Bishop Calls Rev. Haller Situation a Tragedy

By Benjamin Kepple
Manchester Union Leader
November 25, 2002

Auburn-- Bishop John B. McCormack told parishioners at St. Peter Catholic Church yesterday to look to God for guidance as the parish dealt with revelations surrounding their pastor's removal from the ministry.

On Nov. 21, the Rev. James Haller, 66, resigned as pastor in a letter to parishioners after allegations surfaced about a relationship he had with a woman more than 20 years ago. Church officials said the woman was a minor at the time.

Yesterday, as McCormack spoke, he did so without a bishop's shepherd's staff or mitre. He said it was somewhat inexplicable that a person could do such good in the ministry while having done such wrong many years ago. And, in his homily, he also reminded worshippers that Christ was with them.

"We walk by faith in him, not by sight, humanly speaking," McCormack said. "It's not easy, but Christ is with us. And Christ will guide us if we are open to his way of loving one another."

"We should never feel alone," McCormack said later in his homily. "But with Him, we shall overcome this, and arise to new and better life."

Earlier in the service, McCormack spoke more directly to Haller's situation. He said that Haller had admitted what he had done and was sorry for it, and pledged that the church would do all it could to help the young woman.

"The whole situation is tragic -- tragic for the woman, tragic for Father Haller, and tragic for all of us," McCormack said.

McCormack spoke of the situation as a "grave matter." But while he said the gravity of what was done could not be minimized, Haller's good work should also not be forgotten.

McCormack also said that staff workers from Catholic Charities would hold meetings over the next month at the church to help parishioners deal with what happened. He also noted that the Rev. Bernie Campbell had been appointed as an interim pastor for the parish.

Campbell, diocesan officials said, would take care of both the administrative and spiritual needs of the parish until a permanent replacement is named.

McCormack spoke at yesterday's 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Masses, while Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian spoke at the 8 a.m. Mass.

It's not the first time McCormack has held Mass at a parish after reported allegations or revelations of priestly misconduct.

In March, he spoke at St. Joseph Church in Epping after its priest, the Rev. Ronald Corriveau, was accused of sexual misconduct in the early 1980s.

And in October, McCormack spoke at St. Patrick Church in Jaffrey after the Rev. Roland Cote was accused of sexual misconduct involving a teenage boy.

Meanwhile, diocesan spokesman Patrick McGee said that the diocese was providing some assistance to the woman, who contacted the diocese through her attorney. But he would not offer any details about what that assistance entailed, saying the woman wanted to stay anonymous.

"That was her request and we're trying to honor that as best we can," McGee said.

McGee also declined to say where Haller had served as a priest prior to his arrival at St. Peter 17 years ago, although he said Haller had served as a priest in New Hampshire since he was ordained.

McGee also would not say how old the woman was when the alleged relationship took place, or what it involved, except to say that she was a minor. Under church policy, that's under 18 years old.

"It was a relationship with a minor that we felt violated the sexual misconduct policy of the diocese," McGee said.

Many parishioners leaving St. Peter's 10 a.m. Mass yesterday didn't want to discuss the matter. Those who did, though, were largely supportive of Haller. They remembered him for the good work he did while pastor of St. Peter Church.

"He was a very good priest and I just feel very badly and saddened. And I forgive him," said Kathy Toomey, of Auburn.

Another female parishioner, who spoke on condition that her name would not be used, said she was disappointed that Haller had not had the chance to say good-bye to the congregation.

"I have been tormented since (I found out). Father Haller is a great guy," she said. "The only mistake I can see is that he fell in love with a minor."

The woman also took issue with comments made about Haller in Sunday's edition of The New Hampshire Sunday News, in which another parishioner referred to Haller in disparaging terms.


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