NH Resources – August 2003
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NH Catholics, Why Have You Forsaken Us?
By Peter Pollard
As a teenager in the 1960s, I was unable to raise my voice against the priest who abused me. So I left. Fifteen years ago, when I finally found the courage to report the abuse to the Boston Archdiocese, then. Fr. John McCormack's decision to side with the priest sealed my status as an outsider. The attorneys general in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have now cited Bishops John McCormack's and Francis Christian's unconscionable treatment of victims. But you, the silent majority of New Hampshire Catholics, seem not to care.
Again and again I've heard the refrain from Catholics that this crisis has not affected your faith, that the issue is about failed human beings. So then why are you willing to accept moral leadership from these failed men? Why are you not standing up in the aisles demanding that you be given leaders of integrity?
Bishops McCormack and Christian have issued apologies for their past mistakes. They say they didn't understand then. They claim a new realization that the safety of children should trump the protection of the church from scandal. How is this worthy of high praise?
These declarations raise their moral integrity to that of decent human beings, not leaders. We now know that for decades some parish priests looked the other way as their fellow priests spirited young victims to an awful fate in rectory bedrooms and studies. You Catholics who remain silent now repeat that betrayal. Your children and grandchildren are watching and learning from your response to this tragedy. By your silence, you give a clear message to those girls and boys who will be abused today or tomorrow, and also to those who are still too afraid to tell you that they were abused yesterday.
Your message is this: "Priests and bishops are so important that they must not be challenged. If you complain too loudly, if you force us to choose between you and the clergy, we will move on without you."
Catholics, allow these failed men to seek God's forgiveness through the sacrament of confession. Your mandate is to show your children that in this world, there are severe consequences for severe crimes. We survivors need that assurance as well. Don't just move on without us.
Peter Pollard is a social worker in Hatfield, Mass. He has reported to the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office that he was abused by a Catholic priest in New Hampshire in the 1960s.
McCormack Misses Spirit of the Law
By Bernadette Malone
Was it Sister Ernestine, Sister Bernadine or Sister Maureen who taught me the difference between obeying the "letter of the law" and obeying the "spirit of the law"?
I forget which Catholic grammar school religion teacher it was, but it doesn't matter. Whichever nun it was -- all three were wonderful -- I wish she were around to teach Bishop John McCormack of the Diocese of Manchester about the difference.
Since Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly's report came out two Thursdays ago detailing Bishop McCormack's cover-up of the Boston sex abuse scandal, there's been a lot of emphasis on the letter of the law from McCormack and his underlings, and little, if anything, about the spirit.
Following the letter of the law means doing just enough to satisfy some explicitly worded religious or contractual obligation. Following the spirit of the law means figuring out what good is intended by the rule, and trying hard to make that good come about.
For example, the Pharisees looked at the commandment that said, "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath," and then criticized Jesus for curing the sick on a Saturday because it required "working" on the Sabbath. Of course, the point of honoring the Sabbath is to serve God, which is what Jesus was doing by curing the sick. But the Pharisees missed the point.
Also missing the point is McCormack, who broke the hearts and lost the trust of many Catholics by refusing to believe his pedophile priests could lie to him, keeping secrets from parishioners about dangerous priests, and failing to adequately monitor and report to authorities priests who were repeat offenders -- all according to the attorney general's report.
He harps on how he served the many victims of sex abuse in the Boston area by setting up a system of paperwork in 1993 (his next-to-last year in a 10-year stint under disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law) to deal with their complaints and monitor the priests accused of sex abuse. It's true that he took that administrative step, but he trumps it up like a politician who calls attention to his one good vote on an issue over which he's about to lose an election.
Attorney General Reilly wrote last week, "While the monitoring arrangements did not provide sufficient control over these priests, they at least created some form of supervision that did not exist before Bishop McCormack's tenure." That's lukewarm praise if I ever heard it. And yet McCormack has hung his hat on his execution of this detail.
And Reilly also comments on the ineffectiveness of McCormack's system: "Fathers Robert Gale and John Geoghan went on to abuse other children while on restricted ministries." You'd think McCormack would feel so ashamed about this fact that he wouldn't tout his cathedral of paperwork as a major remedy.
