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  Manchester NH Resources – November 2003

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Nashua Priest Resigns, Cites McCormack

By Benjamin Kepple
Manchester (NH) Union Leader
November 3, 2003

Nashua — The Rev. Gerard Desmarais, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, has resigned his post due to objections over Diocese of Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack’s management style.

According to worshippers attending the church’s 10 a.m. Mass, Desmarais announced his decision before the service began. Desmarais told those at Mass that his resignation would be effective Tuesday. It was not immediately clear where he would go next, but parishioners said Desmarais made it known that he would remain a priest.

“Father Gerry is definitely committed to his vocation, and it really comes down to philosophy. This is what it’s all about,” said David Miller, a St. Joseph communicant who attended yesterday’s the Mass.

In essence, Miller said, Desmarais told parishioners he felt it was time for him to pursue his work as a priest in another diocese, one which was more in line with his viewpoints.

A message left for Desmarais at his office was not returned last night. No one was home early yesterday evening at the church rectory in Hollis, a short distance away from the 777 W. Hollis St. church. An attempt to reach a spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester was also unsuccessful last evening.

The decision came as a surprise to Miller and others attending the 10 a.m. Mass yesterday, which Desmarais did not celebrate.

Desmarais also told worshippers about his decision at the conclusion of the church’s other two Masses this past weekend, according to parishioners. Attendees also said Desmarais didn’t talk specifically about the sexual abuse scandal, a highly contentious issue for the Catholic Church.

“He was more general in tone, and what I was hearing was more critical of how McCormack responds to people who have viewpoints other than with his own,” said Tom Lynch, a St. Joseph communicant who also attended the 10 a.m. Mass. “It was more a management-style kind of thing,” added Lynch, who is also an employee of The Union Leader.


Pastor of St. Joseph Church Resigns

By Dean Shalhoup
Nashua (NH) Telegraph
November 4, 2003

Nashua – The Rev. Gerald Desmarais, pastor of St. Joseph Church, is resigning effective today over ongoing differences with the Diocese of Manchester and Bishop John McCormack’s methods of management.

Desmarais announced his decision, which he said he had pondered for several months, in place of the homily at the weekly Saturday evening Mass at the West Hollis Street church, according to parishioner Marge Thompson of Hollis.

“He told the congregation that he wasn’t going to give the homily at the regular time, but would do it at the end this time. That’s when he spoke about it,” she said.

Thompson, who with her husband, George, founded a Nashua area chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, said Desmarais is a “good priest who will be missed a lot.”

“He welcomed (Voice of the Faithful) with open arms when many priests wouldn’t even talk to us or allow us on their property,” Thompson said. “He’s been very supportive from the start.”

Today, Thompson said there are about 95 members, half of whom are very active, in the local Voice of the Faithful chapter. The organization was founded last year in the Boston area to pursue structural reform in the church, specifically through an empowered laity.

Desmarais returned to St. Joseph in September after a six-month hiatus in Florida, during which time he said he had hoped things would change with McCormack and the diocese leadership.

“It was a very difficult decision,” Desmarais said Monday in his final full day of work at St. Joseph.

“I just figured it’s something I have to do. My ministry has been severely hampered by this for a long time,” he said.

Desmarais said he had meant for his announcement and subsequent departure to be a low-key affair with no fanfare.

“I didn’t really want this to become a media event,” he said. “It’s not like I’m trying to get even with the bishop or anything. . . . I just want to leave quietly.”

Desmarais said he plans to return to Florida for an indefinite time, and may eventually seek a return to preaching in another diocese.

McCormack is aware of Desmarais’ resignation and continues to be supportive of him, according to diocese spokeswoman Diane Murphy Quinlan.

“I can tell you that Bishop McCormack has had an ongoing dialogue with Father Desmarais and intends to continue to do so,” she said.

Quinlan said McCormack has met often with priests individually and in small groups, particularly in the last couple of years.

“He also met with the Voice of the Faithful, and after that meeting appointed a liaison to continue to have dialogue with them,” she added.

But Thompson said she feels communication from McCormack has been non-existent for everyone from priests to the laity and members of Voice of the Faithful.

“There’s absolutely no leadership there,” Thompson said. “So many parishioners are very upset that the bishop won’t listen to the priests. . . . The whole thing is that they (McCormack and diocese officials) are up on a pedestal up there – they don’t want to give up their power.”

Voice of the Faithful member Ed Kirby of Nashua agreed.

“Father Desmarais’ resignation makes the point that this diocese is in chaos, it has no leadership, and it is also in dire financial straits,” Kirby said. “The rolls are down, contributions have fallen off, they’ve closed their newspaper, and are trying to sell their property.”

