DIOCESE OF MANCHESTER NH
“The entire church is facing the truth about the devastating crime and sin of sexual abuse by clergy, and it is a hard truth. So, we do not fear this truth; we use it,” Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack said yesterday in a statement.
McCormack, in a telephone interview, said the percentage of abusive priests in the Manchester Diocese exceeds the national average in part because of aggressive steps taken to address the crisis here.
“What it reveals is we worked hard in encouraging people to come forward and to be helped (with) being a victim of sexual abuse by a priest as a minor,” the bishop said.
“It proves we were effective in raising the consciousness, in being, for want of a better word, receptive and helpful to victims of sexual abuse,” he said.
The findings are included in one of two studies by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to document the scope and nature of clergy sexual abuse over five decades.
The Manchester Diocese, which encompasses the entire state, reported 55 priests were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, according to the numbers it submitted to the National Review Board.
Three of the 55 priests were from other dioceses, but were serving here with the bishop’s permission. The 55 priests represent 6.6 percent of the 831 priests who served in New Hampshire between 1943 and 2002, the diocese reported.
The diocese said it has reached 227 civil settlements with victims of clergy sexual abuse through last Dec. 1. Of these, 207 came forward between July 1, 2001, and last Dec. 1. The bulk of the abuse occurred in the 1950s and peaked in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the diocese said.
McCormack said the reports and the diocese’s efforts to address the crisis in the last few years show the problem of clergy sexual abuse and its effect on victims were “far greater than we thought.”
“I say to anyone who has been harmed by a priest or a representative of the church, I am sorry,” he said.
While McCormack said the church does not excuse the actions of abusive priests, he asked Catholics to remember that the vast majority of clerics have been faithful to their vows.
“There were 94 percent of our priests who are faithful, kind and generous in their pastoral life and service. And this study, although it’s hard and difficult, should not cloud their good life and ministry or the good works and mission of the church,” the bishop said.
The National Review Board reported a total of 10,667 abuse claims nationwide over the 52 years. It not only blamed abusive priests for this “disturbing” number but also the “shameful” leadership failings by bishops and Catholic leaders.
“What has been difficult over these past years is understanding the depth and extent of abuse and the effect it has had on people, particularly the survivors,” McCormack said in an interview.
“And so bishops . . . over those five decades . . . have learned a lot about handling it a lot more effectively. But, as you look at the past, it is a hard, difficult truth to look at,” the bishop added.
“I would say that I kept learning, and I had to learn,” he said.
McCormack was a top deputy to Cardinal Bernard F. Law in Boston from 1984 to 1998, when he became bishop of Manchester.
“I take responsibility for all that has happened and is happening in New Hampshire — that we are moving forward in light of what we have learned and in light of what we know our mission is,” he said.
Victims’ advocates have criticized the reports as understating the number of victims and not listing how many bishops knowingly transferred abusive priests.
Since victims often wait years before they report abuse, the studies probably do not reflect accurate numbers, said Manchester attorney Peter E. Hutchins, who represented scores of victims in civil suits.
“These crimes are underreported, and I certainly suspect there are many more instances which have not yet come to light,” Hutchins said in a statement.
“The numbers are staggering. The facts are hard to comprehend. I believe there is much more work to be done,” he said.
McCormack said the diocese gave the National Review Board the “most complete information we could” and urged any victim who has kept silent to come forward.
“I would say, come forward,” he said. “I am very receptive to learning their story and to say I’m sorry and to help them.”
While the national average is 4 percent, McCormack noted, the average number of accused priests by diocese in the United States ranged from 3 percent to 6 percent when broken down by region. New Hampshire is in Region 1, which saw an average of 5 percent of accused priests and deacons.
New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group, said the reports demonstrate failed leadership by bishops and repeated a call for McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian to resign.
“I am here to serve, and I will continue to serve,” McCormack said.
McCormack said he has met personally with 25 to 30 victims and about 30 others in a group setting.
“They taught me about the depth of their anger at the church. They taught me how much their life has been scarred,” he said.
McCormack said the reports’ recommendations affirm what the diocese has been doing to deal with the problem, help survivors and protect children.
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