Angry Crowd Slams Bishop
McCormack Says in Jaffrey, 'I'm Not Lying'
By J.M. Hirsch
Manchester (NH) Union Leader
October 7, 2002
Jaffrey — Bishop John B. McCormack confronted angry parishioners yesterday as he explained why he assigned to their church a priest who had a sexual relationship with a teenage boy.
"Don't accuse me of lying. I'm not lying," he shouted as many in the crowd of about 200 at St. Patrick Church accused him of withholding information about the Rev. Roland Cote.
"You have no business being in this church," one woman told him. Another woman walked out during the 45-minute question and answer session and muttered, "How can a bishop lie?"
Asked by several people to resign, the bishop responded: "I have no intention of resigning. I am here to serve."
McCormack celebrated Mass and took questions from the congregation to discuss the allegations against Cote, assigned to the church by McCormack in June. Cote greeted McCormack at the church, but did not attend the service or the discussion afterward. Cote performed Mass later in the morning.
In April, Cote was accused of sexual misconduct with a teenage boy during the 1980s. Civil authorities investigated but did not press charges. Cote has acknowledged the relationship, but said the young man was at least 18 at the time.
Several law enforcement authorities, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told the AP they believed the teenager was 15 or 16, though they were unable to make an exact determination of his age when the relationship began. Sixteen is the age when sexual consent can be given legally in New Hampshire.
Reporters were not allowed in the church during the service or discussion, but could hear McCormack and the raised voices of the congregation from outside. The majority of the crowd appeared angry with the bishop.
Prior to Mass, about 40 people picketed in front of the church, carrying signs with messages that included: "Rectify, Redeem, Resign," and "No $$ to diocese until McCormack resigns."
During the discussion after the service, McCormack asked for forgiveness and said he was sorry people were upset. He frequently was drowned him out with either angry yells or applause for those questioning him.
McCormack said that though Cote sinned, he has acknowledged it and sought forgiveness. He also said Cote has been celibate for at least 10 years and is not a threat to anyone at the church.
The bishop was asked why he didn't tell the community about Cote's history. McCormack said it was a private matter that violated neither the law nor church policy.
He said he decided to assign Cote to Jaffrey because "it was not anticipated that this would be public."
McCormack also got into several heated exchanges, including one with a parishioner who accused him of ignoring letters of complaint from Jaffrey parishioners.
"No I didn't. No I didn't," he shouted. "Excuse me. I didn't ignore you."
In addition to Cote, the bishop also was asked about the Rev. James MacCormack, whom Cote replaced.
MacCormack resigned in May. Two months later, he filed a lawsuit accusing the bishop and other church officials of waging a campaign to keep him silent about a pornography collection discovered in the residence of a Manchester priest who died in 1999. The diocese has denied the allegation.
The bishop told parishioners MacCormack was not forced out of Jaffrey, but that he could not say more because of the pending lawsuit. He did say there was additional information about the case that people don't know about.
Many parishioners said after the discussion they don't believe McCormack.
"It's just more of the same. It's the same cowardly attitude he has with all of this," said Michael Neyens. "This guy covers his own backside. He has no concerns for the people he ministers to."
Neyens also said the congregation has lost faith in Cote and he should be replaced.
In a brief interview following the discussion, McCormack said he will visit the community again as part of regaining its trust. He also said he has no regrets about his decision to assign Cote to the parish.
"I think some people do believe me. In fact, some people leaving church said that," McCormack said. "But there are some people in the church who find it hard to believe me. So I have to decide what is the best way to restore their trust.
"Coming here today was the first step."
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