The situation won’t change until McCormack, Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian and Diocesan Chancellor Edward Arsenault “leave and don’t come back,” Kirby said.

Kirby, a communicant of St. John Neumann Church in Merrimack, said he doesn’t know Desmarais personally, but knows he isn’t alone in his dispute with McCormack.

“Most priests are unhappy with him. They’re afraid to speak out, though, because if McCormack doesn’t leave, they fear there would be retribution down the road,” Kirby said.

Kirby said Desmarais welcomed the local Voice of the Faithful chapter to meet at St. Joseph.

“He encouraged the Thompsons to form a chapter there – he agreed that the laity should have more of a voice in the church,” Kirby said.

For Desmarais, the decision to leave the parish and Nashua was a tough one, but he said he knew it had to be done.

“You can’t just hide something under the carpet forever,” he said. “It just doesn’t go away.”


Catholic Priest Resigns, Blames Bishop McCormack

By Associated Press
November 4, 2003

Nashua, NH - A Catholic priest said he's resigning after 31 years because Bishop John McCormack has silenced isolated priests who question his leadership.

"He will meet with priests one on one, but he refuses to meet with groups of us because he is threatened," said the Rev. Gerard Desmarais of St. Joseph Church in Nashua.

"Priests are terrified to speak out. I want to do the work of Jesus Christ, but I'll have to do it somewhere else."

Desmarais said he planned to leave for a Florida vacation this week and then will try to find work in another diocese.

He returned to St. Joseph in September after a six-month hiatus in Florida, during which time he said he had hoped things would change with McCormack and the diocese leadership.

"It was a very difficult decision," Desmarais said Monday in his final full day of work at St. Joseph.

"I just figured it's something I have to do. My ministry has been severely hampered by this for a long time," he said.

Desmarais said he had meant for his announcement and subsequent departure to be a low-key affair with no fanfare.

"I didn't really want this to become a media event," he said. "It's not like I'm trying to get even with the bishop or anything. . . . I just want to leave quietly."

Desmarais announced his decision in place of the homily at the weekly Saturday evening Mass at the church, according to parishioner Marge Thompson of Hollis.

"He told the congregation that he wasn't going to give the homily at the regular time, but would do it at the end this time. That's when he spoke about it," she said.

Thompson, who with her husband, George, founded a Nashua area chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, said Desmarais is a "good priest who will be missed a lot."

"He welcomed (Voice of the Faithful) with open arms when many priests wouldn't even talk to us or allow us on their property," Thompson said. "He's been very supportive from the start."

Today, Thompson said there are about 95 members in the local Voice of the Faithful chapter. The organization was founded last year in the Boston area to pursue structural reform in the church.

McCormack is aware of Desmarais' resignation and continues to be supportive of him, according to diocese spokeswoman Diane Murphy Quinlan.

"I can tell you that Bishop McCormack has had an ongoing dialogue with Father Desmarais and intends to continue to do so," she said.

Quinlan said McCormack has met often with priests individually and in small groups, particularly in the last couple of years.

Several priests echoed Desmarais's frustrations with McCormack's leadership. They said McCormack has been so focused on defending his handling of clergy sexual abuse in Boston that he has lost sight of the church's future in New Hampshire.

He rarely circulates among parishes and discourages questions or challenges when clergy meet for diocesan gatherings, they said.

"I think we have stopped dead in our tracks," said the Rev. Norman Simoneau, a retired priest from Hudson. "I think for the past two years we have been going about saving the bishop's face rather than moving forward. He's trying to get people to recognize him as a leader, but my sense is there are an awful lot of people who don't trust him."

He said McCormack has not lived up to promises made in February to be more open with the state's Catholics. The diocese has delayed twice a financial report McCormack promised, and he has not assigned lay members to diocesan boards, Simoneau said.


Nashua Pastor Who Quit Backed Accused Peers

By Kathryn Marchocki and Scott Brooks
Manchester (NH) Union Leader
November 6, 2003

Nashua, NH — The priest who resigned as pastor of a Nashua church this week leaves behind a record of defending priests accused of child sexual abuse and is known for his ties to clergy charged with molesting minors, according to his sworn testimony and fellow priests.

It is an ironic twist to the Rev. Gerard R. Desmarais’ nine-year tenure at St. Joseph Parish, where he has embraced a local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group that supports victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Desmarais, 58, said in sworn testimony last year that he was prepared to testify in support of the Rev. Roger A. Fortier at the 1998 criminal trial that resulted in Fortier’s conviction for 17 sexual assaults on two boys.

Desmarais also acknowledged he allowed Fortier to stay in St. Joseph rectory during the nine months Fortier was awaiting trial.

