Lay Group: 1,000 Sign Petition

By Albert McKeon
Telegraph [Manchester NH]
July 25, 2003

MANCHESTER A Catholic lay group has reached a milestone in its effort to oust Bishop John McCormack, but a majority of the state's faithful still hasn't publicly supported the group's efforts.

New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership announced Thursday it has secured more than 1,000 signatures on a petition calling for McCormack's resignation, almost four months after the group formed.

The group vows it will continue seeking the resignation of McCormack and the Diocese of Manchester's auxiliary bishop, Francis Christian, for their handling of clergy sexual abuse. And it hopes the Massachusetts attorney general's recent criticism of McCormack's part in dealing with abuse complaints while at the Archdiocese of Boston will spur New Hampshire Catholics to action.

But group members also acknowledge they need more signatures. New Hampshire has more than 327,000 Catholics.

Many Catholics who had not voiced an opinion on the bishops when the group formed in late March the people the group has targeted have essentially remained silent by not signing the petition.

"We have our work cut out for us," Maggie Fogarty, one of the 15 founders of Moral Leadership, said at a press conference in Manchester.

Some group founders, though, said that despite not having their signatures, far more than 1,000 Catholics share their goal to expel McCormack and Christian. They point to a UNH-WMUR poll taken in February that showed 72 percent of Catholics surveyed want McCormack to resign.

Fogarty also said dwindling

attendance at Mass and contributions in the collection baskets, and how the diocese has cut pastoral programs due to financial difficulties, demonstrates the dissatisfaction of lay Catholics.

"It's extraordinary that 1,000 Catholics have come forward," said Jim Farrell, a founding member of the group. "Even if it is a small percentage, the bishops need to answer."

But Patrick Ford, a parishioner of St. Theresa Church in Rye, dismisses the group's claim that many New Hampshire Catholics seek a change in church leadership.

"You've got far less than 1 percent of Catholics after months of recruiting people with their point of view," Ford said of the 1,000 signatures. "There's no sign of any widespread discontent in the diocese. It's an overstatement and a misstatement. It's not an issue with the average Catholic in the pews."

McCormack and Christian have no intention of resigning, said the Rev. Edward Arsenault, the diocesan chancellor. Both bishops intend to continue protecting children from harm, and will strengthen the diocese's policies and programs on abuse, he said.

"It's really not about the math," Arsenault said of the 1,000 signatures. "It's about the fact they've proposed a solution to the crisis in the church that's not part of our tradition. Faithful, accountable service to the church is leadership in good times and bad, just as a father wouldn't abandon his son or a husband leave his wife."

The diocese will not grant Moral Leadership's request to hold a public forum at which McCormack and Christian would answer questions about their leadership, Arsenault said. The bishop has discussed the matter publicly many times, and such a forum would not be appropriate or helpful, Arsenault said.

"Although it's not about the math, I'm mindful of these 1,000 people," Arsenault said. "I've spent the last several weeks substituting at five parishes in the state. Every one of them is full at Mass with people who want to heal and move forward. I have to see (Moral Leadership members) in light of that context."

On Wednesday, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly credited McCormack for enhancing the Boston archdiocese's abuse policy while serving as an aide to Cardinal Bernard Law. But Reilly also criticized the bishop for believing abusive and lying priests over credible victims, and for not recognizing the danger those priests posed to children.

McCormack has spoken honestly about his inadequacies in handling abuse in the past, Arsenault said. In Boston, McCormack reported to people about abuse, but in New Hampshire he holds that responsibility and has in turn improved the Manchester diocese's handling of clergy abuse, Arsenault said.

But Moral Leadership members think Reilly's assessment lends more credence to their claim that McCormack should not lead in New Hampshire. Group members also urged diocesan priests to come forward, although they acknowledged clergy may hesitate because they took vows to the bishop.

At the press conference, the group presented two alleged victims of sexual abuse. Toby Hall said Christian lied to him about the Rev. Paul Aube's history of abuse, and Peter Pollard detailed how McCormack dismissed his claim that the Rev. George Rosenkrantz had abused him in Massachusetts.

"I don't understand why every Catholic in the state, in this country, hasn't stood up," Pollard said. "This kind of abuse has more do to with power than sex."

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2003

Article comment by: Marjorie J. Thompson

So very pleased that you covered the Media event of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership (NHCML). The presentation by NHCML should be an enlighment to the many Catholics who at the present time do not want to take a "stand" on controvecial issues. Vatican II gave the laity not only the "right" but the "responsibility" to become involved in the Catholic Church. These rights and responsibilities have been pushed under the rug for almost 40 years. The reason is because the leaders of the Catholic Church from the Pope down to the local Pastors want to be in complete control. In 2003 it is no longer Pay, Pray and Obey.


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