The Anthony Muthu Hilary File

At St. Patrick's church in Manchester NH, just before Christmas in 1995, a woman was sexually assaulted by a priest during confession, while her daughters knelt in a nearby pew. Diocesan files document the attack, its causes, and its callous aftermath. These diocesan documents, which were released by the New Hampshire Attorney General in March 2003, offer a unique case study of the international trade in accused priests. We provide a narrative of the case, followed by a complete table of links to the file.


Rev. Anthony M. Hilary was sent from India to the United States in June 1995 by Bishop Leon A. Tharmaraj, who gave the priest a clean bill of health. But a whistleblowing priest named Rev. Benjamin Sebastian wrote to the Manchester diocese and told them that Hilary was a violent alcoholic who had abused girls in the Indian diocese of Kottar. Despite that letter and a second warning, Hilary immediately found a place with Rev. Nicholas Rogers of St. Patrick's in Manchester, although an alert female administrator questioned Hilary's status in a note to the chancellor. While the bishops of Kottar and Manchester debated the priest's fate by mail and fax for six months, Hilary said Mass, heard confessions, and sexually assaulted a woman—hardly more than a mile from the Manchester bishop's own office.

When the Indian bishop was confronted with the whistleblower's report shortly after Hilary's arrival in Manchester, he readily admitted that Hilary was an alcoholic with a history of sexual abuse. But he reversed himself after Hilary complained, explaining confidentially, when Bishop O'Neil confronted him, that the first letter was a personal report, while the second was forced upon him by his own administration. Meanwhile Bishop O'Neil and his chancellor, Msgr. Francis J. Christian, played their own cynical game, pretending to Hilary that an oversupply of priests prevented them from assigning him to a parish. When Hilary condemned their "non-helping attitude" (mailing his complaint in a St. Patrick's rectory envelope), Christian smoothly congratulated him on his vindication by Tharmaraj and renewed the disingenuous offer of a parish assignment "if you can find a pastor."

While Bishop Tharmaraj lied to Bishop O'Neil and Msgr. Christian lied to Hilary, the priest continued to work at St. Patrick's—using the confessional to scout for victims, as O'Neil himself later observed. The victim he selected has left an account of the attack that is also a poignant record of her faith, in stark contrast to the bishops' machinations. When Bishop O'Neil forwarded her letter to Bishop Tharmaraj on the day after Christmas, he wrote two cover letters. One told the Indian bishop that "given those [earlier] allegations, ... it is all the more likely that the complainant's story is absolutely true." But he sent the woman a copy of a different cover letter, in which he never mentioned that Hilary had offended before, or that the Manchester bishop and his monsignor had known Hilary's history before the Indian priest even arrived in the woman's parish. He thus absolved himself and his monsignor of any blame in the case, and deprived the victim of the knowledge she needed.

Bishop Tharmaraj wrote that he "was very sorry at the whole episode," but also observed that Hilary considered the abuse charge "a gross exaggeration of a farewell gesture of hugging." Tharmaraj promised to keep the victim "in my prayers." Then he and Rev. Anthony M. Hilary moved on together. They are now the patron and bursar of a technical college in India, which proudly displays their photographs on its home page:

