Bulger Case Shows Contrasts

By Albert McKeon
Nashua (NH) Telegraph
March 5, 2003

A priest, at times unmoved but other times in categorical denial of the abuse allegations lodged against him.
An alleged abuse victim, traumatized by the multiple assaults and concerned that the priest could harm again.
A diocese, addressing a complaint it claims to have first received in 2001, but also holding a 1974 document that outlines an abuse allegation.

The same diocese, revealing its concern about a potential scandal just months before the clergy abuse crisis gripped the Roman Catholic Church.

This thumbnail sketch of accused, accuser and church appears in the Diocese of Manchester’s personnel file on the Rev. Albion Bulger. As with the files of 54 other priests – released Monday by the state attorney general’s office – Bulger’s folder provides a glimpse into a brilliant career marred by allegations.

“Father Bulger is a bright, articulate and sophisticated priest,” the Rev. Edward Arsenault, the diocesan chancellor, wrote of Bulger in October 2001. “His experience as a leader in the church has served him well and he is insightful as to (the) severity and purpose of his resignation, retirement and evaluation.
“In fact, his willingness to do so in a cooperative fashion adds further credence to my sense that he likely did assault (the victim) and cannot recall the details thereof.”

Bulger, the former pastor of Parish of the Resurrection in Nashua, had received praise for his clerical work. He displayed great intellectual capabilities, earning a master’s degree at the respected University of Louvain in Belgium.

He also had to resign in September 2001, two months after the diocese claims in its files that it received its first allegation against him.

A man had stepped forward and claimed Bulger assaulted him twice in 1974: once at the priest’s retreat in Barnstead and later at the rectory of St. Kathryn Church in Hudson, the file said.

Most of the diocesan records released on Bulger show the diocese acted swiftly upon hearing the allegation in 2001. The diocese removed Bulger from his parish and offered him treatment – just months before the clergy abuse crisis broke, and shortly before Bishop John McCormack started permanently removing all priests who faced a credible allegation from ministry.

The diocese, specifically Arsenault, feared that if Bulger stayed in ministry, he could have possibly harmed children and cast a cloud of scandal over the church.

But the diocese knew in 1974 of Bulger’s alleged behavior.

In a letter addressed that year to Monsignor Thomas Hansberry, then the diocesan chancellor, Monsignor Raymond Blair wrote of a Derry woman who complained that Bulger gave her 15-year-old son “something to drink (wine or liquor – unknown) and then would have relations.”

Blair, now retired, wrote that the boy had a mental condition that had already led him to a breakdown, but the relationship “naturally made his condition more serious.” Blair also wrote that the alleged abuse occurred the previous summer, in 1973, and that a male friend of the boy had also made the same complaint. The woman, though, told Blair that both boys had a tendency to lie, the letter said.

“The woman felt very badly to have to relate this to us but in justice to the youth of the parish, she felt that the authorities should know that these two boys have accused Father of this,” Blair wrote. “She impressed me as being a very honest and sincere person and felt badly about bringing these charges against Father, not knowing for sure if they were true.”

Hansberry, who has since died, made decisions on clergy assignments as part of his duties as chancellor. Blair’s letter has the diocesan seal in the top, left corner, and the letterhead of “The Tribunal,” a board on which both monsignors apparently had a seat.

Comprising the bishop, clergy and laity, the diocesan tribunal is a forum in which members administer church law. The tribunal, for instance, typically reviews a couple’s request for an annulment.

The tribunal does not make decisions on sexual misconduct, diocesan spokesman Pat McGee said Tuesday. The fact that the allegation appears on tribunal stationery does not necessarily mean the tribunal addressed it, McGee said.

At some point, Hansberry would have put the letter in Bulger’s file, McGee said.

The allegations prominently addressed throughout Bulger’s file, or at least the portion made public this week, focus on charges of abuse in 1974, when he served as pastor of St. Kathryn. Bulger, 72, could not be reached for comment.

A man came forward in July 2001, and claimed Bulger molested him twice at the age of 15, the file said. The man also alleged that Bulger sexually assaulted his boyhood friend, who has since died.

The man held his complaint until 2001 because he apparently wanted to protect his family from shame, the file said. “His father passed away last year and this obstacle now no longer exists,” the file said.

Also, Bulger had recently celebrated the funeral Mass of the man’s relative, and the man had learned through family members that Bulger still was an active pastor, the file said. The man wanted Bulger removed from ministry because “even at his advanced age (when he may not have sexual feelings anymore) . . . Fr. Bulger should not be acting in the name of God.”

The man recalled that his mother called the diocese after the second alleged assault in 1974, and a priest told her “the matter would be addressed.”

Contrary to that claim, Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian told members of the Parish of the Resurrection in 2002 that the man’s recent complaint marked “the first (time) the diocese had an allegation against Father Bulger.”

The man stated he had “strong feelings of guilt and remorse after the second assault and that he contemplated killing himself, but those feelings eventually subsided,” the file said.

Arsenault interviewed Bulger after the man came forward.

Bulger’s “demeanor during my initial telephone conversation and meeting with him was strange,” Arsenault wrote. “He was emotionally benign and showed no sign of expressing any emotional reaction to the accusation . . . He was ‘matter of fact’ when I pointed out that he had corroborated most of the circumstances of the allegation and had just denied the accusation of molestation.”

Arsenault noted in the file that Bulger said, “What can you do about it anyway?” Bulger also quoted, in Latin, Thomas Aquinas’ observation on how perceptions are the custody of the person who perceives them, Arsenault wrote.

In his recommendation, Arsenault wrote that he believed Bulger had likely assaulted both boys. He had advised Bulger to resign as pastor no later than September 2001.

Arsenault’s reasons, as listed in his Oct. 1, 2001, recommendation, for Bulger’s resignation and retirement:
* The immediate cessation of him as a representative of the Bishop of Manchester.
* The immediate removal of him from proximate ministerial contact with minors.
* The potential for grave scandal if this matter becomes public.
* For his own good, the protection of his own right to a good reputation, which is placed in serious jeopardy by this allegation.

Since permanently removing Bulger from ministry last year, and as the scandal unfolded, Arsenault and the diocese have stressed that church officials erred in their understanding and handling of priests charged with abuse.

The state, in reaching a criminal plea agreement with the diocese, contends the church placed the institution above abuse victims, but did not intend to harm them.

A month after retiring, Bulger received an evaluation at St. Luke’s Seminary in Maryland, a psychiatric facility for clergy and those in church ministry.

The facility recommended Bulger undergo residential treatment, a suggestion Arsenault favored. Arsenault also advised McCormack that if Bulger does not approve of residential help, he might accept an outpatient program.

But Arsenault, in November 2001, wrote in a confidential memo to McCormack that Bulger may not accept any treatment after all. “Would outpatient treatment be better than (none) at all?”

Arsenault also proposed allowing Bulger to jointly celebrate Mass only in private with other priests, for instance, at a clergymen’s funeral but not at a confirmation. This limited privilege could possibly motivate Bulger to seek treatment and would allow him to see “us as truly interested in his well-being,” Arsenault said.
Bulger’s prolonged absence from gatherings of priests could damage his “good reputation,” Arsenault wrote, and his absence, while he still lived in New Hampshire, would be noticed.

“I would not want to inadvertently, in an effort to protect the church and the larger community from another possible boundary violation by Father Bulger, to damage his good reputation among priests to which he is entitled.”

About three months later, the diocese would make the reasoning behind Bulger’s retirement public.

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