McCormack's habit of clinging to the letter of the law could also be seen in his refusal to notify parishioners about priests like Geoghan and Gale. The attorney general's report reveals he turned down requests by Chancery aide Sister Catherine Mulkerrin to use parish bulletins to notify Catholics of potential problem priests, because he thought it would violate the priests' confidentiality.
Again, why was McCormack obsessing about administrative points when he should have been ministering to the needs of his flock (i.e., keeping them safe from child-molesting priests, human resource policies be damned. Pardon me, Sister Ernestine, if you're reading.)
Speaking of ministry, McCormack's defender and diocesan chancellor, the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, deflected the message of 1,111 Catholics who signed a petition calling for the bishop's resignation by saying, " . . . they've proposed a solution that is just not a tradition of the church. Ministry is not a career. It's a response to a vocation." In other words, McCormack's not going away just because people want him to leave and have called for "career consequences"; this isn't some Protestant church where members vote on the preacher they want to hire.
Thank you, Rev. Arsenault. Hopefully every Catholic understands the letter of the law on this matter -- that we don't choose our priests. God does. But what about the spirit of ministry, and the need of the faithful to trust their minister? Is the Rev. Arsenault saying that no reason is great enough for a bishop to step down from his elevated post, as Cardinal Law stepped down?
McCormack continues to hang on to his post and insist that he's fulfilling the letter of the law. But as Jesus might have told the Pharisees, and as Sister Ernestine or Bernadine or Maureen told me, the letter of the law simply isn't good enough.
Bernadette Malone, who lives in New York, is the former editorial page director of these newspapers.
With Police Now Investigating Murphy, the Alcoholic And Abusive
Priest Is Banished From Anchorage
By Richard Mauer
Second of three parts
After nearly 25 years as a parish priest in Anchorage, Monsignor Frank Murphy was given one day by his archbishop, Francis Hurley, to pack and leave town.
It was June 20, 1985, and "Murph," as nearly everyone called him, was 53. For 22 years, a day hadn't passed when the priest missed a drink, and Hurley would tell parishioners that Murphy was going for alcohol treatment in St. Louis.
But the archbishop knew there was a darker side to Murphy's problems: A teenage boy in Murphy's parish had complained to Hurley three years earlier that Murphy had abused him, and now Hurley knew that police were investigating other complaints, according to Anchorage Police Department reports. At least one parishioner and a deacon had complained of pornography in the church. Murphy's supervisors in the archdiocese were sure he would be returning to St. Benedict's Catholic Church in South Anchorage once he completed his treatment with the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious order specializing in helping addicted priests. They figured he would get back to Anchorage in mid-January 1986.
While he was away, a small delegation of mothers of teen boys from St. Patrick's Parish, the Muldoon-area church served by Murphy for more than two decades, met with Hurley and the Rev. Steven Moore, vicar general of the archdiocese. One of the mothers, Murnell Fargo, a counselor at McLaughlin Youth Center, had once reported to police that a juvenile in detention said pornography was available to boys at the church. Since then, she had learned that police had begun a full investigation of Murphy for sexual abuse of minors and that was the catalyst for the meeting with Hurley.
Now the women were demanding that Hurley conduct his own investigation and report back to the parish. But Hurley insisted that Murphy's problem was booze, two of the women said in interviews.
"We asked was there anything going to be done about Father Murphy and the major charges," Fargo said. "We knew that Father Murphy had not been a good boy with males. We wanted to know what Archbishop Hurley was going to do. He denied they were anything but that Murphy was a drunk, an alcoholic."
The women pressed Hurley, claiming they knew of victims.
"The archbishop, he actually got rather testy," Moore recalled. From his perspective, the women were reporting abuse, but they weren't providing names, dates or places, Moore said, leaving little for Hurley to go on and raising his level of frustration.
Though Moore was the chief administrative officer of the archdiocese, Hurley had not told him that Murphy had admitted three years earlier that he was sexually abusive toward an 18-year-old. So the assertions of the St. Patrick's mothers were the first such complaints he heard.
"I was really quite stunned," Moore said. "I don't think I said anything the whole time I was there."
At least two of the women were known to adhere to the conservative wing of the church. Even before the sexual abuse allegations arose, Moore said, the conservatives had problems with Murphy.
The women left unsatisfied. For Fargo and at least one of the other women, the memory of the meeting remains bitter to this day. It was a lost opportunity for the church to expose and admit wrongdoing by its "servants," learn from mistakes and have "good come from such a horrendous thing," said one participant, who asked that her name not be used.
