Catholics React with Sadness, Shock to Priest Allegations

By Harry R. Weber
Associated Press
February 16, 2002

Gorham, N.H. - The auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Manchester explained to parishioners Saturday why their priest was on a list of 14 Roman Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct years ago, and why he had been barred from working.

Of the 14, the Rev. John Poirier of Holy Family Parish in Gorham was the only one still working until the diocese took action Friday.

Instead of delivering a sermon before celebrating Mass in place of Poirier, Rev. Francis Christian told about 200 parishioners Poirier was accused of soliciting a teen-age boy for sex 26 years ago when he was at St. Paul's Church in Franklin.

He said Poirier underwent psychological treatment for six months in Milwaukee for "sexual addiction," and afterward, doctors deemed him no longer a threat to minors. The church allowed him to return to service, monitored by another priest, and he was assigned to St. Joseph's Church in Dover before coming to Gorham in November, Christian said.

Christian said that to the church's knowledge, there were no other accusations.

Addressing the removal of Poirier, Christian said the practice of letting priests return to work after therapy was a mistake.

"The important thing is that we don't make that mistake again," he said.

"We have to be absolutely certain that no young person is at risk. He (Poirier) would be the first person to tell you that he cannot guarantee he wouldn't do it tomorrow."

"He's obviously devastated. We're going to get him some emotional care," Christian told questioning parishioners after the service. "He's a good man; he's a hard-working man. This is an illness. We understand now with this type of illness there are no guarantees."

He said Poirier has been allowed to live at a "church institution" in southern New Hampshire indefinitely.

The Manchester Diocese, which covers New Hampshire, released the priests' names Friday, and said they were accused sometime between 1962 and 1987. They will be investigated for possible prosecution, Attorney General Philip McLaughlin said.

Catholics throughout the state expressed shock and sadness after hearing about the allegations. Many refused to believe them.

Judy Cloutier, president of St. Joseph's Parish Council in Dover, told Foster's Daily Democrat the allegations against Poirier were "ludicrous." Poirier served as associate pastor there from 1989 to 2001 before he became Holy Family's pastor.

Cloutier said she has worked through foster care and other programs with people who have molested children.

"(Poirier) just doesn't fit the profile," she said. "It just isn't him."

Poirier and 12 others could not be reached for comment. The one who could be reached denied the accusations.

Seven other priests, all retired or previously suspended, also were barred from serving Friday. The remaining six were retired or on sick leave. Effective Friday, the diocese revoked their right to celebrate Mass.

"No one likes to see this happen," said Miryam Hammond, pastor of Gorham Congregational Church, next door to Holy Family. "It reflects badly on the church."

Hammond said she couldn't believe the news. Poirier had been at Holy Family Church since November and was the church's third priest in eight months, she said.

"I was in total disbelief," she said. "I'm really hurting for the congregation."

In Nashua, parishioners said the same thing about Rev. Albion Bulger, who was pastor of the Parish of the Resurrection until he retired last September.

"I've seen him with kids, how he talked to them, and I never saw anyone back from him or feel weird around him," Evelyn Frechette, who has taught at the parish since 1990, told The Telegraph. "I never, never, never would believe this now. I can't."

The diocese released the names after the Archdiocese of Boston recently identified 80 priests in Massachusetts as having abused children during the past 40 years.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed there against the church, and some priests, including Manchester

Bishop John B. McCormack, a top church official in Boston before he came to New Hampshire in 1998.

Christian later told parishioners in Gorham there were no lawsuits pending against the church in New Hampshire.

McCormack addressed New Hampshire Catholics about the allegations in a letter to be discussed at churches around the state this weekend.

"There have been instances in New Hampshire where priests have had inappropriate contact with children," he wrote. "In each instance, the Church has responded to those affected by these criminal acts, reported the matters to civil authorities in accordance with state law and sought to heal the deep wounds that these violations of trusts leave behind."

"I assure you today that in view of all the cases, we know no priest who has abused a child is presently assigned to pastoral ministry," he wrote.

McCormack said the diocese is in the process of giving additional training to religious and lay employees regarding the church's policy on sexual abuse. He also is asking pastors to provide time to listen to parishioners' concerns.

"They need to get this stuff out and the sooner the better," said John Petit, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist in Allenstown, who served as an altar boy for one of the accused priests. "These are criminal issues."

Until the church deals with the issue, suspicion will hover around all priests - including many good ones, Petit said.

"There's priests who served a lot of people and done a lot of good, and people look at them funny," Petit told The Union Leader of Manchester. "There's good priests, and people sit in their pews and say, 'I wonder if...."'


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