kevin Landrigan
The Catholic Diocese of Manchester on Friday gave criminal prosecutors the names of 14 priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors during a 24-year span that ended in 1987.
One of the priests is the Rev. Albion F. Bulger, who served at the Parish of the Resurrection in Nashua, but had his pastoral duties apparently stripped sometime last year when the diocese received an allegation against him.
Bulger could not be reached Friday. His house, which overlooks the church he served, was darkened Friday night. A deacon who performed the Stations of the Cross service Friday night declined to comment on the situation, saying he and other parishioners were still taking in the news.
Seven of the accused priests still had pastoral duties until Friday. They previously had received psychological and medical clearance to continue working in the church, a decision that Bishop John B. McCormack acknowledged was wrong.
“Given the current understanding of this behavior, it is now clear to me that any credible allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor by a priest means that he cannot return to pastoral ministry,” McCormack said. “I do not want to take the chance that a priest’s problem could reoccur and impact the safety of our children.”
The seven priests who just had their duties revoked met with diocesan leaders Thursday. They all reacted with a deep sense of sadness, Diocesan Chancellor Edward Arsenault said.
“To a person, they’re sorry,” he said.
The revelations came as the Archdiocese of Boston handles an onslaught of criticism for allowing several priests to resume parish work after having child sexual abuse charges lodged against them.
The Diocese of Manchester raised the bar on its sexual misconduct policy effective Friday in light of the Boston scandal, the concerns of New Hampshire’s Catholics and a dialogue this past week with the state attorney general’s office, McCormack said.
Attorney General Philip McLaughlin expects to receive casework on the 14 priests next week. Because he has not seen the paperwork yet, McLaughlin would not comment Friday on whether his office will prosecute any case, or if each priest’s case involved one or multiple alleged offenses.
McLaughlin, who once served as an altar boy at St. Patrick Church in Nashua, said he doesn’t know if the 14 priests were subject to past criminal probes by state or county prosecutors. They are not currently under criminal indictment, he said, and there was no criminal investigation of any diocesan priest prior to Friday’s disclosure.
“People’s trust has been challenged,” McCormack said.
“There’s the perception we were not as careful about the safety
of children as we are now aware of the need to be.”
“But we have a whole new understanding today,” he said.
McCormack said the seven priests who received treatment had “problems” that seemed “more manageable” than three New Hampshire priests convicted in the 1990s of sexually abusing minors. Those priests – the Revs. Gordon McRae, Roger Fortier and Leo Shea – were not on the new list.
Diocesan leaders would not comment on whether the reinstated priests had new complaints lodged against them once given clearance to resume parish work.
They also provided no information on how many accusations were lodged against the 14 priests or how many children were involved, but they said at least 14 complaints were filed and most of the priests had faced only one accusation. The diocese also would not provide specific dates on when the alleged acts occurred or when reports were filed.
But the diocese did provide a general time range for the cases on all 14 priests: The alleged acts occurred between 1963 and 1987, and the alleged victims filed reports between 1971 and last year.
Only one of the priests – the Rev. John R. Poirier of Holy Family Parish in Gorham – still remained active in everyday parish affairs. The other six who still had pastoral duties already had retired or were sick, but they still celebrated Mass and often helped parishes that lack an abundance of active priests.
As of Friday, all seven priests had their pastoral ministry duties revoked by the diocese, and they can no longer celebrate Mass. The other seven, including Bulger, had their duties rescinded sometime in the past, but the diocese did not provide specific dates. They all retain the title of priest.
With Poirer’s removal, the diocese now has 135 active priests serving 130 parishes. With the removal of the other six priests, the diocese now has 90 retired or sick priests who can still celebrate Mass.
The diocese reported the alleged abuses to police whenever the alleged victims were still considered minors by law, Arsenault said. Some accusations were made years after the alleged acts, when the alleged victims already had reached adulthood, so church leaders did not inform police but made assessments amongst themselves, he said.
The statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases has expired for acts committed before 1981 or if the victim turned 18 on or before April 26, 1984. But the state Legislature changed the statute in 1990 so that reports on an alleged assault after those dates can be filed until the alleged victim turns 40.
The diocese’s policy on sexual misconduct, written in 1993, received an update in 1998, Arsenault said. In 2000, the diocese retrained more than 2,500 priests, deacons and employees on the policy, emphasizing the mandatory reporting requirements of suspected child abuse to the state, Arsenault said.
In some instances, the diocese reached a financial statement with an alleged victim, Arsenault said. He did not provide specifics on monetary amounts but indicated the diocese has worked with every alleged victim.
The diocese often received numerous reports of the same alleged act, Arsenault said. And, as an example, he said an act could have occurred in 1967, but the diocese would not learn about it until 1980 or 1990.
The seven priests who resumed work had undergone evaluations and treatments – with some work performed by independent experts – and had the bishop’s approval to re-enter parishes, Arsenault said.