Hurley, archbishop emeritus of Anchorage since his retirement in 2001, has declined repeated requests to be interviewed, though he responded to some questions in writing.
NO COMING BACK
The officer investigating Murphy was Frank Feichtinger, in charge of the Anchorage Police Department's child sexual exploitation unit. Feichtinger closed the case in June 1985, writing in what he assumed to be his final report that Murphy had gone to St. Louis and, according to Feichtinger's informant, "might not be returning ever."
But Feichtinger reopened the book in November when he heard Murphy was coming back after all.
Tangled up with the sexual abuse case were allegations that Murphy had embezzled more than $50,000 from St. Benedict's and that a police officer, Jim Rehmann, was a beneficiary of some of the money, according to the investigative files.
Rehmann and Murphy gave completely different stories when asked to account for the source of the funds, according to the police reports. In an interview with Feichtinger, Rehmann admitted getting the money, but said Murphy told him it came from a wealthy aunt, not the church, and that he planned to use it to develop property in the Mat-Su Borough. When Murphy was interviewed by church officials, he said he gave Rehmann the money as repayment of a loan to establish a home for troubled boys.
Rehmann, who has retired from the police department, declined to answer questions about the transactions.
"I met Monsignor Murphy in 1972," Rehmann said. From 1977 to Murphy's departure in 1985, "he was my friend and my priest. I haven't heard from him, nor have I corresponded with him since he left, and that's been about 18 years ago now. Beyond that, I have no further comment."
In a recent interview, Moore, the archdiocese vicar general, said both men were asked to repay a share of the missing money.
"Rehmann repaid part of it and Murphy repaid part of it. There was an agreement as to whose was which and it was paid," said Moore, who declined to disclose the actual amounts.
But back in November 1985, according to Feichtinger's reports, Moore pointed out that the police department stood to be as embarrassed as the church if the information became public through criminal charges. Feichtinger wanted financial documentation from church accounts to pursue the embezzlement investigation, but the archdiocese decided not to cooperate.
"Father Moore indicated that the archbishop had stated that money was relatively easy to come by and that it would not be worth the damage done to parties involved to bring this matter to public attention," Feichtinger wrote in a report.
But more important for Feichtinger was what the church would decide to do with Murphy. The police didn't want to see him back in Anchorage.
Feichtinger said that in a meeting with Moore and Hurley on Nov. 25, 1985, he threatened to arrest Murphy at the airport, with reporters and cameras recording the event, if he returned in mid-January as planned. Hurley stormed out, Feichtinger said, but Moore stayed.
Feichtinger's report from that meeting shows that Moore had a realistic assessment of Murphy, even as he attempted to prevent his prosecution.
"Father Moore further indicated that Murphy, during his time in Alaska, had developed a strong following and that he was a charismatic man but also indicated off the record that Murphy was known to be a notorious liar and a con man in many ways. Father Moore stated that there were a large number of people in the Church that could be hurt by public acknowledgment of some of Murphy's activities and that it was the desire of the Church that as few people as possible be hurt by anything that had occurred."
Two days later, Moore told Feich-tinger what he wanted to hear. Hurley had agreed that Murphy would be reassigned to a diocese outside Alaska. And Feichtinger and investigator Justin Koles, Feichtinger's partner on the case and a St. Patrick's parishioner, said they received reassurances that Murphy couldn't be a secret abuser in his new city. Wherever Murphy landed, local police were to be alerted to Murphy's past sexual, financial and alcohol problems, both officers said. Feichtinger's police report, however, is ambiguous, saying only that Hurley agreed to alert "officials" within the "receiving" diocese.
Hurley said in a written response to questions from the Daily News that he only agreed to notify "any bishop of a diocese into which Monsignor Murphy might choose to retire."
In a recent interview, Koles defended the decision to close the case.
"Part of this looks like the police department covered it up and that's not the case," said Koles, who is retired and lives in Washington state. "We just flat out didn't have enough at that time. When the bishop decided he was going to take care of this matter, we can (use the freed time to) pursue our 40 million other cases."
So instead of returning to his adopted Alaska home, Murphy went the other way, to his birthplace in Massachusetts. His parents, in their 90s, still lived in Belmont, Mass., and Murphy moved back in with them while he tried to figure out what to do next.
