Priest Files Destroyed to Conceal Abuse Evidence
By Kathryn Marchocki
January 8, 2003
A Manchester historian said he discovered some clergy personnel files empty while researching his history on the Catholic Diocese of Manchester, leading him to conclude they had been destroyed.
“It was my very strong impression that some files had been destroyed and the files were destroyed because of incriminating evidence,” Monsignor Wilfrid H. Paradis said in an interview Monday.
Paradis said he now believes the files he discovered stripped of their contents or containing just one to three sheets of paper involved priests accused of child sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with adults.
Appalled by the pervasive clergy sexual-abuse scandal and the hurt inflicted on children, he blames it in part on the fraternal culture of the clergy and its instinct to protect itself.
“We are not going to be able to save the brethren by destroying archives and putting clergy first before the spiritual and physical and emotional good of the children,” he said.
Paradis, 80, said he had complete access to diocesan archives and other church records while researching his book, “Upon This Granite: Catholicism in New Hampshire 1647-1997,” published in 1998.
But he did not review the diocese’s secret archives. He didn’t ask to look at them and doubted “I would have been given permission anyway.”
Paradis recalled that while doing his most intensive research, from 1980 to 1996, he found at least a half-dozen clergy personnel files that contained almost no record of their years of service. They lacked details of their parish assignments and correspondence typically found in priests’ files.
“The file is absent. The file is gone,” Paradis recounted.
“I remember clearly at that time feeling that this had been destroyed and the reason for the destruction would have been something in that person’s life that they did not want to come to light after his death, to protect the person I suppose and also to protect the greater good of the church,” the retired priest and Manchester native said.
He would not identify the priests.
In some cases, the files may have been destroyed upon the death of the priest or before the installation of a new bishop when diocesan officials would “clean house,” Paradis said.
“Some people would take it upon themselves to just go through some of this material and feel that it is better destroyed than to keep it,” he said.
In addition, Paradis said he found a few cases of priests accused of sexual abuse of children and a few of priests accused of sexual misconduct with adults, usually women.
In some instances, he was able to reconstruct these priests’ histories by working through parish and other church records, he said.
“I did run into some cases (of sexual misconduct), but not an alarming number . . . not enough to send out any signals,” he said.
But nowhere did he glean the extensiveness of the problem exposed in the past year.
“I knew there were things like this, but I had no idea the extent of it, the number of priests involved and the number of cases of people who have been violated,” he said.
Some of the recently accused priests “are people I never would have thought would have been involved in anything of that nature,” he said.
A state prosecutor who has reviewed at least 11,000 pages of diocesan and investigative files related to clergy sexual abuse dating back to the 1960s yesterday acknowledged some documents are missing from church files.
“It will be clear when we release the papers what is there and what isn’t there,” Senior Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker said.
The documents are expected to be released to the public by Feb. 10 as part of an agreement struck between the attorney general and the diocese last month.
Investigators uncovered information in witness and victim interviews, police reports and other sources that enabled them to determine documents were missing from church files, he said.
“I don’t want to characterize what they did, but there was stuff removed from the files, and it’s reflected in their own documents,” he said.
A lawyer representing more than 60 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse suing the diocese said in a recent court motion that retired Bishop Odore Gendron destroyed documents detailing child sexual abuse by the Revs. Philip Petit and Gordon MacRae.
The record destruction, attorney Mark Abramson argued, amounts to fraudulent concealment.
Diocesan spokesman Patrick McGee said church personnel files may include privileged medical records.
“If the priest or (his) medical provider request that the document provided be returned or destroyed, the diocese has complied with such requests in the past,” McGee said.
But Delker said investigators found more than privileged medical materials absent from church files.
“There was stuff beyond that that was missing,” Delker said.
McGee said no records regarding allegations of child sexual abuse by a priest or church employee, including medical records, have been destroyed since November 2000.
Regarding Paradis’ assertions, McGee said he is not aware of any materials being destroyed, but could not rule that out.
Noting Paradis hadn’t examined the secret archives, McGee said, “There is information that may have been moved from one file to another, but that is purely speculation.”
In addition, Paradis concurred with the attorney general’s conclusion that the diocese reassigned abusive priests who later abused other children.
“I am well aware that this was true,” he said. “This actually happened. This isn’t just a fabrication.”
While the church often treated clergy sexual abuse as a “personal” or “spiritual” problem, Paradis credits the media with exposing the crisis as a crime that, given the number of young victims left in its wake, carries widespread social and civil ramifications.
“I’m fundamentally relieved that the press has picked up on this issue and is forcing us to look at ourselves in the mirror,” he said.
“We as church are supposed to be guardians of public morality. So when we as priests are offenders of public morality, then we should at least know it and do something about it,” he added.
A decorated World War II veteran, diocesan historian and official expert at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, Paradis said the clergy sexual abuse crisis will probably have repercussions in the church for generations to come.
“This is one of the most crucial scandals, and it’s one of
the very critical issues of our time in the Catholic church. It’s
definitely part of our history and how we have contaminated to a certain
degree the very people that we are entrusted to care for,” he said.
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