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  Nashua Pastor Who Quit
Backed Accused Peers

By Kathryn Marchocki and Scott Brooks
Union Leader News
Downloaded November 10, 2003

NASHUA The priest who resigned as pastor of a Nashua church this week leaves behind a record of defending priests accused of child sexual abuse and is known for his ties to clergy charged with molesting minors, according to his sworn testimony and fellow priests.

It is an ironic twist to the Rev. Gerard R. Desmarais' nine-year tenure at St. Joseph Parish, where he has embraced a local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group that supports victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Desmarais, 58, said in sworn testimony last year that he was prepared to testify in support of the Rev. Roger A. Fortier at the 1998 criminal trial that resulted in Fortier's conviction for 17 sexual assaults on two boys.

Desmarais also acknowledged he allowed Fortier to stay in St. Joseph rectory during the nine months Fortier was awaiting trial.

"Amazingly, Desmarais never advised his parishioners at St. Joseph that Fortier was residing in the parish rectory, despite the fact that he was apparently concerned enough to advise his rectory staff, Manchester attorney Peter E. Hutchins wrote in an Aug. 30, 2002, court motion in which he questions Desmarais' credibility.

"Even more disturbing, Desmarais admitted he was prepared to testify as a character witness on Fortier's behalf," Hutchins added.

In addition, Desmarais said in sworn testimony he did not believe those who accused Joseph T. Maguire, a former Catholic priest, and the late Rev. Karl E. Dowd of sexually abusing them as children.

"I do not believe he would ever, ever in any way hurt a child," Desmarais said of Dowd, his lifelong friend, when questioned under oath last year in connection with a civil case brought against another accused priest.

Dowd died three days after the diocese last year released the names of 14 priests accused of past sexual misconduct. While he was not on that list, about 10 complaints subsequently were brought against the diocese by those claiming Dowd sexually abused them as minors, all of which resulted in financial settlements.

Maguire is criminally charged with sexually assaulting three altar boys in the 1970s and 1980s when he served at a Dover parish. Maguire is set to be tried on the charges this month.

Desmarais gave the sworn statements when he was deposed July 30, 2002, in connection with a civil suit brought against the Rev. George H. Robichaud by a Concord man who claimed Robichaud sexually abused him as a teenager in the early 1980s. The suit ended in a settlement.

Desmarais introduced the then 15-year-old to Robichaud and said in his sworn testimony he didn't believe the alleged victim's accusations.

Robichaud was the first priest to be criminally charged in New Hampshire since the church-abuse scandal erupted in 2002.

The criminal case involved a state trooper who claimed Robichaud sexually assaulted him when he was a teenage altar boy in the 1980s.

The first trial ended in April when the jury deadlocked over the accuser's age. The second trial ended when the accuser concluded he was legally an adult and the state dropped the charges.

The trials coincided with a six-month, paid leave of absence that Desmarais took from his parish. He returned to his post in September.

Desmarais, in a telephone interview Tuesday, said he allowed Fortier to stay at St. Joseph rectory at Bishop Francis Christian's request.

"Bishop Christian called me because he had no place to put him and asked me if I would be willing to take him. It wasn't like we were friends or anything like that," Desmarais said.

But Desmarais acknowledged in his deposition testimony that he was prepared to voluntarily testify as a character witness at Fortier's criminal trial. He was not called.

"I mean, I knew him my whole life as far as we went to grammar school," he said in a transcript of the deposition.

Fortier was convicted and is serving a 20- to 40-year state prison sentence.

With regard his testimony that he didn't believe Dowd's accusers, Desmarais said, "I just know Father Dowd personally. . . I just said I find it very difficult to believe those kind of accusations."

Desmarais said he didn't believe Maguire's accusers because, "I don't know these people (alleged victims)" and "I knew Father Joe through seminary."

Desmarais said in the telephone interview that in a diocese with only 123 active priests, priests often find themselves working in the same region or deanery with each other.

But a priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Desmarais "always has been associated with a group of fringe priests whose commitment to priesthood has been questionable."

"His closest allies have been priests whose names have been in the papers over the past 20 months," the priest added, such as Dowd, Robichaud, Fortier and the Rev. Ronald E. Corriveau, who is on administrative leave since he was accused of sexually assaulting a teenager in 1982.

Desmarais surprised parishioners at weekend Masses when he announced he was resigning as pastor over differences with Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack's management style. The resignation took effect Tuesday.

"My grievance is the way he runs the diocese. (It) is not the way a bishop should run the diocese. The bishop of a diocese should be a shepherd and a leader and I don't think he is a leader . . . No one is following him," Desmarais said in the Tuesday telephone interview.

He would not specify his grievances and repeatedly said he did not intend his resignation to receive media attention.

St. Joseph parishioners, who gave Desmarais a standing ovation when he announced his departure, said they were sad and stunned to see him go.

"A lot of us had tears in our eyes Saturday night," said Carrie Pelchat, the church's choir director.

Steve Galipeau, chairman of the church's Christian Youth Organization, said his resignation is a great loss for the parish.

Marge Thompson, a parishioner and member of the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, said she was not surprised by Desmarais' decision.

She said Desmarais allowed the group to hold monthly meetings in the church's classrooms, something she said most priests resisted.

"He welcomed us with open arms," Thompson said.

The Rev. Timothy Thibeault, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Penacook, cheered Desmarais' decision in an e-mail to Voice of the Faithful members.

"Father Gerry is so accurate! There has been nothing in the way of leadership from the Bishop," Thibeault wrote.

 
 

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