In returning to the Boston suburb, Murphy not only came home, he entered into what would become the epicenter of the priest sexual misconduct scandal that unfolded in 2002 and is still continuing.
RISK FOR BOSTON ARCHDIOCESE
If parishioners in Anchorage were told by church officials that Monsignor Murphy's sudden and permanent departure was because of his alcoholism, church officials in the Boston archdiocese were under no such illusion.
On Feb. 24, 1986, a month after Murphy completed his treatment in St. Louis, the Rev. John McCormack, secretary for ministerial personnel of the Boston Archdiocese, sent a briefing memo on Murphy to his superior, Bishop Robert Banks.
"Frank cannot return to his Diocese of Anchorage because of police interest in him," McCormack wrote. "He is alleged to have had sexual involvement with one or more youths. One youth denies it. Allegations by other youths would probably not stand up in court, according to the diocese, but it is necessary to avoid any court situation. He has acted out sexually when drinking."
The Paracletes too concluded that Murphy had a major sexual issue, and it was in addition to his problems with alcohol, McCormack wrote.
McCormack's memo was among some 300 pages from Murphy's confidential personnel file in Boston released in February. Under a court order obtained by The Boston Globe, which won a Pulitzer Prize this year for its coverage of the priest scandal, the Boston Archdiocese must make public its files of priests accused of sexual misconduct.
The files, covering the decade that Murphy spent in Boston, show a priest who consistently attempted to circumvent restrictions imposed on him to avoid parish work and stay in close contact with supervisors. But they also show that he was rigorous in sticking to his alcohol recovery program through at least three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week, regular counseling with a therapist and a spiritual adviser, and periodic return visits to the Paracletes in St. Louis.
There was no indication in the files that he ever fell off the wagon or that he abused any new victims. In an interview, Murphy said that he left St. Louis sober in mid-January 1986 and never had another drink, never had another sexual encounter and never again viewed pornography.
Murphy knew the Boston area well. He grew up in the Irish working-class suburb of Belmont. He was ordained on Feb. 2, 1957, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, the "Mother Church" of the archdiocese, and still knew many of the local priests.
"He went back, and it was very clear that he was going back and living with his parents, taking care of his parents as they were dying," said Moore of the Anchorage Archdiocese. "It was real clear if there was going to be any ministry, he would have to show that in day-to-day life he could stay sober for a significant period of time, be in recovery for a significant period of time before he was able to do anything."
Church officials in Anchorage, where Murphy was still officially attached, and in Boston wanted to be sure that Murphy wasn't in an unsupervised situation around families, especially young men, as he was in Anchorage. But Murphy didn't make it easy for them.
In May 1986, Moore paid a visit to Boston, meeting with Murphy and archdiocese officials. In a May 30, 1986, memo to Hurley, he reported that Murphy was "manipulating his situation in Boston" by "dragging his feet" on a suggestion that he take classes to become a hospital chaplain -- and leave unsupervised parish work, possibly forever. McCormack complained to Moore that he found out secondhand that Murphy "was involved in part-time parish ministry without the permission of the Archdiocese."
At the same time, Moore told Hurley, McCormack "is concerned that the sexuality issue is more than a passing concern connected with the alcoholism. He stated that Frank had not been candid with him on the issue of his sexuality and previous sexual acting out. As a result, John is concerned about what sort of risk the Boston Archdiocese would be taking in placing Frank Murphy."
In response, Hurley directed Moore to tell Boston church officials that Murphy knew all along that he was to be candid "on both the sexuality and alcohol issues," and had been warned his authority to function as a priest would be revoked "if there was even a suspicion of his acting out."
Quoting Hurley in his letter to McCormack, Moore said, "Frank has a long history of manipulative behavior to overcome."
Prodded by the authorities, Murphy entered the clinical pastoral education program associated with Bon Secours Hospital near Boston, now Holy Family Hospital and Medical Center. But while the top officials in the archdiocese insisted that Murphy be candid with them, those officials weren't always candid with the people who directly oversaw Murphy.
In a memo on Nov. 17, 1986, McCormack told Bishop Banks that a fellow student of Murphy's would be the Rev. Paul Tivnan, who was accused of molesting at least two adolescent boys at parishes in Marlboro and Chelsea, Mass.
In a handwritten response at the bottom of McCormack's memo, Banks wrote: "God help us when Bon Secours finds that two priests there have the same problem!"
