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  Files Shed Harsh Light on Christian
Auxiliary bishop's role in the church abuse scandal outlined

By AnnMarie Timmins and Daniel Barrick
Concord Monitor
March 6, 2003

The name Francis Christian has not appeared in the many press conferences, lawsuits and protests during the past year, as the clergy abuse scandal has consumed the Diocese of Manchester.

But it has in the days since the state attorney general's office released 9,000 pages of internal church files on abusive priests and disclosed that Christian lied to victims and often put the church's reputation before victims' welfare.

Suddenly a man who spent the last 20 years behind the scenes has become the public face of the diocese's mishandling of abusive priests.

From 1977 to 1998, Christian was the diocese's link to abusive priests, victims and civil authorities. He was often the first diocesan official to interview priests accused of molesting children. He negotiated settlements with their victims. And he arranged for abusive priests' treatment and supervised their return to ministry.

Christian declined to be interviewed for this article but issued a four-page statement last night. His responses to specific cases are included below.

In a previous statement this week, he admitted shortcomings in his handling of abuse allegations but stood by his record. He said his primary concern was for the victims and that their allegations left him angry with the accused priests.

"I always attempted to deal honestly with victims, priests against whom allegations were made and other concerned parties," he said. "I relied on legal counsel and never knowingly or deliberately misrepresented to civil authorities what I believed to be the truth."

The state's lead investigator into clergy abuse disputed that yesterday.

"I think that his statement that he honestly responded to victims is not true," said William Delker, senior assistant attorney general. "I don't know how much plainer you can say it."

The settlement signed by the diocese and the attorney general protects Christian from criminal prosecution. Lawyers representing victims said Christian could still face civil claims. But they added that was unlikely, as victims could win larger awards by suing the diocese.

Christian's role was similar to Bishop John McCormack's in the Archdiocese of Boston, where he handled abuse allegations for Cardinal Bernard Law from 1984 to 1994. McCormack's mixed record in Boston has spurred calls for his resignation here. So far, church activists have not broadened their focus to include Christian.

Here is a case-by-case look at some of what the internal church files released this week disclosed about Christian's history with the Diocese of Manchester:

* In the case of Father Robert Densmore, Christian focused on persuading an alleged victim to remain quiet rather than reconciling the man's accusation of child sexual abuse with Densmore's denials.

After the man refused to sign a confidentiality agreement that included payment for his counseling costs, Christian lied and told him Densmore had admitted to the abuse. Densmore had vigorously denied the allegations to Christian.

"Making those problems public would destroy (Densmore's) ability to contribute further and would affect his problems," Christian wrote to the man in 1993.

At the time, Christian knew that Densmore had earlier admitted the allegations to his victim. Still, Christian advised Densmore to stick to his earlier story, even though he expressed doubts about Densmore's honesty.

"I told him that . . . any change in his story . . . would be extremely detrimental to him," Christian wrote. In the same memo, Christian wrote of wanting to placate the victim, who he feared "might easily be pushed over the edge," in order to avoid prosecution.

"It appears to me that with the appropriate reimbursement for counseling expenses, and as long as he is satisfied with the steps the diocese has taken, the diocese and Father Densmore may not be in danger of any civil or criminal liability," Christian wrote in a diocesan memo.

Last night, Christian said he believes the man was abused by Densmore and that Densmore lied about it. He added that the diocese now tells all victims whether a priest admits or denies abuse allegations.

* Christian lied to a victim of Father Gerald Chalifour in 1988, leading him to believe that Chalifour had admitted his child abuse allegation when he hadn't.

"I called (the victim) on the phone and shared the following with him: that Father Chalifour admitted to having problems during the time that he mentioned," Christian wrote in a diocesan memo. "(I did not mention to him that Father Chalifour absolutely denied any contact with him.)"

In negotiating a settlement with that victim four years later, Christian forbade the victim to speak of his abuse to police.

"If Gerry should be arrested in the future, you may come forward only after consulting with the diocese," Christian wrote to the victim in 1992. "In other words, your testimony could very well be unnecessary if the facts of the case at hand are clear enough and/or other witnesses have already come forward."

