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  Pastor Admits to Priest's Secret Life, but Denies Coverup

By Gary Dennis
New Hampshire Sunday News
July 28, 2002

In a year rife with scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault yesterday tried to help parishioners at St. Pius X deal with one that hit close to home.

"It's never pleasant to find out that something was kept from you," Arsenault told a fairly full St. Pius Church during yesterday's 4 p.m. Mass. ". . . I'm sorry this has happened in our church."

Arsenault, the diocesan chancellor, took a full 10 minutes to speak to those attending the liturgy about the circumstances surrounding the 1999 death of beloved St. Pius priest Richard Connors.

He conceded church officials removed pornography kept by Connors soon after his death, but denied there was any kind of coverup.

Connors' death and supposed moral transgressions became a spotlight issue after the Rev. James A. "Seamus" MacCormack sued Bishop John B. McCormack and other church officials last week. MacCormack alleges they ruined his career to keep him silent about details of Connors' death and about the cache of pornographic material he allegedly kept in the rectory.

Arsenault told parishioners yesterday the diocese did nothing to affect MacCormack's career.

MacCormack said a ranking church official ordered him and another priest to clear the St. Pius premises of pornography, which another priest threw in a Concord trash bin. There are conflicting reports on whether any of the adult material included child pornography.

Before the first hymn of the service was sung yesterday, Arsenault had apologized, admitted that church officials had removed "adult material" under secrecy and said MacCormack hadn't been entirely truthful in his allegations.

"I share in your grief and your shock and anger because I loved Dick Connors, too," he said early on in his speech. But there was no connection between Connors' death and any personal issues involving MacCormack, he said.

Last week, Arsenault said, he read the complete police report on Connors' death. It was due to natural causes, he said; more specifically, a heart attack.

Details from MacCormack's lawsuit filed last week include information from a state medical examiner's report that said Connors' heart attack may have been exacerbated by the use of Viagra, a sexual enhancement drug. The lawsuit also read that Connors was wearing a "leather sexual device on his genitals."

Arsenault steered clear of details of the actual scene of Connors' death and focused on what appeared to be a coverup on the part of church officials concerning adult material -- namely adult videotapes and literature -- found in the rectory.

Officials disposed of that material as an attempt to spare friends, family and parishioners any shock or further embarrassment, he said.

But, "there was no coverup," he said yesterday.

"I'm sorry the revelation of the disposal of that material has caused some people to question the intentions of Bishop McCormack and other priests," he said.

And Arsenault was sure to point out that there were no signs Connors had any kind of moral problems before his death.

"Father Dick struggled with his own frailty and his failings," he said. ". . . There is no one who is so much bad that there is not some good."

Parishioners seemed to accept Arsenault's explanations. One man questioned after the service who declined to give his name put his faith in Arsenault's words.

"He's right. We have to keep our main purpose in mind -- to glorify God," he said. "Father Dick was human. He had weaknesses like the rest of us."

And a woman who had heard Arsenault's words before the service -- and also declined to be identified -- said the recent hoopla around Connors' death has to be weathered.

"I'm not thrilled about it," she said. "But we have to get past this. We have to take care of the problem and that's by sticking together as Christians."

 
 

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