Bishop John B. McCormack: Role in sex abuse scandal still questioned
Manchester (NH) Union Leader
July 9, 2002
As Bishop John B. McCormack nears the end of his fourth year as spiritual leader to New Hampshire's Catholics, questions linger about his role in one of the most explosive crises to beset the church. Prior to becoming the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Manchester in September 1998, McCormack was one of Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston's top deputies charged with handling clergy sexual misconduct cases.
McCormack, 66, was secretary for ministerial personnel in the Boston Archdiocese from 1984 to 1994.
During that time, he and Bishop Robert J. Banks, then vicar for administration and now bishop of Green Bay, Wis., shared the handling of clergy sexual abuse cases, McCormack told The Union Leader in a May interview.
After the scandalous sexual misconduct case of former Fall River (Mass.) diocesan priest James R. Porter broke in 1992, the Boston Archdiocese realized it needed a policy and procedure for dealing with these cases, McCormack explained.
Delegate for sexual misconduct: By mid-1992, McCormack said, he began taking over this role and was a key figure in drafting the archdiocese's new sexual misconduct policy. He officially became Law's delegate for sexual misconduct in early 1993. In his new role, McCormack said one of his first tasks was to review all priests' files for past allegations of sexual misconduct.
He said he found "at least 30 priests" who had past accusations against them.
Most of them were placed on administrative leave or retired, he said.
"The whole effort was to remove all these priests from being a danger to a child," he explained.
Shanley's handler: He said the file of retired Boston priest Paul R. Shanley never came up in this review.
While McCormack said "I was not involved in reassigning" priests, he said he recommended to the vicar for administration and independent archdiocesan review board that some clerics with past abuse allegations return to ministry with restrictions.
"I did, on certain occasions, but it would be to restricted ministry where he would never have contact with children," he explained. McCormack stressed, however, that since Feb. 15 he enacted a policy for the Diocese of Manchester that immediately removes a priest from any ministry who has a credible allegation of child sexual abuse against him.
Shanley was indicted June 20 on 10 counts of child rape and six counts of indecent assault and battery for allegedly abusing four boys from 1979 to 1989 while he served in a Newton, Mass., parish.
The 71-year-old priest will plead innocent to the charges at his arraignment tomorrow in a Cambridge, Mass., court, his attorney, Frank Mondano, said yesterday. Shanley is in jail on $300,000 bail.
Shanley went on sick leave from the Boston Archdiocese in 1990 with at least 15 child sexual abuse allegations in his personnel file and written complaints from several Catholics about his publicly advocating sex between men and boys.
McCormack was Shanley's handler when he went on sick leave in 1990 and moved to the Diocese of San Bernardino.
But McCormack said he never knew of Shanley's alleged sordid past until 1993 even though church records show Shanley's first sexual abuse allegations were made in 1967 and even the Vatican inquired of Shanley's teachings on homosexuality as early as 1979.
More than 1,000 pages of church documents, the first batch of which became public under court order in April, reveal, however, that McCormack knew about two sexually-related incidents involving Shanley prior to 1993.
One involved an upstate New York woman's complaint about a 1985 speech Shanley gave in which she quoted Shanley as saying children seduce adults into having sex with them.
McCormack spoke with Shanley about the remarks and concluded the woman "misunderstood him," the records show.
McCormack told the Union Leader in May that he regrets not picking up on the remark at the time, but said he never thought Shanley really meant what he said or would ever practice it.
But when questioned under oath last month by the attorney representing one of Shanley's alleged victims, McCormack said he now believes Shanley was talking about his work with child prostitutes who were soliciting sex.
McCormack said he was unaware of Shanley's past -- including Shanley's endorsement of man-boy sex at a 1979 Boston conference that led to the formation of the North American Man Boy Love Association -- until Shanley's personnel file became public in April.
McCormack blamed this on poor record keeping by the Boston Archdiocese. Asked whether there was a secret file kept on Shanley by the archdiocese, McCormack said he doubted this was case.
