Four Priests Accused in N.H. Lawsuits

By J.M. Hirsch
Associated Press
April 9, 2002

Manchester - A priest accused in a civil lawsuit of molesting three brothers once held one of them under water in an apparent display of his power over the boy, the brothers' lawyer said Tuesday.

The alleged incident occurred about 20 years ago when the Rev. Mark Fleming, then at John the Evangelist parish in Hudson, took the boy, then 10, on a trip to the ocean, lawyer Mark Abramson said Tuesday.

The allegation is in one of four lawsuits Abramson filed Monday on behalf of six men who say they were sexually abused by priests. The lawsuits accuse officials of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester of failing to protect the men from the alleged assaults, the most recent of which was in 1983.

Calls to the churches involved Tuesday failed to turn up anyone who even recognized the names of the accused priests. One of the priests is deceased, and none of the other named priests had a listed telephone in the state. There is an unlisted number for a Mark Fleming in Manchester, where Abramson said the former Hudson priest lives.

Patrick McGee, spokesman for the diocese, would not comment on the substance of the lawsuits. He did not know how to reach any of the men.

In a written statement, Bishop John McCormack said he was saddened by the reports and committed to helping anyone sexually abused by a priest.

Abramson said the brothers' family reported the assaults in 1983 and the case went to the attorney general's office. Abramson does not know why, but it was not prosecuted. Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker said he could not comment on the 1983 allegations, or the current lawsuits.

McGee said that while Fleming has not been defrocked, his right to minister was revoked in 1983 when an accusation was made against him. McGee did not know whether it was the same allegation that prompted the brothers' lawsuit.

Fleming is accused of "savagely sexually assaulting" all three brothers between 1974 and 1983. They are not identified in their lawsuit. Abramson said they were molested around 100 times each.

During a trip when one boy was 10, he said, "Fleming took him to the ocean and when they got into the water he held him under the water.

"(The boy) wrestled and got away from him and he pushed him under again. This time he held him for a very long time."

Abramson believes it was Fleming's way of showing the boy how much power he had over him.

He says the brothers, all grown and successful in their fields, have come forward to show that's not the case any more.

"They felt like this is something they had to do because the church has been less than honest with them," Abramson said. "They grew up in a very religious family with a wonderful set of parents. Imagine the parents. These were really nice people who sent their children over to the rectory to play. They're thinking they're responsible."

According to the lawsuit, most of the assaults against the brothers took place at the church rectory. The lawsuit says another priest at the parish, the Rev. Stephen Scruton, knew of the abuse, did nothing to prevent it, and molested one of the boys himself. Scruton does not have a listed telephone number in the state.

In February, the diocese released the names of 14 priests and former priests whom it said had had credible allegations of molestation against them. Scruton, who was on the list, no longer works as a priest. He was fired from a job as a counselor for sex offenders at a jail in Massachusetts when the list was released.

The lawsuits were filed Monday in Hillsborough County Superior Court. Fleming and two other accused priests were not on the list released in February.

They are the Rev. Philip Petit, formerly of St. John the Baptist in Manchester, and the Rev. Francis Lamothe, formerly of St. Margaret Mary in Keene. The fourth priest accused in the lawsuits was not identified. He allegedly molested a child in the Holy Trinity Rectory in Somersworth.

McGee said Fleming was not on the list because the diocese believed he was dead and only learned otherwise when informed by Abramson.

McGee said Lamothe was retired when he died in 1995, and that Petit had not served in the ministry since 1986. McGee did not know whether he was retired, but said this is the first complaint against him the diocese has received.

In his introduction to the lawsuits, Abramson accused church officials of "utter failure to make even the most minimal effort to protect them from harm."

David Labrie of Manchester alleges in one lawsuit that he was sexually assaulted by Petit from 1979 to 1981 and suffered severe physical injuries as well as emotional trauma. Abramson said Labrie's case only recently was reported to authorities.

Jeffrey Theberge, of Fremont, made similar allegations against Lamothe for the years 1979 to 1982.

Thomas Eschmann of Somersworth accused a priest of assaulting him at the Holy Trinity Rectory from 1966 to 1968. Abramson said Eschmann was not certain of the priest's name, but would determine his identity later.

Abramson said Theberge and Eschmann's cases were never reported to authorities.

"They have been devastated by this," Abramson said of the six men. "It's had a major impact on all of their lives."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.