Files: Church Understood Priest Abuse in 1950s

By Kathryn Marchocki
Union Leader
March 6, 2003

The late Rev. John T. Sullivan pursued an endless cycle of madness and human destruction, preying on young and teenage girls from Laconia and Claremont to Michigan and Texas for at least 35 years.

“What he’s done goes on into infinity,” said Pat Poling, 53, of Biloxi, Miss., who says she remains haunted by Sullivan’s fondling and rape of her in Texas 42 years ago.

“It really upsets me that he hurt so many people. It bothers me that I had to get hurt. It bothers me that people after me had to get hurt,” Poling said yesterday.

The story of Sullivan’s roundabout route to Amarillo, Texas, is as bizarre as Poling’s story is tragic.

A Concord native ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester in 1942, Sullivan fathered a child in 1949 with a woman in Claremont who had to be hospitalized after an attempted abortion and stalked a Boston College nursing student while he was stationed at Berlin’s St. Kieran Parish in 1952.

Other priests feared him. Parishioners accused him of pilfering church funds. By 1956, Manchester Bishop Matthew F. Brady had enough of his “scandal-causing escapades,” according to the priest’s personnel file the Attorney General’s Office made public this week as part of its agreement with the diocese.

Brady stripped Sullivan, who died in 1999, of his priestly faculties in 1952 and again in 1956.

“At times I have considered him insane, diabolically cunning, and again, as at present, sincerely remorseful,” Brady wrote the Very Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, superior general of the Servants of the Paraclete’s Via Coeli monastery in 1957, asking if he would accept Sullivan.

Fitzgerald wrote back that men with Sullivan’s problems would be classified as “schizophrenic,” saying their repentance usually is a front to regain a position where they can resume their predatory behavior.

“A new diocese means only green pastures,” he said.

Fitzgerald said the church must develop a uniform code of “discipline” and “penalties,” adding “we are amazed to find how often a man who would be behind bars if he were not a priest is entrusted with the cura animarum.”

But Sullivan begged for parish work and wrote 17 dioceses from Bismarck, N.D., to Seattle, Wash. to Honolulu, Hawaii asking to be accepted.

Each time, Brady wrote the local bishops to warn them against taking Sullivan.

“My conscience will not allow me to recommend him to any bishop and I feel that every inquiring bishop should know some of the circumstances that range from parenthood, through violation of the Mann Act (interstate child prostitution), attempted suicide, and abortion,” Brady wrote in his standard response.

In his letters, Brady said the “only possible solution of his case seemed to me that he become a permanent guest at Via Coeli or that he be laicized.”

A state prosecutor who led the attorney general’s criminal investigation of the Manchester diocese’s handling of sexually abusive priests from the late 1950s to the 1990s was impressed with Brady’s “progressive attitude.”

“Each time, Bishop Brady wrote back in very blunt terms, ‘Don’t take this guy’,” Senior Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker said this week.


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