"I don't think they kept a secret file for damage control. I think matters like this would be in his confidential file and, yes, the file I went to didn't have those papers," McCormack said.
But when deposed a month later in the Shanley case, McCormack reportedly said the archdiocese kept a "secret archive" on abusive priests to which he didn't have access, according to parents of one of Shanley's alleged victims who were present during McCormack's deposition. McCormack said he would ask Banks and Bishop Alfred C. Hughes, now archbishop of New Orleans, for access to Shanley's confidential file but he "never saw any of those other papers."
He also said Shanley "duped" him into believing he was broke only to learn later that Shanley and another Boston priest co-owned a gay motel in Palm Springs.
Geoghan case: McCormack also denied having any role in transferring former Massachusetts cleric John J. Geoghan from parish to parish despite numerous allegations of child sexual abuse against him.
"That's not true. The only thing I did with Geoghan was remove him out of a parish and then, based on the recommendations of his treatment facility, I recommended he . . . ought to do something so he could work with retired priests and he would have no contact with minors," McCormack said.
McCormack said he first learned of past allegations of sexual abuse against Geoghan when he began his review of priest personnel files after becoming delegate for sexual misconduct in 1993.
Geoghan is accused of molesting more than 130 children in different Massachusetts parishes over three decades and was convicted and sentenced to prison for abusing one.
"Looking back at it now, the diocese made some, for want of a better word, bad mistakes in transferring him," McCormack added.
Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham: McCormack also has said he now questions his handling of parents' complaints that the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham was molesting children at St. James parish in Salem, Mass., in the 1960s.
McCormack also served at that parish in the 1960s and was graduated from seminary with Birmingham, along with Geoghan and Shanley.
McCormack said he told one parent who complained to him about Birmingham in the early 1970s to go to the pastor.
But Birmingham was transferred to other parishes and eventually made pastor of St. Ann Church in Gloucester, Mass., in 1985 while McCormack was secretary for ministerial personnel.
McCormack now is a defendant in a civil suit brought by 40 men who allege Birmingham molested them as children at several Massachusetts parishes.
Asked why he didn't take steps to stop Birmingham when he became secretary for ministerial personnel, McCormack said, "I've asked myself that question.
"The one thing I can say is that I had thought he had stopped . . . his behavior or he wouldn't have continued that far," he said.
McCormack said he once confronted Birmingham, telling him he was aware of his behavior.
"I spoke to him about his past behavior and told him that I knew about it. And he told me that he was clean," McCormack told The Union Leader in May.
But another release of church documents, nearly 1,000 pages made public by court order June 4, show McCormack in 1987 brushed off a father's concern that Birmingham might have AIDS and could have abused his son.
"I have a real and rightful concern about this whole matter. I am concerned about the AIDS situation and about a priest possibly molesting my son," a Gloucester, Mass., father wrote Cardinal Law.
The father, whose name was redacted in court documents, belonged to St. Ann Church where Birmingham recently had resigned for "health" reasons.
The parent became worried because he learned the same priest had been removed from St. James Church in Salem around 1970 for molesting boys there.
McCormack wrote back to the parent, saying he talked to Birmingham, who assured him "there is absolutely no factual basis to your concern regarding your son and him."
"From my knowledge of Father Birmingham and my relationship with him, I feel he would tell me the truth," McCormack wrote in 1987.
Boston attorney Matthew J. McNamara, who in 1995 represented one of Birmingham's alleged victims, wrote that his client told McCormack in the 1980s that Birmingham had molested him. "The truth, of course, is that Father McCormack was very close to Father Birmingham," McNamara said. Both priests graduated from St. John's Seminary in 1960, were "long term" friends and often took groups of boys on ski trips while at St. James parish, he said.
McNamara also wrote that Birmingham may have died from AIDS-related complications and faulted McCormack for not providing pastoral assistance needed to ease his client's anxiety over this.
