Rev. Roger Fortier: Bishop Claimed Problems Were Unknown to Him

By Nancy Meersman
Union Leader
March 4, 2003

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Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian feigned ignorance when probation officials questioned him about the Rev. Roger Fortier’s past child-abuse history, according to documents released by state Attorney General’s office yesterday in its investigation of the Diocese of Manchester.

After a jury convicted Fortier of 17 counts of sexual assault against two altar boys at a small Roman Catholic Church in Farmington, state investigators wanted background on him in order to make a sentence recommendation.

Christian insisted Fortier had overcome a drinking problem once, but never exhibited what the church terms “lifestyle difficulties.”

Christian wrote in a Sept. 18, 1998 letter to a probation officer that Fortier’s “sexual problems with youth were unknown to the Diocese and it is, in my mind, unfortunate that he did not make use of his time in treatment to deal with those other issues ... “

The bishop reflected that, had Fortier addressed “lifestyle” issues when he was counseled for alcohol problems, he might not now be facing a prison term.

Not mentioned was that if the judge had known about Fortier’s history, he might have handed down an even stiffer sentence than the 30 to 60 years Fortier got.

The Attorney General’s Office said yesterday, in releasing its investigative file into the church’s cover-up of sexual abuse against children, that if the Manchester diocese had not signed a consent decree it would have been prosecuted for the Fortier matter.

In Fortier’s case, the state “was prepared to present one or more indictments to the Hillsborough County Grand Jury charging the Diocese of Manchester with endangering the welfare of children ...” according to documents.

The fact was, Christian was well aware that Derry police had been investigating Fortier in 1984 for taking male adolescents to a known homosexual friend’s home at Beaver Lake, giving them liquor and showing them videos depicting homosexual acts.

According to state investigators, Fortier was also giving minors alcohol in his rooms at the St. Jean Baptiste rectory in Manchester during that period.

Christian knew about the behavior because he called Fortier in for a talk the day after being contacted by Derry police — to whom he expressed vexation that they were “under the delusion that the diocese knew all about these matters.”

Fortier at that time admitted some of the allegations to Christian and acknowledged he was a homosexual.

It wasn’t until 1998 that Fortier, with numerous parish assignments behind him, was convicted by a Strafford County jury of 17 sexual assaults on two Farmington boys and was finally locked up.

The lifestyle problems in Derry and Manchester did not impede his career track.

Three years after Derry police gave up trying to prosecute because of statute-of-limitation hurdles, Fortier was named to the Diocesan School Board. Over the next 15 years he was assigned to a succession of southern New Hampshire parishes.

His final assignment was as pastor of the small Holy Rosary parish in Farmington — he couldn’t shoulder too heavy an assignment because of a heart ailment, according to church records.

Nevertheless, his victims, in hundreds of transcript pages, never mention the heart ailment. They describe countless acts of fellatio, digital penetration and sexual manipulation which they were forced to perform and which were forced on them.

The AG’s investigative file contains an obituary published in a newspaper. Why it is in the file is not explained. The date the item ran is not shown and the entire text is blacked out, except for the Farmington dateline and the person’s age: 17.

Despite the damage Fortier had done to the church’s reputation, and untold victims, church officials remain solicitous of him. They ask about his health concerns and promise to visit him in prison.

On Aug. 31, 2001, Bishop John B. McCormack agrees with the recommendation of Chancellor Edward Arsenault to boost Fortier’s stipend in prison — and that of convicted pedophile priest Gordon McRae — from $100 to $150 a month “plus individual submitted by them.”

In an undated letter to “Dear Roger,” Bishop McCormack commiserates over Fortier’s surgery to remove a lymph node. He says the news that Fortier lost his Supreme Court appeal was disappointing, but God would show him a way to deal with it.

“ ... I hope that it will not be too long before I have another opportunity to visit with you and Gordon,” the bishop writes. “If you think there is something I can do, please drop me a line and let me know. Don’t let it wait.”


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