Two months later, Murphy passed the job interview. Sister Anne Maureen Doherty, on the hiring committee, formally asked Hurley's permission to hire Murphy on Dec. 22, 1987. Her understanding of why Murphy was in Boston, as reported in the letter: "Fr. Murphy is on leave of absence from the Diocese of Anchorage because of illness in the family."
AN EYE ON ALASKA
Murphy's popularity grew in Massachusetts, even among those who knew his background.
"I know that I need to be a bit wary of his charm and engaging manner, and maybe you are the best judge of that," McCormack wrote Hurley on July 5, 1989. "Frank looks wonderful, sounds wonderful, and from all the reports I get, is doing wonderful."
Murphy continued to own his Shangri-La property in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, a 14-acre retreat north of Palmer off Buffalo Mine Road, and expressed hope that he would someday return to Anchorage.
He wasn't forgotten in Anchorage and remained well-liked. Hardly anyone knew why he left town. In a written announcement in January 1986 naming Murphy's replacement as pastor of St. Benedict's, Hurley explained Murphy's departure by saying he was given permission to take a sabbatical year of studies, according to an item published in the Daily News.
In a letter to Murphy dated Nov. 2, 1987, Hurley noted, "People still ask about you. And, of course, we still exchange anecdotes, which in time will probably take on the aura of Murphyisms."
Officer Feichtinger hadn't forgotten about Murphy either. When he learned that Murphy had landed the hospital job, he decided to call the police in Massachusetts to see if Hurley had alerted authorities there. He reached the Belmont Police Department -- where Murphy's parents lived and where Murphy stayed when he arrived in Massachusetts -- but no one had heard of Murphy. Feichtinger packed up a copy of his files and sent them to Inspector William T. Mahoney.
On June 6, 1988, Mahoney wrote back, thanking Feichtinger.
"I read in your report that the Church agreed to notify local authorities whenever he is reassigned. This, obviously, was not done. Chief Robert Shea and I extend our gratitude to you for alerting us to a possible situation about which we had no prior knowledge," Mahoney wrote.
Mahoney said he would also inform authorities in Methuen, Mass., the location of Bon Secours Hospital.
Ironically, it was Feichtinger's own arrest and subsequent trial that led to the first public exposure, however brief, of Murphy.
Feichtinger was charged with official misconduct on Oct. 26, 1988, after he made pornographic, sadomasochistic audiotapes using teenage boys. He claimed he made the tape to entrap real abusers, but his "actors" said they themselves were abused.
On Dec. 4, 1989, as Feichtinger's trial was getting under way, Hurley called McCormack to warn him that the officer's attorney "is asking people who are testifying why a Catholic priest was not prosecuted for pilfering money from the Church and fooling around with juveniles." Up to that point, Hurley said, Murphy had not been mentioned by name.
That changed on Dec. 29, 1989, when Feichtinger took the stand in support of his claim that he was being prosecuted to protect the high-profile suspects he had investigated, including an Anchorage judge.
Feichtinger described his case against Murphy. While neither the Anchorage Daily News nor The Anchorage Times named Murphy in their accounts of that day's testimony, long-time parishioners at St. Patrick's or St. Benedict's wouldn't have had much difficulty figuring it out.
Feichtinger was acquitted on all charges but lost his job.
Rather than use Feichtinger's disclosures as an opportunity to acknowledge the past, Hurley wrote an open letter to Murphy on Jan. 31, 1990, that obscured it.
"As occasionally happens in court cases, someone's name surfaces unexpectedly," Hurley said. "When the publicity dies down that name is left swinging in the wind. That is where your name is now, left dangling in the wind, as people wonder about the behavior alleged about you in the media."
In that public letter, Hurley said Murphy was sent away for alcoholism treatment, neglecting to mention that he was also treated for sexual issues. Nor did he say that police planned to arrest Murphy if he returned to Anchorage. Instead, he attributed Murphy's problems to ungrateful youths with their own legal troubles.
"Four months later I visited you in the treatment center in St. Louis to tell you could not return to Anchorage. You were shocked and listened in stunned silence to my explanation that some time after you left for treatment I learned that some young men whom you had taken and helped were poised to try to implicate you in their problems with the police. It was my conviction that should allegations be made against you, whether verifiable or not, this was no place for a newly recovering alcoholic to be. To submit you to such pressure could easily have unraveled the life you were gradually putting back together."