The Anthony Muthu Hilary File

Description From To Date Bates To
Celebret allowing Hilary to minister elsewhere Bishop Tharmaraj     3544  
Certificate of ordination and ministry Bishop Tharmaraj   11-16-94 3545  
Letter stating that Hilary is a priest in good standing and may work in the US for three years Bishop Tharmaraj   02-14-95 3546  
Letter stating that Hilary is an alcoholic who was alleged to have molested girls in India, where the diocese of Kottar "once investigated one of the allegations and found it to be true." Hilary is coming to the US and will likely seek a parish assignment in Manchester. Rev. Benjamin Sebastian Manchester Personnel Board 06-13-95 3552  
Letter thanking Rev. Sebastian for his 6/13/95 letter Bishop O'Neil Sebastian 06-27-95 3551  
Memo: Hilary is working full-time with Rev. Nicholas Rogers, pastor of St. Patrick's in Manchester. A handwritten note has been added by Helen to Msgr. Christian about Hilary, "Don't we have to send a letter granting him faculties of the diocese?" Msgr. Bolduc Bishop O'Neil 06-30-95 3547 3548
Letter telling the bishop of Kottar what O'Neil has heard: that Hilary drinks, has been accused of molesting girls, and that Tharmaraj has investigated and verified one of the allegations Bishop O'Neil Bishop Tharmaraj 07-19-95 3549  
Handwritten note, perhaps referring to O'Neil's 7/19/95 letter and asking whether it should be filed with Bolduc's 6/30/95 memo about "Fr. Roger's new priest." Apparently in the same handwriting as the note on Bolduc's memo. Helen? Msgr. Francis Christian?   3550  
Letter replying to O'Neil's 7/19/95 letter, confirming that Hilary had an alcohol problem, that he was accused of abuse, and that one accusation was "proved" by Kottar (after Hilary left for the US). O'Neil must "keep this information confidential." Bishop Tharmaraj Bishop O'Neil 07-27-95 3556  
Letter providing contact information for two visiting Kottar priests who can corroborate Sebastian's report about Hilary. Sebastian Christian 8/9/95 3553  
Letter thanking Sebastian for his 8/9/95 letter. Hilary has been informed that Manchester can't give him a parish assignment. Sebastian's letter and "other information" has been kept confidential by saying that a surplus of new priests is the reason. Christian Sebastian 08-14-95 3554  
Letter: Hilary has been informed that because of a surplus of new priests next year, Manchester cannot give him a parish assignment. O'Neil thanks Tharmaraj for "frankly sharing with me Father Hilary's history of problems." Bishop O'Neil Bishop Tharmaraj 08-15-95 3555  
Faxed letter asking that Manchester wait for a letter from Tharmaraj before deciding about Hilary. Bishop Tharmaraj Christian 09-06-95 3557  
Letter contradicting his previous 7/27/95 letter. Hilary does not have a drinking problem, and Tharmaraj has "never heard of any incident of child-abuse by him." Please give him a position. Bishop Tharmaraj Bishop O'Neil 09-06-95 3558  
Letter explaining his 9/6/95 letter. Christian seems to have told Hilary about the allegations; Hilary told Tharmaraj; Tharmaraj told his curia; they asked him to send the letter "as these complaints are not proved or tested here." Hilary is fighting the allegation. Bishop Tharmaraj Bishop O'Neil 09-07-95? 3559  
Letter asking clarification. Tharmaraj had written that Hilary had problems; Christian told Hilary that Manchester had too many priests; Hilary tried to find work anyway; Christian told him there were allegations, without revealing sources, and ministry was impossible without a Tharmaraj letter clearing Hilary; we expected you to corroborate your previous letter, but instead you contradicted it. "Terrible scandal and perhaps civil liabilities" could result "if Father Hilary is knowingly allowed to function with an unresolved history of these problems." Bishop O'Neil Bishop Tharmaraj 09-13-95 3560 3561
Letter replying to O'Neil's 9/13/95 letter. My first 7/27/95 letter was "my opinion from the reports and complaints, received mostly after he left the country. This I have not shared with my curia members either as it was not opportune." My second 9/6/95 letter "is an offici[a]l one wherein I have explained what the curia members feel about him." Don't "reveal my personal information as it would create unpleasant situation in my diocese." Bishop Tharmaraj Bishop O'Neil 09-21-95 3562  
Letter saying that after Tharmaraj's recent letter, O'Neil "will be happy to permit you to serve as a priest." We have too many new priests to give you a position, but if you can find a pastor "willing to employ you," we'll "confirm that personal arrangement." Christian Hilary 10-16-95 3563  
Letter replying to Christian's 10/16/95 letter. I cannot find a place "without your personal interest." Your "non-helping attitude" has made me "feel insecure and helpless." In an 8/31/95 call, you said you had a place for me. But in a 9/5/95 meeting, you told me that a Kottar priest made two allegations. Send me a copy of the "false allegations." This letter was sent in a St. Patrick's rectory envelope. Hilary Christian 12-01-95 3566 3567
Letter replying to Hilary's 12/1/95 letter. I was clear from the beginning about our priest surplus. The allegation had to be checked with your bishop, who vindicated you. The accuser requested confidentiality. Christian Hilary 12-04-95 3564 3565
Letter from a woman describing how Hilary abused her in confession while her teenage daughters waited to confess. "I beg your pardon Father, for having to present you with this problem.... I have prayed for Fr. Hillery but now I want to forget about it because when I think of it I have difficulty sleeping and it upsets me very much." Complainant [name redacted] Christian 12-??-95 3572 3575
Cover letter #1 enclosing and summarizing the woman's complaint, but not alluding to Tharmaraj's account of previous complaints. Bishop O'Neil Bishop Tharmaraj 12-26-95 3570 3571
Cover letter #2, explaining that the first cover letter did not refer to Tharmaraj's warning about Hilary "since it is necessary to provide a copy of that letter to the complainant." O'Neil admits (but not to the woman who accused Hilary) that "given those [earlier] allegations, however, it is all the more likely that the complainant's story is absolutely true." Bishop O'Neil Bishop Tharmaraj 12-26-95 3569  
Letter enclosing a copy of cover letter #1. Christian Complainant [name redacted] 12-26-95 3568  
Letter replying to O'Neil's 12/26/95 letter. I am "very sorry at the whole episode," but Hilary considers the charge "a gross exaggeration of a farewell gesture of hugging." Tharmaraj will keep the victim "in his prayers." Bishop Tharmaraj Bishop O'Neil 05-10-96 3576 3577

Note from The Kotar bishop described an accusation against Hilary as "proved," and Bishop O'Neil called the Manchester victim's account "likely" to be "absolutely true." But we remind our readers that in the U.S. courts, an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. The victim did not press charges. As Bishop O'Neil wrote to Bishop Tharmaraj, "because of her love for the Church and the priesthood, [she] is content in knowing that I am writing to you about this matter and that you will give it your every consideration."



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