NH Resources – April 2003
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Worcester bishop to testify about aide facing sex-abuse rap
By Robin Washington
The leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester must testify next week in a suit alleging sexual abuse by one of his top deputies and must share his "general knowledge" of a now-defunct clergy treatment center, a judge ruled yesterday.
Bishop Daniel P. Reilly will testify Monday in the case of 52- year-old Sime Braio of Shrewsbury, who claims Auxiliary Bishop George E. Rueger raped him when he was 13. Rueger was ordered to submit to questioning tomorrow.
Daniel J. Shea, Braio's attorney, said he will ask Reilly about the House of Affirmation, a former Whitinsville-based treatment center that was home to numerous alleged and convicted molesters.
"They tried everything to keep me away from the House of Affirmation," Shea said of a motion by dicoese attorney James Gavin Reardon Jr., whom he had accused of seeking a gag order in the case.
Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rupp allowed limited questioning to the bishop's general knowledge of the center.
"I don't see (the House of Affirmation) in any way related to the allegation," Reardon said.
Shea said the decision could be the first step toward a court order forcing the Worcester Diocese to open all its files on accused priests, as the neighboring Archdiocese of Boston and Diocese of Manchester, N. H., have done.
Though the Manchester Diocese has turned over more than 8,000 pages on accused pedophiles, Bishop John B. McCormack has refused calls to follow Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law's example and resign.
A former top aide to Law, McCormack has been strongly criticized for his handling of abuser priests in the Bay State.
Yesterday, a new church group - New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership - demanded both McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian resign.
"We are all practicing Catholics. We are Eucharistic ministers and members of pastoral councils who have written letters to the bishops and gotten no response," said Ed Kirby of St. John Neumann Parish in Merrimack.
In a statement, the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, chancellor of the diocese, downplayed the group, saying many of its members also belong to other organizations already on record as critical of the bishop.
"The formation of N.H. Catholics for Moral Leadership is a continuation of the efforts of a dozen or so persons who see the resignation of bishops as the only solution to healing in the church," he said.
In Boston today, lawyers for the Society of Jesus will seek court approval to withhold documents subpoenaed by Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley involving former Boston College High School teacher the Rev. James Talbot, who was the subject of a multimillion- dollar settlement and other pending suits.
Though the Jesuits produced some materials, Conley's spokesman David
Procopio said, "They withheld some documents citing instances of
By Albert McKeon
Manchester -- A newly formed Catholic lay group plans to seek the support of parishioners throughout the state in demanding the resignations of Bishops John McCormack and Francis Christian.
Intending to use a self-described grass-roots initiative, the 15 founding members of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership hope to build a platform strong enough to oust the two bishops. They will try to use the Internet and some old-fashioned shoe leather to reach deep into the pews.
“We’re looking for the silent majority to come forward,” member Bob Morton said at a press conference Monday. “We’d like to get folks to speak up.”
Group members consider the bishops morally unfit and complicit in their handling of abusive clergy. They think many New Hampshire Catholics hold the same view, and will voice that opinion if given the proper vehicle for expression.
Several Moral Leadership members belong to other church lay groups, and have sought McCormack’s resignation in the past, mostly as individuals.
The release last month of church documents detailing how the Diocese of Manchester failed to remove abusive priests from ministry prompted the forming of Moral Leadership, several members said.
In releasing those documents and by securing McCormack’s signature on a criminal plea deal, the attorney general’s office contends the diocese endangered children by placing the reputation of the church over the complaints of victims. Further, the state claims Christian, the diocesan auxiliary bishop, misled victims and prosecutors on abusive priests.
Moral Leadership points to those statements and McCormack’s role as an aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston as proof that the two bishops deceived victims, prosecutors and Catholics.
“In reply to our cries and gasps of astonishment, we hear hollow words uttered by deceitful men, who say just the right things only after being caught,” member James Farrell read from a declaration the group will ask Catholics to sign.
“The people of our diocese cry out for a moral leadership, yet the occupants of the (diocesan chancery), promising a recent conversion, cling stubbornly to power.”
McCormack has held firm that he intends to remain as bishop. The diocese and its supporters point to how he has taken progressive steps to protect children over the past year, including creating a policy that calls for the immediate removal from ministry of a priest facing a credible abuse allegation.