Hurley acknowledged that he was not answering the questions of those who might wonder if Feichtinger's allegations were true. "There is no disposition on my part to respond to a series of allegations."
The matter died down, and Murphy continued his work at the hospital, receiving good reviews and annual reappointments.
Archbishop Hurley celebrated his 25th anniversary as head of the Anchorage Archdiocese in 1994. To mark the event, he visited the churches in his jurisdiction and met informally with parishioners, including two sisters whose feedback was stunning.
In a letter Michelle (Podvin) Boyden and Maggie (Podvin) Ridges jointly wrote on Oct. 23, 1994, they said:
"We thought that now may be a good time to let you know how your handling of a situation has affected at least five past parishioners of the Archdiocese of Anchorage. [Survivor's name and description redacted at survivor's request] was sexually molested by Monsignor Francis Murphy. We also know our other brother was approached by Monsignor Murphy and reported this to you. We understand you chose not to act on this information because it would look bad for the Church, or you may have been trying to protect Monsignor Murphy. Since that time a lot has happened in our lives that can be directly traced to Monsignor Murphy's inappropriate behavior."
The sisters went on to say that Hurley should have investigated Murphy when their younger brother Pat complained in 1982 that Murphy approached him sexually.
"We find it very difficult to believe that you were not aware of, or at least suspicious of, the existence of other victims," they wrote.
By 1994, the Catholic Church in America had just been through the first wave of scandals involving priests, and dioceses around the nation were directed to set up committees to investigate sexual misconduct. [Same survivor's name redacted], then living in an eastern state, was invited to tell his story. At that time, the committee consisted of three people, two of whom worked directly for the archdiocese: Moore and its lawyer, Jim Gorski. The third member was long-time church activist Nan Dietz.
[Same survivor's name redacted] spoke by phone to Moore on Dec. 19 of his encounter with Murphy as a high-school junior, 16 or 17 years old.
"I know that in talking about it with [same survivor's name redacted], I said I obviously have to take this further and I have to let Murphy know about it," Moore said. "And I'm sure I said this could result in his being removed from ministry. He said that wasn't his goal. But he understood that that was a possibility."
Moore prepared a memo on the conversation for the other committee members. A copy ended up in Murphy's Boston file.
Hurley decided Moore should go to Boston to confront Murphy. Hurley called Murphy on a pretext to make sure he would be in town, and Moore arrived in Boston on Jan. 9, 1995. Without Murphy knowing, Moore made plans to send Murphy to St. Luke Institute in Maryland, which specializes in evaluating and treating priests with sexual problems.
Then Moore called Murphy at the hospital.
When Murphy realized it wasn't a long-distance call, "my anxiety went into overdrive," he recalled.
It was the end of Murphy's new life in Boston.
TOMORROW: After moving to New Mexico, Frank Murphy's abusive past is exposed.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Junior High Victims: Two Anchorage teens attending the short-lived Catholic Junior High on Fireweed Lane in the 1960s found themselves tricked by Father Murphy into stripping naked and allowing him to rub their bodies with oil in the school's locker room. Now in their 50s, they are his first known victims.
Legal Issues: Victims and prosecutors around the country have found it nearly impossible to reach back decades and prosecute abusive priests and diocesan officials who knowingly allowed them to continue their pastoral work. Even if their behavior amounted to crimes under the weaker abuse laws of the time, too many years have elapsed. The same is likely true in Alaska: If Father Murphy's actions were criminal, lawyers for the state say, prosecutions today would be barred by the statute of limitations.
Dover Church Members Angry at McCormack
By Riley Yates
Dover -- Everyone at St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church appears to be angry with Bishop John McCormack for suspending a popular priest on an allegation of sexually abusing a minor — everyone, that is, except the Rev. Paul Gregoire himself.
In his first public statement since being reinstated to the parish Monday, Gregoire yesterday shrugged off allegations that McCormack tried to prevent him from returning to the cloth.
“I don’t think he opposed it at all,” Gregoire, 74, said. “(The investigation) just had to be just and fair to the victim and to me.
“It’s good to be back,” he added.
Gregoire and members of the church’s pastoral council met privately last night with McCormack in an effort members said was aimed at achieving reconciliation between the Manchester Diocese, which McCormack heads, and the parish, which has fervently supported Gregoire throughout his nine-month suspension.