Several of those who said they were molested by priests recount their experiences in dealing with McCormack.
Rev. Edward Kelley: Former Massachusetts altar boy Stephen A. Lewis told McCormack in 1992 that he was molested by the Rev. Edward Kelley in the 1960s when he was a child.
Two months passed and nothing was done, Lewis said.
Taking matters into his own hands a month later, Lewis tracked Kelley to a Medford church where he said he found a parish school playground teeming with children and learned Kelley was in charge of the K-6 religious education program there.
"McCormack had known about this for months. Then . . . he says he hasn't even brought it up with Kelley. That's when I got furious. That's when I hunted Kelley down," Lewis, 45, of Lynn, Mass., told The Union Leader in May.
After confronting Kelley over the telephone, Lewis said he got a call from McCormack. But by then, it was too late.
Lewis instead decided to sue Kelley and the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. He received a $10,000 out-of-court settlement in 1996.
Lewis said Kelley molested him several times in 1968 and 1969 when he was an altar boy at St. Mary Church in Lynn. Lewis said he repressed the memories until scores of sexual abuse allegations surfaced against the Rev. James R. Porter of the Fall River Diocese in 1992.
Lewis said he told McCormack about being molested by Kelley at a September 1992, meeting with McCormack. "He (McCormack) said he would bring the accusation to the priest. He said he would pray for me as we were going out the door," Lewis added.
A week before Thanksgiving, McCormack called Lewis to say he still hadn't spoken with Kelley. McCormack said he was going away for a week, Lewis said.
"Do you feel I should speak to him before I go, if you want I will?" Lewis recounted McCormack's words.
Lewis said he replied, "Excuse me, Father, but the urgency is not with me."
Lewis said McCormack told him he would get back to him.
"I didn't trust him. As a matter of fact, I was furious about getting such a call and learning he hadn't even approached him (Kelley) yet," Lewis said.
"He didn't take me seriously. It's the idea they're above you. It's a sense of control. They have this arrogance that they are so far above you," Lewis explained. Lewis also said he has contacted the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office about Kelley's trips to Camp Fatima, a summer camp for boys in Barnstead owned by the Catholic Diocese of Manchester.
"Kelley used to go up there every summer. When he was stationed at St. Mary's, he would take kids up from St. Mary's," Lewis said.
"They called them waiters," Lewis explained of the youthful volunteers Kelley tried to recruit to wait on tables at the camp. "It was well known around the school, but when I heard Father Kelley was in charge, I wouldn't have anything to do with it."
Rev. Ronald H. Paquin: For Timothy Menihane, his 1992 meeting with McCormack to report years of sexual abuse he said the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin inflicted on him was a turning point in his regard for the priesthood.
The seminarian who himself planned on becoming a priest had just confronted the trauma of his alleged past abuse in the wake of the Porter scandal.
Menihane came to church officials for help. But he said he was struck by the lack of Christian response he got.
McCormack, he said, was "pretty cold" when he told McCormack of how Paquin had sexually molested him for years beginning when he was in junior high at St. Monica Church in Methuen, Mass.
While Menihane said he reached an out-of-court settlement with archdiocese and was offered counseling, the lack of compassion struck him.
"I was interested in nothing more than getting better. I thought that was going to be McCormack's number one priority. But I learned as soon as we started talking that was not the number one priority," Menihane, 39, of Methuen told the Union Leader in May.
"Basically, he was telling me that this is a business. We have a way of dealing with it and you're welcome to continue to pursue your own life, we're going to pursue ours," he added.
"That was pretty much the formal split with me" from the church, Menihane explained. "My entire childhood growing up . . . I always had a deference toward the priests. I lost it back in 1992. They don't deserve that anymore."
McCormack was involved in many of the cases of 10 priests accused of child sexual abuse whose personnel files were made public by court order June 4.
A judge ordered the Boston Archdiocese to turn over the nearly 1,000 pages of church documents to attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who is pursuing a lawsuit on behalf of a man who says he was repeatedly raped by Shanley.