“On evidence we had from psychological experts, (a) priest has dealt with a problem and was told he could be put back into limited ministry,” McCormack said.
The bishop wouldn’t comment on the nature of pedophilia but said “it’s difficult to assess this sickness.”
Arsenault emphasized that since the last accusation was filed in 1987, the diocese knows of no other occurrences.
But on Friday, McLaughlin confirmed he received an independent allegation against a priest not on the diocesan list, although he refused further comment.
The bishop will send a letter to every New Hampshire Catholic parish over the weekend asking pastors to address the concerns of the faithful through listening sessions. The diocese will hold a special prayer service for reconciliation in the future, he said.
“We need to ask God to help us as (a) church to see and accept our failings in preventing this in the past and to strengthen our resolve and awareness to prevent such incidents in the present and the future,” McCormack wrote in the letter.
The attorney general’s office first contacted the diocese last week to see if church leaders had any long-standing allegations of sexual misconduct against priests, McLaughlin said.
After having discussions with McLaughlin, Arsenault and McCormack last week reviewed their files on priests. They wanted to determine if any priests previously involved in sexual misconduct with a child still posed a threat to a minor, Arsenault said.
With a higher standard in place, McCormack decided that any priest facing
a credible allegation of child sexual misconduct could not continue his
pastoral ministry, the bishop said. The diocese will now use this standard
in reviewing any future complaints, he said.
Bulger of Nashua and six other priests already had lost their privileges: retired priests Eugene Pelletier of Manchester, Joseph A. Cote of Berlin, and Joseph T. Maguire of Hyannis, Mass.; and suspended priests Paul L. Aube and Francis J. Talbot, both of Manchester, and Stephen Scruton of Dover.
Bulger retired from the Parish of the Resurrection in September 2001. The diocese’s Web site still lists him as a priest in residence.
McCormack served as a top aide for Bernard Cardinal Law in Boston before assuming leadership of the Manchester Diocese in 1998. McCormack and Law are among those named in dozens of lawsuits against the Boston Archdiocese for ignoring complaints about pedophile priests.
Law recently rescinded his archdiocese’s policy of allowing accused priests to resume parish work after receiving treatment. With calls ringing loudly for Law’s resignation, the cardinal also recently opened all of the archdiocese’s files on sexual abuse cases.
Law has apologized for transferring the now-defrocked priest John Geoghan, the most prominent of the accused priests, to other churches after learning of accusations against him.
Geoghan awaits sentencing after being convicted of sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy. At least 130 people have accused him of abuse; he faces two more criminal trials and 80 civil lawsuits.
Boston Archdiocesan officials have searched records for accusations against other priests. Eighty Massachusetts priests have been identified in recent weeks as having abused children during the past 40 years.
In New Hampshire, MacRae and Fortier are serving prison terms. Shea received a three- to six-year prison term when he was convicted in 1994.
He is retired and living in Danbury, according to the 2001 diocesan directory.
Also not on the new Manchester Diocese list is the Rev. Frederick Guthrie,
65, of Newbury, Mass. He was arrested in November in Nashua and charged
with using a computer to solicit a minor.
By Caroline Louise Cole
Concord, N.H. -- Prompted by the state's top prosecutor - and the ongoing
scandal rocking the Archdiocese of Boston - New Hampshire's Roman Catholic
leaders delivered to prosecutors a list of 14 priests who are accused
of sexual misconduct with children in incidents stretching from the early
1960s to 1987.
By Kathryn Marchocki
Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack removed seven diocesan priests accused
of past sexual misconduct with children from pastoral ministry yesterday.
By Albert McKeon
State Attorney General Philip McLaughlin closely watched how the Archdiocese of Boston handled the growing controversy over priests accused of child sex crimes.
“They didn’t give the impression of being forthcoming,” McLaughlin said of archdiocesan leaders in a telephone interview Monday. “They gave the impression the information was being forced out.”
With that thought, his office contacted the Diocese of Manchester earlier this month. McLaughlin and church leaders soon started a dialogue that within a week prompted the diocese to revise its policy covering clerical sexual misconduct with minors.
“One of the most disturbing parts of this is not so much one or many youngsters being abused, but what was the culture of the church, which apparently put the protection of the church over youngsters,” McLaughlin said.
The new diocesan standard prohibits priests facing a credible charge of child sexual abuse from working in the church. That change led Bishop John B. McCormack on Friday to provide McLaughlin with the names of 14 priests who at one time faced credible accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor.
The bishop stripped seven of those priests – including the retired Rev. Raymond Laferriere, who once served at St. Louis de Gonzague in Nashua – of their pastoral duties. The other seven – including the Rev. Albion Bulger, a retired pastor of the Parish of the Resurrection in Nashua, and the Rev. Paul Aube, who also served at St. Louis – already had their ministerial privileges revoked.