As they waited for McCormack to arrive, Gregoire, wearing gray slacks and a plaid shirt — but no collar — hugged members and chatted amiably. On Sunday, he will give his first Mass since being ousted on McCormack’s orders in December.
Not everyone gathered was as easy to forgive McCormack as Gregoire.
“With everything that went on in Massachusetts that McCormack was involved in there, for him to do this to Father Paul is asinine,” Richard Valliere, chairman of the pastoral council said before the meeting.
Valliere said he believes McCormack had nothing to do with Gregoire’s reinstatement and that it came from the Vatican. Valliere highlighted McCormack’s response to a letter the parish sent to him in May, arguing Gregoire was not being treated fairly.
“He wrote, ‘I have no intention of appointing Father Paul to a ministry,’” Valliere said.
Thelma Gitschier, council secretary, said she can’t believe how long it took to clear Gregoire of the accusation that he had molested a girl while serving with the Society of St. Sulpice outside of New Hampshire.
“Nine months is a long time to explore something that is unfounded,” she said.
Linda Hardy, a parishioner who arrived with two of the council members but did not attend the meeting, had the harshest words for McCormack.
“He’s an evil person,” Hardy said. “He accused an innocent man of doing something that didn’t happen. And now he’s taking credit for reinstating him.
“He’s given the Catholic Church a bad name,” Hardy said.
McCormack arrived with the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, his delegate for sexual misconduct. Arsenault said the bishop had no comment about the meeting.
“He’s here to meet with them,” Arsenault said.
Some council members, while admitting they were angry at McCormack, said they hoped to move on nonetheless.
“We’re just happy he’s back,” said Susan Kilday of Gregoire. “My children are very happy. They love Father Paul.”
Priest to Be Reinstated
Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack yesterday lifted the restrictions the Rev. Paul L. Gregoire, 74, has been under since the bishop placed him on administrative leave as pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in early December.
"The Holy See accepted the bishop's opinion that the evidence is insufficient to support an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor," said the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, the bishop's delegate for sexual misconduct.
But parish council President Richard Valliere of Dover said he was told the Vatican restored Gregoire over McCormack's objection.
"My understanding was that Bishop McCormack's recommendation was he was not to be restored. My understanding was that he (McCormack) was overruled," Valliere said. He would not disclose the source of his information.
Valliere said he spoke yesterday with Gregoire, who had appealed his
suspension to the Vatican.
Gregoire, a popular priest whose parishioners have steadfastly supported him since the allegation surfaced, was accused of molesting a girl while serving with the Society of St. Sulpice outside New Hampshire. The bishop and diocesan officials deemed the allegation credible; the bishop placed him on leave.
It was the only sexual misconduct accusation made against Gregoire in his 48 years of ministry, Arsenault said.
Valliere said he assumes Gregoire will return to St. Charles parish and possibly could be saying Masses there as early as this weekend. Parishioners doggedly worked to restore Gregoire to ministry and many are pleased by the outcome.
"The ones I've talked to are ecstatic about it," Valliere said.
"We didn't give up. We kept working to get him back," he said.
After an investigation into the allegation, McCormack in early July forwarded to the Vatican his finding that the accusation lacked sufficient evidence, Arsenault said. McCormack met with Gregoire last Thursday to inform him that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accepted his opinion, Arsenault said.
"The investigation was very thorough and involved statements from the woman who made the accusation, from Father Gregoire and certain witnesses," Arsenault said.
He would not elaborate on the case or why the bishop no longer found the accusation to be credible.
The bishop met again with Gregoire yesterday to discuss his "restoration to active pastoral ministry," Arsenault said.
Valliere had urged New Hampshire Catholics to write national and Vatican church officials to restore Gregoire to ministry.
The parish's pastoral council had criticized McCormack for placing Gregoire on leave. In an open letter to Bishop McCormack last May, members said they believed Gregoire was not being treated fairly by the bishop or the diocese. They also said McCormack, who has come under intense attack for his handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Boston archdiocese, should not be the person who sits in judgment of Gregoire.
'Mixed messages' Coming from McCormack?
By J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press
Concord -- Some Roman Catholics said yesterday they are frustrated by seemingly inconsistent statements by church officials about a priest accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.
