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  Bishops Sought Immunity

By Kathryn Marchocki
Manchester (NH) Union Leader
March 13, 2003

Bishops Odore J. Gendron and Francis J. Christian refused to talk to state investigators probing Roman Catholic leaders' handling of accused abusive priests because the state would not grant them immunity, state prosecutors and state investigative files said.

"They wanted immunity and we wouldn't give it to them," Senior Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker explained yesterday.

"We could have subpoenaed them, but they would have just invoked the Fifth," Delker added, referring to the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.

Christian is the auxiliary bishop and former chancellor of the Diocese of Manchester; Gendron was bishop of Manchester from 1975 to 1990.

The state refused to grant Christian and Gendron limited immunity in exchange for their statements because they were targets of the criminal probe into how church hierarchy handled accusations of clergy sexual abuse dating back to the 1940s, Delker explained.

Whether the state would bring charges against them remained an open question until the investigation concluded Dec. 10 with an agreement with the diocese.

"There was no way in the context of this case to give somebody like Gendron immunity and not jeopardize prosecution," Delker explained.

"In the end, we didn't prosecute, but that is a decision we made at the end," he said.

The agreement enabled the diocese to avoid criminal prosecution by acknowledging its failure to protect children from abusive priests could have resulted in a conviction under the state's child endangerment statute.

Diocesan leaders were seeking the same limited immunity the state granted four accused priests that prevents their statements from being used against them in any future prosecution.

Christian handled numerous sexual abuse complaints against clergy as chancellor from 1977 until he was ordained auxiliary bishop in 1996.

In a harshly worded Oct. 14 letter to Christian, former Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin refused to grant the bishop a "cloak of immunity," saying "you had significant involvement in the way that allegations of sexual abuse of minors were handled."

Saying Christian's conduct and that of other high-ranking diocesan officials "has been central to this investigation," he urged the bishop to talk with investigators.

"Diocesan personnel practices beg to be explained," McLaughlin wrote.

Monsignor John Quinn also refused to speak with investigators without a grant of immunity that would prevent his statements from being used against him in a future prosecution, Delker said.

Investigators wanted to speak to Quinn about how the church handled sexual abuse allegations against the Revs. Gordon MacRae, Joseph Maguire, Paul Aube and Mark Fleming, Delker wrote Quinn's attorney Oct. 28.

Gendron was bishop of Manchester during a time when the diocese received many sexual abuse complaints against priests.

Investigators asked Gendron to speak with them, but the bishop turned them down, Delker said.

"His lawyer indicated that he wouldn't without some kind of assurance that his statements wouldn't be used against him," he explained.

The Rev. George Ham was the only former high-ranking diocesan official who agreed to speak with investigators without immunity.

Ham was chancellor under Gendron from 1977 to 1981, sharing the office's responsibilities with Christian, diocesan spokesman Pat McGee said.

Investigators did not request to interview Bishop John B. McCormack, who became bishop of Manchester in 1998.

"He never was a target (of the investigation) because there never was any indication there were ever any endangered children after he took over," Delker said.

Concord attorney Thomas Rath, however, wrote Delker July 9 saying McCormack would be willing to meet with investigators "to answer whatever questions you may have."

Diocesan spokesman McGee said the agreement is one in which "both sides see as focused on protecting children in our state. In this process, as would happen in any investigation, there were communications between various individuals, their attorneys and the attorney generals office."

He noted that the agreement did not focus on any individual bishop, but the diocese as an institution.

 
 

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