It is unknown how long Laferriere and Aube served in Nashua.
Another suspended priest, the Rev. Stephen Scruton served in the 1980s at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hudson. In 1984, he was arrested at a Londonderry rest stop police said was a meeting place for homosexual trysts. He faced similar charges while a priest in Keene in 1987.
Scruton also was sued in 1991 by a former altar boy who claimed the priest
McLaughlin’s initial concern was whether the Manchester Diocese’s policy differed from the one long followed in Boston. He wondered if the problems that have plagued Boston lay waiting in Manchester.
He met with the diocesan chancellor, the Rev. Edward Arsenault, and the diocese’s attorney, Bradford Cook, on Feb. 11. Arsenault gave McLaughlin a letter stating the diocese had followed state law on reporting child abuse since those mandates went into effect in 1979.
The next day, McLaughlin continued talks with Arsenault. McLaughlin – a former altar boy at St. Patrick Church in Nashua – assured Arsenault the diocese had followed the letter of the law, but he probed for something deeper.
According to McLaughlin, he asked Arsenault to refocus where the diocese’s policy should stand in 2002: complete protection of children.
Even if the law on reporting pedophile acts stated that a person could file a complaint only between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, more is expected of that individual, McLaughlin said.
And if you strip away the statute, “What obligation does the Roman Catholic Church have in preventing rape of a child?” McLaughlin said.
Arsenault embraced the new stance immediately, McLaughlin said. The next day, Arsenault announced that the diocese would continue talks with the attorney general and would conclude the dialogue Friday.
That day, Arsenault and McCormack held a press conference, providing the names of the 14 priests and explaining the diocese’s new position on child sexual abuse.
The alleged abuses occurred between 1963 and 1987, and were reported to the diocese between 1971 and 2001. The diocese reported the accusations after mandatory reporting laws took effect and when the alleged victim was still a minor at the time of the report.
If anyone wants to report an act that he or she may have suffered as
a child or witnessed, McLaughlin urges the person not to worry about the
various time stipulations of the law.
McLaughlin, 57, first attended Catholic Mass when it was celebrated in Latin. He has witnessed many changes in the institution over the past few decades.
But respect for a priest has largely held true through the years, McLaughlin said. “When you speak to children in the name of God, that’s pretty powerful,” he said.
Thus, reporting a case of sexual abuse by a priest can seem difficult,
By Associated Press
Concord, N.H. -- New Hampshire’s Roman Catholic priests met with Bishop John McCormack on Tuesday to hear concerns and discuss restoring confidence in the clergy amid sexual abuse allegations against 14 priests.
The priests met for more than three hours in a closed-door meeting at the Marriott hotel. Dozens of clergymen filed past reporters without comment at the meeting’s end.
The bishop’s delegate, the Rev. Edward Arsenault, said their goal is making parishioners confident their churches are safe.
“The hardest part is addressing our humanity,” Arsenault said. “The best part of it is, we’re hopeful for the church of New Hampshire.”
The meeting came four days after Bishop John McCormack released the names of 14 priests reported to the Diocese of Manchester for alleged sexual misconduct with children years ago. An investigation by the attorney general could lead to prosecution of some.
Some priests had been allowed to return to work after doctors deemed them psychologically and medically sound. McCormack said last week it’s now evident that a single instance of molestation should disqualify a priest permanently.
On his way into the meeting, the Rev. James O’Connor of St. Teresa’s Manor in Manchester expressed sympathy for the bishop.
“We’re all human, we do make mistakes in judgment,” O’Connor said. “But they’re not mistakes of malice,” he added of McCormack.
O’Connor also felt publicity has been overblown. Television stations have aired shots of priests’ homes, giving the impression the church is harboring people, he said.
While the charges are serious, he said, it’s also serious to ruin someone’s character. He noted that one of the priests denied the allegations.
Of the 14, McCormack has stripped six retired priests of their right to celebrate Mass and removed an active priest from office. The seven others had been removed from office earlier.
The alleged misconduct occurred between 1963 and 1987, officials said.
He also is encouraging priests to offer to meet with and speak to parishioners.
A letter from him was distributed at Masses and discussed at many churches
during the weekend.
Patrick McGee, spokesman for the diocese, said a flyer, titled “Protecting God’s Children, Responsible Relationships in Ministry,” will be handed out. The flyer tells people to contact state authorities if they suspect child abuse or neglect. If the perpetrator is a priest, other church employee, or a volunteer, parishioners should report it to the diocese as well.
The flyer also tells of counseling available through New Hampshire Catholic Charities.
Their goal is to increase awareness that child abuse is serious, church officials said.
“We want to help the victim, we want to help the people, we want to help the perpetrator,” McCormack said.
Clergymen generally expressed a hopeful tone for the future.
“We’ll just have to work together with zeal and understanding,” O’Connor said. “I’m sure the church will weather this storm as it has in the past.”
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