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  NH Priest Arrested in Sex Case. Friends Shocked by Allegations

By Kathryn Marchocki
Union Leader (Manchester NH)
April 27, 2002

A Lakes Region parish priest was arrested yesterday for felony sexual assault involving a 1985 incident with a teenager.

He is the first Catholic priest in New Hampshire to be criminally charged since authorities began their clerical sexual abuse inquiry in February.

In a separate development, a former Merrimack pastor was removed from ministry Monday after prosecutors received an allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the 1980s. He has not been charged.

The Rev. George H. Robichaud, pastor of St. Cecilia parish in Wolfeboro and St. Joan of Arc parish in Alton, and the Rev. Edward D. Richard, formerly of Merrimack and now pastor of St. Patrick parish in Pelham, both were placed on administrative leave by the Catholic Diocese of Manchester while the criminal investigations continue.

Robichaud, 57, is charged with one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault involving a male minor, Belknap County Sheriff Dan Collis said.

The alleged assault "involved an act of penetration" and occurred at a private residence in Sanbornton when the youth was between 13 and 16 years old, according to Collis and Senior Assistant Attorney General E. William Delker.

"I'm very sad to hear about it. He's a good priest," said Mike Bridges, a parishioner at St. Agnes Church in Ashland where Robichaud served for 31/2 years before he was transferred four years ago to the Wolfeboro parish. Collis would not say how Robichaud knew the teenager or who owned the Sanbornton home where the assault allegedly occurred, but Robichaud owns a home in Sanbornton on Lake Winnisquam.

Meanwhile, authorities are in the early stages of their criminal investigation of Richard, a popular priest whose ministry was strongly geared toward children when he served in Merrimack's two parishes, one parishioner said.

"Oh, God, that's a shocker. It takes my breath away. He was such an outstanding priest," said Carolyn Disco of Merrimack, a parishioner of both Merrimack churches where Richard served.

Delker said Merrimack Police are investigating the accusation, but would not say how many alleged victims are involved, whether they are male or female and when the alleged abuse occurred.

But a source said the alleged abuse occurred more than 10 years ago in Merrimack, while Richard was serving as a pastor there, and possibly other locations.

Merrimack Police and authorities in other counties also are investigating reports that there may have been more than one victim, the source said.

"My kids grew up with Father Ed. I chaperoned one time on a day ski trip with him . . . He had an extraordinarily active ministry with young people and he was very much loved," Disco said.

"But if there is a child who has been hurt out there, my heart is with that child. The church has not had enough of a child-centered view of this. The fact that the cover-up is being revealed is critical," she added.

Richard served at Our Lady of Mercy from the early 1970s until about 1990 when he was assigned to St. John Neumann Church, she said.

Word that two priests actively serving in parishes are accused of child sexual abuse stunned Catholics, already reeling from a clergy sex abuse scandal that has rocked the church since January.

In February, Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack handed the state's attorney general the names of 15 priests accused of past sexual abuse for possible criminal prosecution. Richard, whose age was not available but who was ordained in 1968, and Robichaud, who was ordained in 1970, were not on that list.

"There are the first allegations known to the diocese against the two priests," McCormack said in a statement.

The Attorney General's Office received the allegations against Richard and Robichaud independently from the alleged victims, officials said.

They are among about 41 priests and religious brothers -- including the 15 whose names were provided by the diocese -- whom the Attorney General's Office has received child sexual abuse allegations against, Delker said. The other cases still are under investigation.

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."

McCormack granted the two priests' requests to go on administrative leave this week.

Richard was placed on leave Monday; Robichaud's leave went into effect Thursday night, diocesan spokesman Patrick McGee said.

While on leave, neither priest can stay in the parish rectories nor can they perform any pastoral ministry, he said.

The criminal investigations apparently unfolded so quickly that top diocesan officials didn't have a chance to first meet with parishioners in the three churches where the priests served.

McCormack will speak with St. Patrick's parishioners at all Masses this weekend. Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Christian and the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, diocesan chancellor, will speak with parishioners at St. Joan of Arc and St. Cecilia parishes during weekend Masses there.

Richard's accuser approached authorities last week, the source said.

Robichaud's alleged victim approached the state Attorney General's Office this month, Collis said. The allegation was forwarded to the Belknap County Attorney's Office where investigators, after working with the Cheshire County Attorney's Office and Keene Police, obtained an arrest warrant yesterday, officials said.

Authorities would not say what link Robichaud may have had to Cheshire County communities.

Asked whether further charges will be brought against Robichaud, Collis said, "It's still under investigation."

Robichaud, accompanied by his attorney, turned himself in at the Belknap County Sheriff's Office yesterday morning, Collis said.

Concord attorney Peter Callahan, who represents Robichaud, did not return a call for comment.

Robichaud was arraigned in Franklin District Court and released on $ 5,000 cash or surety and $ 50,000 personal recognizance bail, Belknap County officials said.

Robichaud, who previously served in parishes in Ashland, Manchester and West Swanzey, could not enter a plea on the felony charge. A probable cause hearing is set for May 13. Authorities said they plan to present the case to a grand jury.

Robichaud is barred from having any direct or indirect contact with children under 18 years old and must stay at least 50 yards away from them as part of his bail conditions.

He also must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and live in his Sanbornton home.

(Union Leader Correspondent Carol Carter contributed to this report.)

Friends shocked by allegations

By CAROL CARTER And JANINE E. GILBERTSON

Parishioners at The Rev. George H. Robichaud's previous church in Ashland expressed shock and sorrow yesterday about the priest's alleged rape of a child in 1985.

"I'm very sad to hear about it. He's a good priest," said Mike Bridges, who attends St. Agnes Church in Ashland, where Robichaud served for 3 1/2 years before being transferred to Wolfeboro four years ago. "This is a surprise big time," said Bridges.

David Tryon, business manager at St. Agnes, said parishioners will need time to heal from the shock of this allegation.

"He was very well-liked and well respected. People will be confused and upset about this allegation and it is an allegation," Tryon emphasized.

Robichaud came to Ashland from St. Marie's Church in Manchester and had previously served at a church in West Swanzey, Tryon said. He was transferred to Wolfeboro when the priest shortage forced the diocese to assign one priest to serve both St. Agnes and St. Matthew's Church in Plymouth.

Tryon confirmed that Robichaud owns a cottage on LakeWinnisquam, a lake that borders Laconia, Belmont, Meredith and Sanbornton. The alleged assault in 1985 happened in Sanbornton.

Pelham residents reacted to news of the Rev. Edward D. Richard's removal from parish ministry this week with disbelief and a flood of good words about the jovial and popular pastor's tireless involvement in the town.

Affectionately known as "Father Ed," Richard served at St. Patrick Catholic Church for the last 14 years.

"I can't think of any individual who has had a greater positive impact on the community than Father Ed," said Selectman William McDevitt. "He has been involved in the community at every level."

 
 

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