Patrick McGee, Bishop John McCormack's spokesman, said the bishop takes very seriously his role of protecting children, has instituted tough new policies in New Hampshire, and dealt with the Rev. Paul Gregoire and parishioners honestly and compassionately.
Gregoire, 74, who had been pastor at Dover's St. Charles Borromeo Parish since 1993, was accused last fall of molesting a teenage girl in Seattle during the 1970s. He was placed on administrative leave in December 2002.
This week McCormack announced that the Vatican had cleared Gregoire and that he would be reinstated.
Gregoire had said the incident was a misunderstanding. His parishioners had supported him throughout and were pleased at his reinstatement.
But between last December and this week, church officials sent mixed messages, initially saying they had no doubt the allegations against Gregoire were true, but more recently defending the priest.
"It's clear to me that Bishop McCormack and Reverend (Edward) Arsenault have not been honest about their handling of this case," said Ann Coughlin, a member of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership.
"The way they've handled it and what they've said about it seems almost intended to create confusion," she said.
Arsenault, McCormack's delegate for sexual misconduct, dismissed the discrepancies, saying earlier remarks reflect only the status of the investigation at the time, not final decisions by McCormack or his Diocesan Review Board, the six-member group charged with investigating such allegations.
Arsenault said the investigation was not complete until June, at which point the bishop determined the evidence did not support the allegation. Arsenault said McCormack then forwarded his conclusion to the Vatican, which cleared Gregoire.
But back on Dec. 19, Arsenault sent an e-mail to a Dover parishioner in which his descriptions of the investigation and its findings seemed to cast them differently.
"The Diocesan Review Board and Bishop McCormack found the evidence in this case was unambiguous," Arsenault wrote.
"The act of sexual misconduct of a minor by Fr. Gregoire occurred with no doubt in the mind of the Diocese Review Board or Bishop McCormack," he said.
And on March 24, McCormack sent a letter to Gregoire's parish council in which he said that due to the allegations he had "no plan to assign him (Gregoire) to ministry."
"The accusation has been determined to be credible by the Diocesan Review Board after a thorough investigation by the Office of the Delegate," McCormack wrote.
Arsenault would not discuss his Dec. 19 e-mail, saying it was private correspondence. He said the bishop's March 24 letter was being misread.
"I understand that you can read that letter and assume the investigation was complete," Arsenault said yesterday. "I regret that that is how it reads because the investigation was not concluded."
Arsenault would not say what, if anything, prompted the apparent change in McCormack's opinion.
But members of the parish council on Wednesday told the Concord Monitor that McCormack met with them this week and told them his report to the Vatican was consistent with the December and March statements, but he was overruled.
They also said that McCormack told them he assisted Gregoire with his appeal to the Vatican.
Members of the parish council and the Diocesan Review Board either did not return calls or could not be reached yesterday. Arsenault would not discuss what McCormack said to the parish council, Gregoire or the Vatican.
Arsenault said McCormack did not believe the evidence supported the allegation. He would not say what the final verdict of the Diocesan Review Board was, or if its members agreed with McCormack.
Carolyn Disco, another member of Coughlin's group, said she was frustrated by the inconsistencies.
"It's very murky and certainly betrays a lack of consistency and transparency about their statements," she said. "It has characteristics of the same old, same old, say whatever is necessary to get through the moment."
McCormack has been a focus of the national priest abuse crisis, accused of failing to report and helping to cover up cases of clergy abuse for years, particularly when he was a top adviser to Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law.
McCormack has acknowledged making mistakes, including being too optimistic that molesters could be rehabilitated. As bishop of New Hampshire since 1998, he has said no priest with a credible allegation of abuse would serve in ministry.
But Coughlin, whose group has called for McCormack's resignation, said his handling of this and another case raises questions about how seriously he takes that promise.
McCormack was criticized harshly last year after he appointed the Rev. Roland Cote to a Jaffrey church without telling parishioners Cote had paid a teenage boy for sex during the 1980s.
McCormack said he kept quiet because he did not consider Cote a threat to children.
Cote stepped down after his past became news. Cote was not charged because civil investigators said the boy was at least 16, the age of consent. Church officials have said the boy was 18.
"Some people say that what happened with McCormack was long ago in Boston. But these two cases . . . demonstrate it's not long ago. It's right now, in New Hampshire, affecting priests and parishioners," Coughlin said.
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