John McCormack – Assessment and Highly Recommended Articles

Before becoming bishop of the Manchester NH diocese in 1998, John B. McCormack worked in the Boston archdiocese, where from 1984 to 1994, he was secretary of ministerial personnel, handling most allegations of clergy sexual abuse. In 1993 and 1994, while remaining in the secretarial post, he served as the archdiocese’s first “Delegate,” a role created to handle all matters pertaining both to accused priests and victims.

Since the crisis of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy was exposed in January 2002, McCormack’s pivotal supervisory role has been revealed in a huge volume of documents. These include extensive media coverage, newly released church files on accused priests, court depositions, and Attorney General reports from both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

To help our readers assess McCormack’s performance, the staff at have gathered a substantial number of these documents.

Here are a few suggestions for exploring this archive:

* OVERVIEWS OF McCORMACK’S ROLE Though McCormack dealt with scores of priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse of children, there is no record of McCormack ever having reported a crime to police or prosecutors. For overviews of McCormack’s handling of such serial predators as Paul Shanley, John Geoghan, Joseph Birmingham, and Ronald Paquin, see: Timmins and McConnell, “Complaints Didn't Dim Bishop's Faith in Priests,” Concord Monitor 6/6/02; “Bishop John B. McCormack: Role in Sex Abuse Scandal Still Questioned,” Manchester Union Leader 7/9/02; and Farragher and Carroll, “Bishop Often Sided with Priests in Abuse Cases,” Boston Globe 1/26/03.

* McCORMACK’S OVERRIDING POLICY WAS TO KEEP ABUSES SECRET AND AVOID SCANDAL As the archdiocese’s point man for all allegations of clergy sexual abuse, McCormack did not respond to repeated requests from his assistant, Sr. Catherine Mulkerrin, that they post bulletin notices in parishes where known molesters had served. When a victim filed a lawsuit against the Rev. Robert M. Burns, known by Boston church officials to be a child abuser, McCormack helped plan a strategy to derail reporters and prevent files from being released in court. See Robinson and Kurkjian, “Records Show a Trail of Secrecy, Deception,” Boston Globe, 12/4/02. Released church files also showed that when the Rev. Paul J. Tivnan was facing possible criminal charges, McCormack persuaded the public prosecutor to drop the case (Rezendes and Carroll, “Files: Church Struck Deals with Accusers,” Boston Globe 12/20/02.)

* McCORMACK TREATED ABUSIVE PRIESTS WITH SYMPATHY AND VICTIMS WITH SKEPTICISM McCormack’s solicitous handling of Paul Shanley when the admitted rapist lived in California was revealed when the church’s file on Shanley was made public. Read Mashberg, “Records Show Church Coddled Problem Priest,” Boston Herald 4/14/02 and Hirsch, “Church Files Show N.H. Bishop McCormack's Role in Shanley Case,” Foster’s Online 4/9/02.

In contrast, McCormack repeatedly minimized complaints that children were being molested. Examples are recounted in Pfeiffer, “Law Aides Often Dismissed Complaints of Clergy Abuse,” Boston Globe 4/12/02. McCormack even told an anguished father that there was “no factual basis” for fearing that Joseph Birmingham had molested his son, though the priest had finished treatment for alleged abuse of another child just three weeks earlier. (See Associated Press, “Bishop Assured Parent Son Not Being Molested; Priest Was Undergoing Treatment at the Time,” Concord Monitor 12/19/02.) A comprehensive look at McCormack’s contrasting treatment of victims and priests is Farragher and Carroll, “Bishop Often Sided with Priests in Abuse Cases,” Boston Globe 1/26/03.

* McCORMACK REPEATEDLY PLACED KNOWN ABUSERS IN POORLY SUPERVISED “RESTRICTED MINISTRIES” This move is described as McCormack’s “single greatest failing” in the careful investigative report produced by the Mass. Attorney General. (McCormack’s performance is examined in pages 39 to 45 of the report.) Revs. Ronald Paquin and Paul Mahan are examples of two priests who molested minors after having been placed in restricted ministry by McCormack. See the account in Timmons and McConnell, “Complaints Didn't Dim Bishop's Faith in Priests,” Concord Monitor 6/6/02.

* DESPITE RECENT IMPROVEMENTS IN NH, MCCORMACK HAS PROVED WILLING TO PLACE KNOWN ABUSERS IN MINISTRY The Manchester diocese’s stated policy now is to tell complainants to report incidents of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities. However, as recently as June 2002, McCormack assigned to a Jaffrey NH parish a priest whom McCormack knew had paid a teenager for sex during the 1980s. See Marchocki, “McCormack Admits Knowing Rev. Cote Paid Teen for Sex,” Manchester Union Leader 12/24/02. The article reports that McCormack did not tell the parishioners about the priest’s past “because he did not consider Cote a threat.”

* CATHOLIC LAITY AND AN ESTEEMED CANON LAWYER HAVE CALLED FOR McCORMACK TO RESIGN Laity and clergy have called for McCormack's resignation. Note especially NH VOTF's excellent response to McCormack's refusal to resign and a letter from the canon lawyer Fr. Tom Doyle, calling for resignations of NH Bishops McCormack and Christian.



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