The following are summaries of several cases McCormack handled based on church personnel files:
* The Rev. Ronald H. Paquin, 59, had 18 child sexual abuse complaints against him by Dec. 1, 2000, while two other alleged victims were considering bringing formal complaints. The Boston Archdiocese had settled eight of them.
Paquin, who said he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a child, began molesting children as early as 1964 when he either was a seminarian or just before entering the seminary.
Paquin was assigned to St. Monica's Church in Methuen, Mass., after he was ordained in 1973, where he allegedly molested numerous boys. He was transferred to St. John the Baptist Church in Haverhill in 1981, where he allegedly continued to molest children.
Since 1994, top Boston church officials recommended Paquin be defrocked four times. Paquin refused.
A Massachusetts grand jury indicted Paquin May 15 on three counts of child rape. Paquin pleaded innocent and is being held on $500,000 bail in a Massachusetts jail. He is accused of sexually abusing a boy multiple times between March 1989 and January 1992.
McCormack became involved in Paquin's case in mid-1990 at the request of Bishop Hughes.
McCormack sent Paquin to be assessed at a Canadian treatment center that summer and recommended he be removed from pastoral ministry until he underwent residential treatment.
"There is a serious concern how he has expressed his care and concern for young boys," McCormack wrote.
After Paquin underwent residential treatment at St. Luke Institute in Suitland, Md., McCormack recommended in 1991 that Paquin not work with young people.
Paquin went on sick leave in September 1990, and enrolled in a pastoral education program at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.
But Paquin's new ministry didn't keep him from visiting a young man he was "romancing" before he left the nearby Haverhill parish, McCormack wrote in a confidential memo in 1991.
In 1994, a man complained to the archdiocese that he contracted AIDS as a result of Paquin's alleged abuse of him years before, McCormack wrote in a memo to Paquin's secret file.
"If what he described in this report really happened, it is pretty bad," McCormack wrote.
With more reports coming that Paquin was seen in the company of young teenage boys despite being on sick leave, McCormack that year recommended the priest be defrocked. Law accepted the recommendation.
After the Porter case broke in 1992, Paquin was sent to Our Lady's Hall in Milton to be "warehoused."
In 1996, the Rev. Brian M. Flatley tried to get Paquin to leave his part-time job at a CVS store because he could not work with teenagers, church records show.
Paquin resisted, saying McCormack had approved his working there.
In July 1998, Paquin was made part-time chaplain at a Cambridge hospital, which infuriated several of the priest's alleged victims when they learned of it, church records show.
He was removed from the post in November 2000 and suspended as a priest. The next month, Law wrote the Vatican requesting Paquin be laicized.
"It is my judgment that he is the cause, potential and actual, of grave scandal," Law wrote Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, on Dec. 26, 2000.
* The Rev. Ernest E. Tourigney was first confronted by church officials about his alleged abuse of children in 1974 after a Holliston pastor and the parish housekeeper reported that he had molested a boy in the parish.
Tourigney denied it when confronted by Robert Banks.
By 1995, five alleged victims claimed Tourigney had sexually abused them.
After taking over Tourigney's case in June 1992, McCormack sent the priest to a St. Louis, Mo., residential treatment center. McCormack, who had access to Tourigney's confidential file, removed the cleric from public ministry, placed him in counseling and in a supervised living situation.
The next year, McCormack wrote that Tourigney still was not ready to return to ministry. He "does not understand the impact he had on victims," he said.
While several alleged victims said they were pleased with how McCormack had been handling Tourigney's case since he took it over in 1992, they criticized the Boston Archdiocese's approach to these cases.
"There is no doubt about our mutual agreement that Ernest Tourigney is, and has been for many years, a dangerous man," the alleged victims, whose names were redacted, wrote McCormack in 1993.
But they attacked the archdiocese for its "pastoral approach" to investigating child sexual abuse by clerics, saying church officials refused to treat it as a crime and seek out more victims.