“Amazingly, Desmarais never advised his parishioners at St. Joseph that Fortier was residing in the parish rectory, despite the fact that he was apparently concerned enough to advise his rectory staff,” Manchester attorney Peter E. Hutchins wrote in an Aug. 30, 2002, court motion in which he questions Desmarais’ credibility.

“Even more disturbing, Desmarais admitted he was prepared to testify as a character witness on Fortier’s behalf,” Hutchins added.

In addition, Desmarais said in sworn testimony he did not believe those who accused Joseph T. Maguire, a former Catholic priest, and the late Rev. Karl E. Dowd of sexually abusing them as children.

“I do not believe he would ever, ever in any way hurt a child,” Desmarais said of Dowd, his lifelong friend, when questioned under oath last year in connection with a civil case brought against another accused priest.

Dowd died three days after the diocese last year released the names of 14 priests accused of past sexual misconduct. While he was not on that list, about 10 complaints subsequently were brought against the diocese by those claiming Dowd sexually abused them as minors, all of which resulted in financial settlements.

Maguire is criminally charged with sexually assaulting three altar boys in the 1970s and 1980s when he served at a Dover parish. Maguire is set to be tried on the charges this month.

Desmarais gave the sworn statements when he was deposed July 30, 2002, in connection with a civil suit brought against the Rev. George H. Robichaud by a Concord man who claimed Robichaud sexually abused him as a teenager in the early 1980s. The suit ended in a settlement.

Desmarais introduced the then 15-year-old to Robichaud and said in his sworn testimony he didn’t believe the alleged victim’s accusations.

Robichaud was the first priest to be criminally charged in New Hampshire since the church-abuse scandal erupted in 2002.

The criminal case involved a state trooper who claimed Robichaud sexually assaulted him when he was a teenage altar boy in the 1980s.

The first trial ended in April when the jury deadlocked over the accuser’s age. The second trial ended when the accuser concluded he was legally an adult and the state dropped the charges.

The trials coincided with a six-month, paid leave of absence that Desmarais took from his parish. He returned to his post in September.

Desmarais, in a telephone interview Tuesday, said he allowed Fortier to stay at St. Joseph rectory at Bishop Francis Christian’s request.

“Bishop Christian called me because he had no place to put him and asked me if I would be willing to take him. It wasn’t like we were friends or anything like that,” Desmarais said.

But Desmarais acknowledged in his deposition testimony that he was prepared to voluntarily testify as a character witness at Fortier’s criminal trial. He was not called.

“I mean, I knew him my whole life as far as we went to grammar school,” he said in a transcript of the deposition.

Fortier was convicted and is serving a 20- to 40-year state prison sentence.

With regard his testimony that he didn’t believe Dowd’s accusers, Desmarais said, “I just know Father Dowd personally. . . I just said I find it very difficult to believe those kind of accusations.”
Desmarais said he didn’t believe Maguire’s accusers because, “I don’t know these people (alleged victims)” and “I knew Father Joe through seminary.”

Desmarais said in the telephone interview that in a diocese with only 123 active priests, priests often find themselves working in the same region — or deanery — with each other.

But a priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Desmarais “always has been associated with a group of fringe priests whose commitment to priesthood has been questionable.”

“His closest allies have been priests whose names have been in the papers over the past 20 months,” the priest added, such as Dowd, Robichaud, Fortier and the Rev. Ronald E. Corriveau, who is on administrative leave since he was accused of sexually assaulting a teenager in 1982.

Desmarais surprised parishioners at weekend Masses when he announced he was resigning as pastor over differences with Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack’s management style. The resignation took effect Tuesday.

“My grievance is the way he runs the diocese. (It) is not the way a bishop should run the diocese. The bishop of a diocese should be a shepherd and a leader and I don’t think he is a leader . . . No one is following him,” Desmarais said in the Tuesday telephone interview.

He would not specify his grievances and repeatedly said he did not intend his resignation to receive media attention.

St. Joseph parishioners, who gave Desmarais a standing ovation when he announced his departure, said they were sad and stunned to see him go.

“A lot of us had tears in our eyes Saturday night,” said Carrie Pelchat, the church’s choir director.
Steve Galipeau, chairman of the church’s Christian Youth Organization, said his resignation is a great loss for the parish.

Marge Thompson, a parishioner and member of the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, said she was not surprised by Desmarais’ decision.

She said Desmarais allowed the group to hold monthly meetings in the church’s classrooms, something she said most priests resisted.

“He welcomed us with open arms,” Thompson said.

The Rev. Timothy Thibeault, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Penacook, cheered Desmarais’ decision in an e-mail to Voice of the Faithful members.

“Father Gerry is so accurate! There has been nothing in the way of leadership from the Bishop,” Thibeault wrote.



 
 

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