Priest Resigns, Puts Blame on McCormack
He Says Bishop Unwilling to Cooperate

By Annmarie Timmins
November 4, 2003

NASHUA - A priest who abruptly resigned Sunday said yesterday that he is leaving after 31 years because Catholic Bishop John McCormack has silenced and isolated priests who question his leadership.

"He will meet with priests one on one, but he refuses to meet with groups of us because he is threatened," said the Rev. Gerard Desmarais of St. Joseph Church in Nashua. "Priests are terrified to speak out. I want to do the work of Jesus Christ, but I'll have to do it somewhere else."

Desmarais will work his final day today. He is leaving for a Florida vacation tomorrow and then will try to find work in another diocese, he said.

McCormack was out of town yesterday. Diane Murphy Quinlan, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Manchester, declined to discuss Desmarais's resignation until McCormack had returned and met with Desmarais.

Murphy Quinlan said McCormack has been willing to meet with priests individually and in groups. When asked if there were any circumstances in which McCormack would not meet with a group of priests, Murphy Quinlan said she could not comment on a hypothetical situation.

Several priests interviewed yesterday echoed Desmarais's frustrations with McCormack's leadership. They said McCormack has been so focused on defending his handling of clergy sexual abuse in Boston that he has lost sight of the church's future here. He rarely circulates among parishes and discourages questions or challenges when clergy meet for diocesan gatherings, they said.

"I think we have stopped dead in our tracks," the Rev. Norman Simoneau, a retired priest from Hudson, said in a recent interview. "I think for the past two years we have been going about saving the bishop's face rather than moving forward. He's trying to get people to recognize him as a leader, but my sense is there are an awful lot of people who don't trust him."

He said McCormack has not lived up to promises made in February to be more open with the state's Catholics. The diocese has delayed twice a financial report McCormack promised, and he has not assigned lay members to diocesan boards, Simoneau said.

According to two priests and a parishioner who spoke on the condition of anonymity, between 40 and 50 priests have been meeting privately for months about McCormack's leadership. Some priests have signed a petition asking McCormack to resign, they said.

According to the priests and parishioner, McCormack has been willing to meet with the priests individually but has refused to meet with them as a group.

Simoneau said he believes McCormack is intimidated by the possibility of 40 or 50 priests requesting his resignation with one another as a witness. Simoneau believes the diocese would be better off if McCormack resigned and told the bishop so in a recent meeting.

"He was gracious, but he disagreed," Simoneau said.

In Boston, it was the clergy's lack of confidence in Archbishop Bernard Law that ultimately persuaded Law to resign. The difference in Boston was that the clergy went public with their concerns and resignation request. Here, only Desmarais and Fr. Paul Gregoire of Dover, a suspended priest who was reinstated by the Vatican this fall, have spoken out against McCormack.

People close to the priest group in New Hampshire said the priests are determined to work out their concerns privately, with McCormack's cooperation. Several members of the group either declined comment or did not return phone calls yesterday.

Desmarais said he does not have the patience to wait for cooperation from McCormack because he does not believe it will come. He has served in the Diocese of Manchester for 31 years, three of them as a deacon and 28 of them as a priest.

He said he had not intended for his resignation to become a media story and said that he has made a point of keeping concerns to himself during his time in the diocese. Desmarais did not comment publicly during the clergy sexual abuse investigation that broke last year. He was questioned as part of the investigation of accused priest Rev. George Robichaud and told investigators he believed an accused victim was lying.


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