The Rev. Edward Arsenault, the diocesan chancellor, issued a written statement late Monday reiterating that McCormack and Christian will continue in their roles.
“Quick solutions are rarely lasting solutions,” Arsenault said. “Ideas like ‘leaders should go and all will be right’ are not of the church or for the church. Our family of faith is rooted in a commitment to acknowledge our faults, ask for forgiveness, and resolve to learn from our mistakes.”
Christian, after the release of the documents last month, said he never intentionally tried to mislead the state when it sought his opinion before the sentencing of the Rev. Roger Fortier, who was convicted on 16 counts of sexual assault. Christian in 1998 told a Strafford County probation officer he was unaware of Fortier’s “sexual problems with youth,” when church documents show he had knowledge.
Ten of Moral Leadership’s 15 founders outlined their intentions Monday at the press conference at the Manchester Public Library. They claim many Catholics in New Hampshire share their thoughts on the two bishops, but have not had a forum to make their views known.
So the group will use an Internet site and will reach parishioners face-to-face to accumulate a record of what it thinks is strong dissent for McCormack and Christian.
This weekend, members will seek support from parishioners at three different churches. If the group can enlist volunteers and the effort fares well, it will focus on more churches in the future, Farrell said.
The Internet will clearly serve as the group’s best tool. The group’s Web site will display the declaration calling for the bishops’ jobs. Catholics who support the initiative will also be asked to pass the message along and volunteer.
Morton acknowledged many Catholics have grown tired of publicity on the crisis, and other members said they recognize many Catholics in New Hampshire have remained silent.
Moral Leadership members claim dissent for the two bishops is strong – strong enough to force them out. As an example, they pointed to a University of New Hampshire-WMUR poll taken in February of 475 people – including 190 Catholics – that had 73 percent of the respondents favoring McCormack’s resignation.
“People who understand the abuse have come forward” to seek change, said member Ed Kirby, a Nashua resident and parishioner of St. John Neumann Church in Merrimack. “There is another faction that does not realize the extent of the abuse. They’re disturbed by McCormack, but it hasn’t touched them.”
To that end, Moral Leadership members want Catholics to read as many of the 9,000 pages of church documents to formulate an opinion of diocesan leadership. The documents, though, focus mostly on diocesan decisions made before McCormack became bishop in 1998.
Moral Leadership member Anne Coughlin said some Catholics may think the group has a broad agenda. But she said the group has a narrow focus: removing the two bishops.
Kirby said he hoped the group’s forum would attract priests who have “the courage” to also seek change in the diocese.
Farrell, after saying he hoped potential new leaders would come with clean hands, said there is no guarantee anyone in the church could fulfill that goal.
“But it is hard to find a bishop more culpable than McCormack,”
he said. “I’m willing to take my chances we’ll get someone
better than McCormack.”
By Kathryn Marchocki
A group of lay Roman Catholics yesterday launched an Internet-based drive to press for the resignations of New Hampshire bishops John B. McCormack and Francis J. Christian because of their handling of sexually abusive priests.
"All of us are horrified by what we learned about our church and its leadership in the past 14, 15 months," said Maggie Fogarty, facilitator of the newly formed New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership.
"And all of us believe that the only way we can begin to heal as a people is to have a leadership change, to have some accountability for our bishops," Fogarty explained at a press conference announcing the group's formation held at Manchester City Library.
The group's 15 founding members call themselves a "grassroots movement of committed Catholics" attempting to create an "Internet phenomenon" to rally laity behind their sole purpose to oust the two bishops.
McCormack was a top deputy under Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston from 1984 until 1998 when he became head of the Manchester diocese. Christian is auxiliary bishop and former diocesan chancellor.
Yesterday the group posted its declaration on its Web site -- www.nhcatholics.org -- where visitors can sign on to it. Forty people had signed it by 6 p.m.
Handouts also will be distributed in three parishes beginning this week to reach those without Internet access.
Members acknowledged the attorney general's release last month of 9,000 pages of investigative files detailing the church hierarchy's past handling of alleged abusive priests neither resulted in the bishops' resignations nor in widespread public outcry against their leadership.
But they said they are convinced New Hampshire Catholics believe McCormack and Christian should resign.
