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  Two N.H. Priests Removed from Their Churches over Sex Abuse Allegations

By J.M. Hirsch
Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 26, 2002

Two Roman Catholic priests were removed from their parishes this week amid allegations they molested children, and one of the men was arrested Friday on sexual assault charges.

The Rev. George H. Robichaud, pastor of St. Cecilia's in Wolfeboro and St. Joan of Arc in Alton, was charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault. He is accused of assaulting a boy between the ages of 13 and 16 in 1984 and 1985.

Robichaud's arrest marks the first charges filed against a New Hampshire priest since the growing church abuse scandal began dominating headlines late last year.

In a statement, Belknap County prosecutor Lauren Noether said the assault took place in Sanbornton after Robichaud "ingratiated himself to the victim through church activities...."

Robichaud did not speak during his arraignment in Franklin District Court. He was released on $55,000 cash and personal recognizance bail, and ordered to stay at least 50 yards away from all children.

Robichaud is due back in court May 13 for a probable cause hearing. If convicted, he could face 10 to 20 years in prison.

Patrick McGee, spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester, said Robichaud was placed on administrative leave when church officials learned of the allegations.

There was no telephone listing for Robichaud and McGee did not know where Robichaud is staying. He had been living at the rectory Sanbornton. A message left at St. Cecilia's seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Senior Assistant Attorney General William Delker said authorities also were investigating allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Edward D. Richard, pastor of St. Patrick in Pelham. He had not been charged.

Delker would only say the allegations involved a child.

McGee said church officials learned of the allegations against Richard on Sunday and placed him on leave the next day. McGee said he did not know the nature of the allegations against Richard.

There was no telephone listing for Richard, and McGee did not know where he was staying. A spokeswoman at St. Patrick would not comment.

McGee said both will remain on leave at least until criminal and church investigations are completed.

Hillsborough County Attorney Peter McDonough said his office will evaluate whether charges will be filed against Richard, based primarily on whether the statute of limitations has expired and if the alleged victim wants to pursue charges.

McGee said the allegations against Richard and Robichaud do not involve members of their parishes. He also said they are the first allegations against either man received by church officials. McGee did not know if either man ever had been treated for sexual misconduct.

Since February, Bishop John B. McCormack has released the names of 15 priests accused of sexual abuse. Robichaud and Richard were not among them, and when he released the names, McCormack said the diocese had no credible allegations against other priests in the state.

Only one of the priests McCormack named still was serving in a parish at the time the names were made public. He was removed from that position.

In a written statement Friday, McCormack said he is "saddened by the news of the allegations. My thoughts and prayers are with the parishioners ... and especially with anyone who has suffered hurt by a priest."

McGee said McCormack will attend mass at St. Patrick this weekend to speak with parishioners. Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Christian will be at St. Cecilia and St. Joan of Arc.

Robichaud was charged under a statute that includes forcible rape and some assaults that would be lesser crimes but for the victim's age or the perpetrator's position of authority over the victim.

An affidavit filed by Belknap County Sheriff's Deputy Denise Miller, who was involved in questioning the alleged victim and arresting Robichaud, said Robichaud met the boy when he was assigned to St. Anthony's parish in Swanzey and the boy was an altar boy.

The affidavit said the boy told authorities Robichaud would hug and kiss the boy and rub against him as the two watched television or ate dinner in the rectory.

Then in the fall of 1984, Robichaud took the boy to a convent in Italy and touched him sexually with his hands and penis, the affidavit said.

The last incident occurred at Robichaud's cottage on Lake Winnisquam when Robichaud fondled the boy and tried to have anal sex with him, the affidavit said.

When the boy, now an adult, came to authorities, the attorney general's office approved his trying to get Robichaud to talk about their relationship, and the young man called Robichaud and met him Monday. The affidavit said Robichaud apologized and said "he had been in recovery for 10 years and has learned about sexuality and has not hurt anyone since."

Prior to moving to Pelham in 1988, Richard served at Our Lady of Mercy in Merrimack from 1973-1982, and helped found St. John Neumann, also in Merrimack, where he served from 1982 until going to Pelham.

The parishes in Alton and Wolfeboro merged last year, due to a shortage of priests and the destruction of St. Joan of Arc church in a 2000 fire.

 
 

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