They also said the church was more concerned about abusive priests than it was about their victims.
"The archdiocese's refusal to take a proactive role in the recognition of childhood sexual abuse as a criminal matter is a point we will never understand or reconcile," they wrote.
"The . . . refusal to formulate investigative teams to surface victimized children, in our minds, is a wanton neglect of its moral obligation to its members and society as a whole," they added.
In 1993, two alleged victims said they felt McCormack "manipulated" them by soliciting their comments on a draft sexual misconduct policy the archdiocese was developing in 1992 only to find none of their input was included in the final document.
* The first entry in the Rev. Richard Matte's personnel file dates back to 1992 when two complaints were made against him.
McCormack scheduled Matte for a psychological assessment at St. Luke Institute in Maryland on Nov. 15, 1992.
McCormack also interviewed Matte, who denied the allegation the mother made.
"I am not sure what side to support in the understanding of Father Matte's behavior. Part of me sees him as being very indiscreet. He also speaks about not remembering things. Then I wonder whether he is denying," McCormack wrote in an Oct. 29, 1992, summary to Matte's confidential file.
Matte was sent to a residential treatment facility in Canada in 1993.
There are three allegations against him by November 1993.
In February 1994, McCormack writes Matte saying he no longer can be in parish or public ministry.
Cardinal Law adopts McCormack's and Review Board's Nov. 8, 1993, recommendation that Matte be placed in a residential house and encouraged to find other work since he will not be placed in parish ministry and can have no contact with adolescent males.
* McCormack became involved in the Rev. Bernard Lane's case in 1993 at the request of Bishop Hughes. McCormack had access to Lane's confidential file from the start.
Hughes reported a 1978 incident of "rather lewd conduct" with a teenager at Alpha-Omega House in Littleton, a residential program Lane developed for "street kids" to give them a last chance before going to jail.
The youth alleged Lane was naked when he touched and embraced him in his room, records said.
A criminal prosecutor found the allegation not credible and dropped charges.
McCormack's investigation consisted of a telephone call his aide, Sister Mulkerrin, had with the wife of the new director of Alpha-Omega house. The woman recalled an allegation had been made, but didn't know the substance of it.
There is no record McCormack spoke with the alleged victim.
"My impression is that Father Lane must have been overextended and probably was not using good judgment at time. This is just an intuition," McCormack wrote in a confidential memo to Hughes in 1993.
"I recommend that the matter not be pursued," he wrote.
He wrote Hughes that he would "not encourage" bringing the matter to the Sexual Misconduct Review Board.
Hughes, in a handwritten note to McCormack at the top of the confidential memo, asked: "Why do you recommend not going before the board? I appreciate all the steps you have taken, but I wonder about your last sentence."
Later that year, new accusations began to surface against Lane, and Law put the cleric on sick leave on McCormack's recommendation.
From 1993 through 2002, the archdiocese received 10 sexual misconduct allegations against Lane. The archdiocese settled one claim out of court by 1995.
The alleged victims said Lane would engage in therapy sessions that included massaging and masturbating the youths or giving them vigorous full-body massages that he called "body rushes."
Some alleged victims said Lane abused them at his family's lakeside cottage in Barnstead, which had a bedroom equipped with ceiling mirrors and colored lights.
Another alleged victim, who claims Lane digitally sodomized him once or twice weekly in 1974 at Alpha-Omega House, said he witnessed teenage men lying naked in the house masturbating each other and reading pornographic magazines. Triple X-rated films also were available.
In 1994, an archdiocesan review board said that, "in light of legal claims," Lane should not do any public ministry in the near future. It suggested his case be reviewed in two years.
The Rev. Charles Higgins asked Lane to submit his resignation and go on retirement status in June 1999.
Lane was assessed at a Connecticut residential treatment center where he was found to be able to continue in "unlimited ministry without restriction."
McCormack questioned this finding and recommended in 1994 that Lane live with other priests.