This new drive is an effort to animate and harness that sentiment, they explained.
"We are looking for the silent majority to come forward," Bob Morton of Belmont said.
The diocese dismissed the group's formation as a "continuation of the efforts of a dozen or so persons who see the resignation of bishops as the only solution to healing in the church."
Both bishops plan to "continue to serve the people of New Hampshire," said the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, diocesan chancellor, in a statement.
He said McCormack and Christian acknowledged "what they have done and failed to do." McCormack also has engaged clergy and laity in establishing one of the "most comprehensive policies for both preventing and responding to child sexual abuse," Arsenault said.
The diocese's agreement with the attorney general enabled it to avoid criminal prosecution by admitting its failure to protect minors from abusive priests could have resulted in a criminal conviction under the child endangerment statute.
"In suffering through our pain and revulsion at the horrible accounts of sexual abuse, we have come to see clearly a systematic conspiracy by patronizing bishops to cover up crimes against children and the church," James M. Farrell of Somersworth said, reading from the declaration he wrote.
"We believe our diocese is endangered by its current leadership . . . We believe the people of faith deserve new, moral leaders," said Farrell, a University of New Hampshire communications professor and member of St. Mary Parish in Dover.
Members said they are unaware of a New Hampshire diocesan priest who has sought McCormack's resignation to date.
"We certainly hope priests will come forward. I am keenly disappointed that I am not aware of one in New Hampshire who has done so," said Carolyn Disco of St. John Neumann Parish in Merrimack.
While members said the diocese needs new bishops with "clean hands"
for healing to begin, they acknowledge there are "no guarantees"
any bishop is without culpability given what they describe as the systematic,
institutional nature of the crisis. But they said they are willing to
take their chances that a new bishop will be better than the current ones.
By Albert McKeon
Tension has already surfaced between the Diocese of Manchester and a newly formed Catholic lay group that aims to remove church leaders.
Founders of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership obtained an e-mail message sent by the diocesan chancellor, the Rev. Edward Arsenault, to pastors. The message asks pastors to bar the group from distributing its materials at parishes, and calls the organization’s information and goal “flawed.”
Arsenault sent the message Monday, the day the group started its drive to remove Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian. The group is seeking support from parishioners through the Internet, but it also intended to forward its message at a few parishes this weekend.
“It looks like an order to me,” NHCML founding member Anne Coughlin said Tuesday of Arsenault’s request. “I certainly hope some pastors will allow us to stand on parish property and hand out pieces of information.”
Arsenault has placed parish priests in a tight spot, Coughlin said. They have received a message from the diocese, but they will also hear parishioner requests to distribute materials, forcing the priests to make a decision, she said.
Arsenault said he has not ordered the diocesan pastors to keep NHCML members off church property. Rather, he said he only asked pastors to refrain from allowing the group to distribute any material. A pastor could approve the group’s request, Arsenault said, but he doubts any would do so.
“I can’t imagine a pastor would allow it,” he said. “A pastor would see it as not helpful and not constructive.”
In the e-mail message, which Arsenault confirmed sending, he wrote to pastors that some members of the group have spoken with him and McCormack, and “have not listened to much reasoned response.”
The group should understand that only the pope, and not a bishop, can approve a resignation – the Vatican sends bishops to lead dioceses, Arsenault said. Also, McCormack and Christian have no intention of resigning, he said.
The group – in criticizing McCormack’s and Christian’s handling of clergy charged with abuse – claims the bishops have no accountability, and have squandered their moral authority. They point to McCormack’s role as an aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in the Archdiocese of Boston, and the Manchester diocese’s plea agreement with the state last year, in which it acknowledged it could have faced criminal indictment under child endangerment laws.
Arsenault said he does not see how the two bishops can be any more accountable. The diocese does cooperate with victims, lawyers and civil authorities, he said. The diocese’s supporters point to how McCormack has taken more active steps on abuse in the past year than other bishops.
“None of that seems to count with these people,” Arsenault said. “What’s very clear is they have a singular goal, and not a constructive goal to healing in the church. It’s divisive, and not a legitimate option. They know that based on our discussions.”
Coughlin considers Arsenault’s comments as a message that the diocese has spoken and NHCML should accept it. Further, the group’s information is not flawed – much of it comes from diocesan records – and it will not stop its effort, she said.
