Bishop Says Parishioners Don't Have Complete Information on Abuse
Christian Calls State Report 'Not Complete' [Londonderry NH]
May 27, 2004

LONDONDERRY, N.H. -- The second-highest leader of New Hampshire's Roman Catholic diocese said state prosecutors misrepresented the facts when they announced in 2002 that church leaders had protected sexually abusive priests, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Rev. Francis Christian, the auxiliary bishop, said Wednesday night that the public has been given only part of the story, the Concord Monitor reported.

"You are acting on information that is partial and not complete," he said at St. Mark's Church in Londonderry during a question-and-answer session following his lecture, "Forming a Moral Conscience."

Christian, who handled sexual abuse complaints against priests for the diocese for 20 years, also said the state had unfairly based its conclusions on conversations with the accused priests and had not given church leaders a chance to explain.

"There are many, many, complicating facts here that you do not know," he said.

Last year, the state released documents detailing evidence prosecutors would have used in a criminal case against the diocese. Prosecutors stopped short of seeking an indictment, however, under a deal reached in 2002 between church officials and then-Attorney General Philip McLaughlin.

The diocese said it did not "necessarily agree" with all the state's conclusions, but Bishop John McCormack -- who took over in 1998, after most of the events in the report -- apologized to victims and condemned child sex abuse. The diocese described its toughened approach to dealing with molesters in the clergy, saying it will now remove a priest after one credible allegation of abuse.

The documents showed that Christian wasn't totally up front with authorities or victims. They included at least two incidents in which he told accusers priests had admitted abusing them, when the opposite was true.

The documents also contain a 1998 letter Christian wrote to a probation officer saying the diocese had no knowledge of a convicted priest's sexual problems with minors. Christian now says he didn't tell the probation officer of the past misconduct because he assumed authorities already knew about it.

Attorney General Peter Heed, reached Wednesday night, declined to respond to Christian's comments, saying he would need to review them.

At the meeting, Ed Kirby, of Nashua, who has called on McCormack and Christian to resign, said church leaders had considered their own interests, and not those of victims, when they learned of abusive priests.

"I've waited the last two years hoping someone would explain what resulted in the horrible crisis of the church," Kirby said. "You used (your own self-protection) to make all the decisions."

Christian, who looked upset, said Kirby did not have all the details and declined to elaborate in public. He told Kirby to make an appointment to see him.

Anne Coughlin, of Concord, a Catholic and member of the Voice of the Faithful, which has attacked the church's handling of abuse cases, told Christian it was painful to hear him talk about developing a moral conscience when internal church records show that he lied to sexual abuse victims.

"When you talk about helping the helpless, you had the helpless in your hands," she said.

Christian responded, "You do not have all the facts about all the cases. So many people are so quick to judge. The (state's) report that you are basing your opinions on (is based on) what perpetrator priests said."

Christian then said he would not take any other questions about the sexual abuse cases.

He had his supporters in the audience. One of them, David Meltzer, of Pelham, chastised Coughlin and others for showing "bad manners" by sharply questioning Christian.

"I know you are hurting," said Meltzer, describing himself as a victim of sexual abuse. "I have suffered, too. But I am a convert. I was very upset with Bishop McCormack.

"But you might want to consider what you are doing to the church and the victims when you come here and (Christian) is a lame duck."