Bishops Remain Unaccountable
For Shielding Abusive Priests
By Carolyn B. Disco
The Union Leader [New Hampshire]
Downloaded March 19, 2004
THE NEW sexual abuse policy of the Diocese of Manchester, based on the U.S. bishops’ 2002 charter adopted in Dallas, goes into effect today. It calls for zero tolerance for priests, but it is silent about the past conduct of bishops.
However, the recently released National Review Board (NRB) report by prominent lay Catholics is not silent. It states that “any discussion of the charter’s zero-tolerance provision would be incomplete without noting that there is no equivalent policy for bishops. . . who allowed a predator priest to remain in or return to ministry despite knowledge of the risks.”
When asked if bishops other than Cardinal Bernard Law should resign, the NRB’s research committee head, attorney Robert Bennett, said, “I think the answer to the question is yes, that there are bishops who totally failed as pastors and as shepherds of their flocks.”
Surely, Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian’s conduct qualify for that judgment. McCormack’s shameful history which is fairly well known. But it is Christian, who handled allegations for 19 years in New Hampshire and has been hugely successful in avoiding the spotlight, whose record needs further exposure.
He has never been deposed in a lawsuit, and he refused to cooperate in the state’s investigation without a grant of immunity, which prompted the assistant attorney general to write, “I fail to understand how considerations of personal risk can impact the duty and willingness of a bishop to tell the truth.”
By any common-sense understanding, Christian had not been telling the truth anyway. Documents about convicted rapist Roger Fortier disclose that Christian wrote in a pre-sentencing report to the court that Fortier’s “sexual problems with youth were unknown to the diocese.” This was despite Christian personally having dealt with the priest 14 years earlier about Fortier’s admitted use of homosexual pornography, alcohol with minors, and criminal solicitation. These apparently did not constitute “sexual problems” in the bishop’s lexicon.
Christian’s “significant role” in sexual abuse decisions had been acknowledged by the attorney general, who was subsequently prepared “to present one or more indictments to the Hillsborough County Grand Jury charging the Diocese of Manchester with endangering the welfare of minors.” The attorney general was also ready to charge the diocese with perjury and false swearing as part of that child endangerment indictment. That was in order to establish the diocese’s purposeful conduct and consciousness of guilt.
Another issue is Christian’s handling of convicted rapist Gordon MacRae. Christian swore in 1993 in a civil lawsuit that “We have never received a report that Gordon MacRae was accused of kissing and fondling a youth in June of 1983 in Hampton.” This directly contradicts Christian’s own memo on Dec. 5, 1983, in which he wrote, “Father MacRae readily admitted the incident . . . (he) found himself kissing the young man in question.”
The state subsequently concluded that there was “founded abuse” by MacRae. MacRae said Christian told him about the report, and he asked Christian why the state did not interview him since he objected to its decision. Christian, however, swore in 1993 that the diocese was never informed of the state’s finding.
In 2002, Christian told parishioners at Holy Family Parish in Gorham that their pastor, Fr. John Poirier, had been removed from service for “soliciting a teenage boy for sex 26 years ago . . . and to the church’s knowledge, there were no other accusations.”
In fact, Christian knew of other incidents, noting in 1988 in a letter to Poirier’s therapist, “I had recently become aware of his compulsive homosexual lifestyle, where he frequently has picked up other males of various ages . . . (he) recognizes his compulsive behavior poses a serious legal threat . . . should some sort of scandal occur.” Christian also knew of additional sexual activity in Concord and Manchester in 1991.
The new policy going into effect today never would have been written if the bishops had not been caught, so let’s mute the applause for forced virtue. And let’s see that bishops as well as priests are held accountable for bringing what the NRB calls the “smoke of Satan” into the heart of the church.
Carolyn B. Disco is a co-founder of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership and is survivor support chairman for New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful.
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