Many New Hampshire Catholics think the diocese will begin healing only after McCormack and Christian resign, Coughlin said. Even Catholics who do not seek a broad agenda within the church still want the bishops to step down, and the new group can provide a forum for them to express that view, she said.
As of Tuesday evening, about 240 people had attached their names to the
group’s declaration calling for new leaders.
By Kathryn Marchocki
A Roman Catholic diocese official has asked pastors to bar a group seeking the resignations of its two bishops from handing out material on church property.
"I don't see that this effort is a constructive contribution to healing in the church," the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault said yesterday. "I think their analysis is flawed, and they propose a solution that is not part of the tradition of the church.
"Short solutions like eliminate the leaders and we will be all set I don't think have a history of wearing well or being effective," the diocesan chancellor said.
New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership is a group of lay Catholics organized for the sole purpose of seeking the resignations of Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Christian.
Since its formation Monday, about 200 people have signed the declaration posted on its Web site that calls for the bishops' ouster.
Members, however, hoped to distribute material in several parishes beginning this weekend to reach out to those without Internet access.
"We are deeply dismayed that the diocese would seek to ban us from speaking to our fellow parishioners on our own parish's property," one of the group's founding members, Maggie Fogarty of Dover, said in a statement.
"The bishops must be very afraid of what we have to say if they would take this step to stop parishioners from being heard," she said.
Arsenault confirmed he sent the e-mail to pastors and diocesan ministers Monday night asking that "pastors refrain from allowing this group from distributing any material on your parish property."
Arsenault said group members have met with McCormack and him during the past year and "have not listened to much reasoned response."
"While I want to be as kind as possible, both their information and their goal are seriously flawed," Arsenault wrote in the e-mail that the group distributed to the media yesterday.
Anne Coughlin of Concord, another group founder, said members will not distribute material on parish property if the pastor asks them not to.
"It seems unfair because all we really wanted to do is quietly, respectfully hand them a piece of information," she said.
Arsenault said he is willing to work with anyone who wants to collaborate with church leaders to promote healing in the church.
"Unfortunately, a lot of the achievements that we have to our credit in New Hampshire . . . don't seem to matter to these people," he said.
But group members said the diocese cannot heal and move forward until
McCormack and Christian resign.
By Associated Press
Concord, N.H. -- A second lay Catholic reform group decided Sunday to push for the resignation of Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian of the Diocese of Manchester.
New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful said two-thirds of its steering committee, including representatives from nine affiliates across the state, voted to call for the resignations. The group, based nationally in Newton, Mass., says it has about 600 members in the state.
“Both observed a general disregard for the testimony of sexual abuse victims and an unwillingness to remove predatory priests from contact with children,” said Jeffrey Blanchard, steering committee chairman.
The group noted a recent attorney general’s report, made public recently, that criticized the way the diocese has handled allegations and admissions of sexual abuse by priests.
Diocese spokesman Patrick McGee said he could not respond directly to the vote until the diocese has had a chance to review it, but he commented on the general direction of the diocese. “Bishop McCormack is committed to leading the diocese forward. One of indications of that is his plan for the future. . . calling for more involvement of the laity . . . and clear and strong policies involving sexual abuse . . . ,” he said.
McCormack and Christian have acknowledged making mistakes and McCormack has said the diocese is sorry for the harm done, but he and Christian have said they have no intention of resigning.
Since becoming bishop of New Hampshire in 1998, McCormack has instituted aggressive policies to protect children, and in a 12-page response to the attorney general’s report, the diocese described its toughened approach to dealing with molesters in the clergy.
The attorney general’s report said Catholic leaders in New Hampshire for decades ignored the danger posed by molesting priests – even those who admitted guilt – while misleading civil authorities and victims about the extent of sex abuse charges.
The Voice of the Faithful said it voted after patient discussing the record of McCormack in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Christian in New Hampshire. It said the two cannot command widespread respect, leaving the diocese without effective pastoral leadership. It said healing can’t take place and successful daily operations of the diocese restored without the leaders leaving.
It noted that some faithful churchgoers have stopped attending Mass, that contributions are down significantly and that priests have shared their pain in homilies and public statements.
