Bishop Removes 7 NH Priests Accused of Sexual Misconduct
By Kathryn Marchocki
Union Leader [Manchester NH]
February 16, 2002
Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack removed seven diocesan priests accused of past sexual misconduct with children from pastoral ministry yesterday.
He turned their names and that of seven other priests, who already were stripped of their ministry because of past abuse allegations, over to the state attorney general for possible criminal prosecution.
"What I report is sad in one way because it is about sin, sickness and crime," McCormack said at a press conference at the chancery in Manchester.
"Yet, in another way, it is hopeful that our church and community will know that no priest is now serving in ministry who has, to our knowledge, engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor," he added.
The 14 priests - one of whom was actively serving in a Gorham parish - were accused of abuse that occurred between 1963 and 1987.
The diocese's chancellor would not release the number of alleged victims, but said most of the 14 priests face a single abuse allegation.
While state law does not require these past charges be reported to civil authorities, McCormack said mounting public concern over clerical sexual abuse scandals in Massachusetts and a better understanding of pedophilia today means the church no longer can take chances with children.
The case of former Massachusetts priest John Geoghan, accused of molesting more than 130 children and convicted Jan. 18 of sexually assaulting one boy, has rocked the Boston archdiocese.
It led to apologies from Cardinal Bernard F. Law and his turning over to prosecutors the names of more than 80 priests accused of abuse during the last 40 years.
"People are disappointed and shocked that, in Boston, this priest was returned to ministry. In light of that, we said we should raise the standard (here)," the bishop of Manchester explained.
"It is now clear to me that any credible allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor by a priest means that he cannot return to pastoral ministry," added McCormack, who was the chief architect of the Boston archdiocese's sexual misconduct policy before being installed bishop here in 1998.
The 14 priests named yesterday never faced criminal charges, said the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, the diocese's chancellor who also is charged with administering its sexual misconduct policy.
The reports of alleged abuse were made between 1971 and 2001, church officials said.
The cases never were reported to civil authorities before because the alleged abuses either occurred before child protection and mandatory reporting laws went into effect in 1979 or the victims no longer were minors when they came forward, Arsenault said.
Church leaders said they have complied with state laws requiring mandatory reporting of suspected abuse of minors since 1979.
Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin, after meeting with church officials Monday, said he is confident the diocese is meeting its legal obligation to report abuse.
At that time, McLaughlin said he and the state's county attorneys knew of no priests currently under investigation for child sexual abuse or under indictment for the crime.
Following Monday's meeting, McCormack ordered his staff to review all past reports of child sexual abuse by priests and to make a full disclosure to the state attorney general.
"Sadly, there have been instances in New Hampshire where priests have had totally inappropriate contact with children," McCormack said.
"Based on good and competent psychological and medical advice available to us at the time, I and my predecessors used our policy to ensure the safety of children. This . . . allowed the return of some priests to ministry after careful evaluation and assurances from medical experts that they could do so without placing anyone at risk," he said.
All 14 accused priests were sent to treatment programs, such as the St. Luke Institute in Suitland, Md., and only returned to pastoral ministry when cleared by experts, Arsenault said.
Most were not assessed as pedophiles, McCormack said.
But today's new insights into pedophilia means the diocese must raise the bar on how it assesses accused priests so that any credible allegation will bar them from ever returning to ministry, he added.
The diocese offered counseling to the 14 priests' alleged victims and, in some instances, reached financial settlements, Arsenault said.
He would not say how many cases resulted in settlements and how much money was paid out.
"We did a lot with every victim who has come to us with an allegation. We did a lot," Arsenault added.
He said there are no lawsuits pending against the diocese regarding clerical sexual abuse.
There were 245 priests in the Diocese of Manchester as of July 21, 1998, about 145 of whom are active today. The diocese encompasses the entire state of New Hampshire.
The Rev. John R. Poirier of Holy Family Parish in Gorham was the only active priest removed from pastoral ministry yesterday.
Five others are retired and one is on sick leave.
The retired priests' names and current addresses are: the Rev. Albert L. Boulanger, the Rev. Gerald F. Chalifour, the Rev. Robert J. Densmore, the Rev. Raymond H. Laferriere, all of Manchester, and the Rev. Romeo J. Valliere of Berlin.
Three of these retired priests assisted pastors in celebrating weekend Masses in the diocese, Arsenault said, declining to identify them.
The priest on sick leave is the Rev. Conrad V. LaForest of Winnisquam.
By having their pastoral ministry revoked, the priests no longer can administer the sacraments, celebrate Mass or function as a priest in any way, Arsenault said.
The seven priests whose pastoral ministry already was revoked when allegations surfaced against them are: The Rev. Paul L. Aube, the Rev. Eugene Pelletier, the Rev. Francis A. Talbot, all of Manchester, the Rev. Albion F. Bulger of Nashua, the Rev. Joseph A. Cote of Berlin, the Rev. Joseph T. Maguire of Hyannis, Mass., and the Rev. Stephen Scruton of Dover.
All are either suspended or retired.
Arsenault said he met with all 14 priests Thursday.
"There reaction was a deep sense of sadness. To a person, they're sorry," he said.
McCormack wrote a letter to all faithful in the Diocese of Manchester to be distributed at this weekend's Masses.
Pastors also will host sessions to hear parishioners' concerns. Information cards will be distributed next week.
"Today is a difficult day, but I hope that you will see this painful disclosure in the context of hundreds of years of faithful service by priests to the people of New Hampshire," McCormack said.
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