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  Bishop McCormack Had Uneven Record As Law's Top Aide

Manchester (NH) Union Leader
December 4, 2002

While he was a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law, Bishop John B. McCormack was quick to suspend some priests accused of sexual abuse but appeared to wait years in other cases, according to church records released yesterday.

In one case, McCormack took just months to investigate and suspend from ministry a Massachusetts priest accused of molesting several girls, the records indicate.

But in other cases, McCormack apparently ignored allegations dating back more than a decade, including a case where one priest was initially accused of misconduct in 1984 but not removed from ministry until 1993.

McCormack, who became bishop of New Hampshire in 1998, was director of ministerial personnel in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston from 1984 to 1994. For several years, he handled sexual abuse complaints involving priests.

Yesterday, personnel files on eight priests were made public after a judge ordered the church in Boston to turn them over to lawyers representing alleged victims of abuse by priests.

Archdiocese spokesman Donna Morrissey said the documents contain horrible allegations and the church wants to help any victims. None of the priests could be reached and the archdiocese did not have telephone numbers for them.

McCormack, who was involved in all eight cases, has been accused of disregarding complaints against priests while coddling them and shuffling them from parish to parish.

McCormack has said he often did not know about allegations against priests because of poor record-keeping, a point underscored again yesterday by McCormack's spokesman, Patrick McGee.

"Many times, especially in this diocese, the first time we knew of an allegation against a priest was when we were contacted by a lawyer," McGee said.

He also said the crux of the controversy is that if the bishop were to say his motivation was always to do the right thing, and to protect children from harm, he'd also have to balance that with protecting the rights of the accused.

"Everyone admits now that, out of concern for a scandal, handling matters in a confidential way that protects both victims and priests is the better way," McGee said.

"The broad statement on behalf of the bishop would be that abuse of illegal drugs is wrong, abuse of power by a priest to seduce women is wrong, a priest not living a chaste and celibate life is wrong," McGee said.

"But rather than responding to some daily disclosure of some new piece of information, the bishop will want to refresh his memory by looking over the documents, and then make some kind of comprehensive comment," he said.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., the lawyer who released the records in Boston, said the files indicate a pattern of ignoring complaints and failing to go back and warn parishioners about predatory priests.

"Bishop McCormack had a wealth of information available to him," MacLeish said. "There was an obligation given the nature of the relationship between the church and its parishioners to go back."

In the case of the Rev. Robert Meffan of Weymouth, Mass., McCormack appears to have acted quickly on allegations the priest sexually assaulted young girls training to become nuns, according to church records.

The first allegation against Meffan was made in January 1993. By March, McCormack had ordered a psychological assessment of him and suspended him from active ministry by July.

Yet in the case of the Rev. Robert Morrissette, who according to the records admitted in 1984 that he "made advances" on a boy, initially only counseling was offered.

Not until August 1993 did McCormack advise that Morrissette be suspended from active ministry. Law placed the priest on sick leave the following month.

And in 1992, McCormack was told in a memo from his assistant at the time, Sister Catherine Mulkerrin, that the Rev. Thomas Forry, who served in Scituate and Kingston, Mass., had been accused of making sexual advances against the son of a woman with whom the priest had an 11-year affair.

Seven years later, Forry still was in ministry. In 1999, Law reassigned Forry from being a prison chaplain to being a roaming, fill-in priest to cover vacations by priests. He currently is unassigned.

But in the case of former priest Robert Towner, who left the church in 1990 to marry and have children, McCormack took a hard line.

Allegations dating back to 1967 were made against Towner in 1992 and 1993, but McCormack told him the archdiocese would not give him any financial help for his legal bills, saying such money was reserved for priests.

At the same time, one victim's mother complained that McCormack and Mulkerrin had done nothing about her complaint against Towner, according to the records.

In a handwritten note, McCormack said the allegation was wrong and that he had offered the woman counseling for her son, but she "did not pick up on it."

 
 

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