“We as laity have both the right and obligation under Vatican II and canon law to make our concerns known, which we are doing today in letters to Pope John Paul II and Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).
Another group, New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership, already has begun a campaign to force the two bishops to leave, saying the men played significant roles in the priest sexual abuse crisis and lack the moral authority to lead. Group members began handing out information at two churches in Dover on Sunday, and planned to continue the action at other churches every Sunday.
McCormack also has been under attack for his handling of abuse cases
from 1984 to 1994 as a deputy for Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, who
resigned this winter.
By Pat Grossmith
A Massachusetts picketer, arrested after refusing an officer's order to move when he was picketing Roman Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack at St. Catherine of Siena Church, yesterday argued that he had a First Amendment right to protest on the sidewalk in front of the church.
Richard Webb, 50, of Wellesley, defended himself in Manchester District Court on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. He is charged with disobeying a lawful order of a police officer to move from the sidewalk on Feb. 2 when he and about 10 other picketers were protesting the church's handling of pedophile priests.
Webb, who did not take the stand, cited numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions to buttress his position that he had the right to ignore Manchester Lt. James Stankiewicz' order to move.
He told the judge that for 80 years the Supreme Court has held that a citizen has the right to ignore a lawful order when expressing his First Amendment right to free speech as long as there was not a clear or present danger.
City prosecutor Michele Battaglia, in her closing statement, told the judge that the case was about a lawful order to move. The prosecution maintained that Webb encumbered the sidewalk, which Battaglia said was a public area, preventing access for parishioners to enter the church.
Judge John Emery took the case under advisement and will issue a verdict at a later date.
Stankiewicz was the sole witness for the prosecution. He said that on that Sunday, the city had declared a snow emergency. There was about five inches of snow on the ground and it was sleeting.
Stankiewicz, who had worked several security details at church protests and knew some of the picketers by first name, said there were a few people outside the church when he arrived. He went inside to speak with the Rev. Edward J. Arseneault, diocesan chancellor, about where he wanted the protesters to stand because they were on private property.
After talking with the priest, Stankiewicz told them to stand over by the parking lot about 45 to 60 feet from the front entrance to the church, near a snowbank.
Webb, his wife and three teenage children arrived later and joined the other picketers at the corner of the parking lot.
Witnesses, including Webb's wife, Dr. Anne Hagan Webb, testified it was
not safe where they were told to stand. Cars driving by were splashing
them with slush and they were having trouble keeping their footing on
and near the icy, slippery snowbank.
By Mark Hayward
A Massachusetts man has been found innocent of a misdemeanor charge that stemmed from his picketing outside of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Manchester last February.
Last week, Manchester District Court Judge John C. Emery found Richard Webb, 50, of Wellesley, innocent of disorderly conduct. Webb was one of several people protesting the church's handling of the priest sex scandals. Bishop John B. McCormack was inside St. Catherine at the time.
Webb was arrested after disobeying an order by police Lt. Jim Stankiewicz to move from the sidewalk.
During his April 8 trial, Webb argued he had a First Amendment right to protest on the sidewalk.
Emery did not base his verdict on constitutional grounds. Rather, he ruled that prosecutors did not prove that Stankiewicz gave a lawful order, which state law defines as a command issued to prevent or stop a crime or motor vehicle offense.
Yesterday, Police Chief John Jaskolka said he will have the department's training division look at Emery's decision.
"If there's something we need to change, we'll put that as a roll-call training training" item, Jaskolka said.
In a two-page decision dated April 16, Emery said, "the state did not sustain its burden of proof as to what offense the (Stankiewicz) command was intended to prevent."
Police can prohibit the public from using the sidewalk to protect a crime scene or to assist firefighters, Emery wrote. And standing on a sidewalk with a sign can obstruct pedestrian traffic, especially when weather conditions narrow the passageway, he wrote.
"However, the state did not introduce evidence that the defendant was, by his mere presence, blocking pedestrian access," Emery said.
Emery said the prosecutor could have presented evidence about the number of churchgoers, how many use the sidewalk and the time the service would end. Doing so might have proven that an offense was imminent, Emery said.
But the prosecution did not introduce such evidence, and the judge said
he could not speculate on the evidence to find Webb guilty.
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