Catholic Diocese Needs New Leaders

Nashua Telegraph [New Hampshire]
June 3, 2004


BACKGROUND: State Attorney General Peter Heed is taking issue with recent statements made by Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian of the Manchester Diocese over the state's investigation of child abuse complaints in the past.

CONCLUSION: Both Christian and his superior, Bishop John McCormack, should resign because they have lost their moral authority in the public eye.

Leaders of New Hampshire's Roman Catholic Church have again been reminded that the sexual abuse scandals of the recent past won't be easily forgotten.

Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian got the message when a group of people confronted him about his role in the scandals after he delivered a talk at a Londonderry Church on "How to Form a Moral Conscience."

Christian handled sexual abuse complaints against priests for 20 years. The diocese in 2002 entered into an agreement with the state in which the diocese acknowledged the diocese had failed to protect children from abusive priests in the past.

The agreement also required annual audits of the diocese's compliance in following approved procedures for handling future sexual abuse claims. In exchange, the state agreed not to prosecute diocesan leaders who over half a century had a hand in shielding predator priests.

However, the diocese and the state attorney general's office are now wrangling over the scope of the audits and who will pay for them. The state wants the diocese to pay for extensive audits, to be done over a five-year period by outside consultants, and church leaders are balking at the estimated $1 million cost. The diocese says the audits are the state's responsibility.

Those audit details unfortunately weren't spelled out in the agreement when it was originally hammered out. The agreement was approved during the tenure of former Attorney General Philip McLaughlin.

The audit issue is now in court.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Peter Heed has been disparaging about what he construes is Christian's failure to take responsibility for the protection of priests who molested children in the past.

Christian, in response to questions directed at him during the Londonderry meeting, maintains that state prosecutors had not taken many complicating factors into consideration when they investigated the diocese's handling of sexual abuse complaints. He said the investigation had not been complete.

Christian, however, has refused to speak with prosecutors unless granted immunity.

His superior, Bishop John McCormack, has apologized to victims and condemned sexual abuse. The diocese has entered into monetary settlements with a number of former child victims.

McCormack took over as bishop of the Manchester diocese in 1998. But he was implicated in shielding some Massachusetts priests accused of sexual abuse against children before his assignment to New Hampshire.

Neither Christian nor McCormack can expect to speak about the formation of Christian morals without some Catholics looking upon their words with disdain.

The past scandals taint their actions and will continue to do so for many years. They have both lost their moral authority.

Both bishops should resign their posts. The diocese needs a need set of leaders, men who haven't been involved in any sexual abuse complaints or their cover up.

Surely, there are priests capable of taking over the Number 1 and 2 leadership roles in the diocese so that this ugly chapter in church history can be put to rest and never repeated. It's high time for a leadership change.


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