Conflicting Reports Lead to Confusion

By Kathryn Marchocki
[Manchester NH] Union Leader
March 7, 2003

The late Bishop Leo E. O'Neil was confused by conflicting recommendations he got on an Indian priest seeking an assignment here.

One letter from Bishop Leon A. Tharmaraj of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kottar, India, said the Rev. Anthony M. Hilary drank too much and left India with several accusations of molesting girls, one of which was proven.

But the bishop wrote O'Neil six weeks later to say Hilary was a good priest with no known problems.

A puzzled O'Neil wrote back asking for an explanation for the conflicting accounts.

Tharmaraj replied in a third letter that the first letter, which confirmed the complaints against Hilary, was "confidential."

"The second letter is an official one wherein I have explained what the curia members feel about him," Tharmaraj wrote Sept. 21, 1995.

The letters are part of 9,000 pages of documents made public by the attorney general this week. Hilary was one of 36 diocesan priests whose files were released under an agreement the diocese struck with the state to avoid criminal prosecution.

Prosecutors were surprised to find two sets of documents regarding a priest -- one official and one confidential -- in church files, said Senior Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker.

"What's shocking about it is that apparently it's a practice that is accepted worldwide," he added.

But diocesan spokesman Pat McGee said this is not so.

The Manchester diocese's standard practice is to alert the diocese where a priest plans to move, explaining his living situation and that he is not a priest in good standing, McGee said.

McGee cited a 1995 letter in the files where O'Neil notified the Archbishop of Santa Fe that the Rev. John Nolin moved there after his public ministry was revoked.

Hilary was living with a friend on Manchester's West Side when he first arrived here and, by June 1995, was a full-time assistant at St. Patrick Parish, records show.

O'Neil inquired about Hilary's background after another Indian priest serving in the United States informed him of Hilary's troubled past.

Tharmaraj acknowledged the problems in his "confidential" letter, saying he was "trembling to recommend him" and pleaded to O'Neil to keep his comments confidential.

Based on this information, Monsignor Francis J. Christian, then chancellor, told Hilary the diocese had enough priests and there were no available assignments.

Before Hilary returned to India in December 1995, a woman from St. Patrick Parish told Christian that Hilary made an inappropriate advance on her.

Hilary left the country before Christian could confront him, but reported it to the bishop in India, church records show.


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