That same year, despite a therapist's recommendations that Chalifour "not be given any ministry with young people in any way," Christian returned Chalifour to ministry without making explicit that restriction.

Christian told Chalifour he would work "primarily" with the elderly and sick, though he did allow him to fill in at several parishes, including one in Goffstown, where he spent 22 months without restriction.

In their review of Chalifour's history, state investigators concluded, "It is impossible to believe that Chalifour had no contact with children during this time through his parish work."

Last night, Christian said that Chalifour's time in Goffstown was limited to a few weekends. He acknowledged that "it was difficult to monitor a priest in such an assignment and that this practice was flawed."

He said that the diocese would no longer assign an abusive priest to any ministry.

He also said the confidentiality agreement was recommended by the diocese's lawyer. The diocese no longer has confidentiality agreements unless the victim requests one, he said.

* In another case, Father John Nolin told state investigators last year that Christian had coached him to "finesse" his denial of a sexual abuse allegation.

"He advised me not to deny it directly," Nolin told investigators, adding that Christian had said, "we can finesse this thing."

Christian addressed the denial himself in a 1995 letter to Nolin. In preparation for a meeting with the alleged victim, Christian warned that direct denials "could fuel the flames and cause some kind of legal action."

Pat McGee, a church spokesman, said earlier this week that Christian was advising Nolin to stop denying the allegation, which the diocese believed was untrue.

* In a 1994 letter, Christian reassured one of Father Paul Aube's victims who was worried that Aube could re-offend that the priest had been removed from parish ministry years earlier. He also told the victim that since his accusation, Aube had never been in "a situation where he could develop relationships with young people."

Aube's file indicates that wasn't true.

In a 1983 letter to then-Bishop Odore Gendron, a Concord man wrote warmly of Aube's relationship with his son. At the time, Aube was the chaplain at Concord Hospital, where the man's wife was being treated for a heart attack.

"Father Paul went beyond the call of his duties to assist my 15-year-old son cope with this heartbreaking event."

Last year, Aube told state prosecutors investigating the church that his ministry in Concord Hospital in the early 1980s was not limited to adults and that the diocese never checked in on him.

Last night, Christian said Aube's placement was recommended by a doctor who had treated Aube. Today Aube would not have been given any assignment in the church, he said.

* In the case of Father Roger Fortier, investigators found that Christian lied to a state probation officer in 1998 about the abusive priest's past. At the time, Fortier was being sentenced for molesting two Farmington boys.

Christian told the officer that Fortier's "sexual problems with youth were unknown to the diocese." But the files show that Fortier had confessed to Christian 14 years earlier that he fondled a boy after a night of drinking and pornographic movies.

This week, Christian explained the response he'd given the probation officer in 1998, saying he assumed officials already knew about Fortier's prior sexual misconduct.

He also said this week that he drew a distinction between Fortier's earlier behavior, which he described as "sexual misconduct," and the sexual assault in Farmington for which Fortier was convicted.

"I wish that I had not made the statement . . . in the manner that I did," Christian said this week.

* In several instances, Christian referred abusive priests for treatment with a note to doctors that the priests had been "indiscrete" with "young men." In some cases, the victims were actually children.

Last year, state investigators asked one of those doctors, Henry Guertin-Ouellette of Manchester, whether he understood how young the victims were. The investigators referenced one of Christian's letters to Guertin-Ouellette describing a priest's relationship with a "young man" who was actually 12.

"In your mind what would you picture a young man to be? Would you consider a 12-year-old a young man?" the investigator asked.

Guertin-Ouellette responded: "No. No. Nineteen is a young man."

Last night, Christian said he had clarified the victim's age in a phone conversation with Guertin-Ouellette. There is no record of that, or any other, conversation in the church files.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 224-5301, ext. 323 or at atimmins@cmonitor.com. Daniel Barrick can be reached at ext. 322 or at dbarrick@cmonitor.com.)

 
 

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