N.H. AG: Church Could Have Faced Rap in Abuse Cases

By Robin Washington and Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
March 4, 2003

CONCORD, N.H. - The Roman Catholic Church in New Hampshire agreed to mandated reforms after conceding prosecutors "had evidence likely to sustain" convictions against it on multiple counts of child endangerment, the attorney general's office said yesterday in a scathing report detailing 30 years of abuse by priests.

Unlike the case in Massachusetts, New Hampshire's child endangerment and mandatory reporting statutes, as well as certain of its corporate criminal liability laws, made possible indictments against the church and its top-ranking prelates, the report found.

But officials chose not to indict after the diocese admitted its conduct led to the abuse of still more children and accepted a set of safeguards sought by the state.

"The diocese offers no excuses for its past actions," said Bishop John B. McCormack, who became head of the diocese in 1998. "We are sorry for our failures, but most of all we are sorry for the harm done to persons who were abused by priests."

The one-time personnel chief of the Archdiocese of Boston under Bernard Cardinal Law, McCormack is under fire from victims' advocates and others for his role in handling molester priests in the Bay State.

With the public release of some 9,000 pages of damning files on abuser priests, those activists also expressed disappointment with New Hampshire authorities for striking the Dec. 10 deal with the diocese.

"I do not understand why the attorney general, on the cusp of having the first diocese in America about to be found guilty of aiding and abettting the sexual molestation of children, decided not to prosecute," said Joseph Gallagher of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors.

While the attorney general's report says state prosecutors "would have had little difficulty" linking "the handling of sexually abusive priests" to top diocesan officials, the report makes no mention of McCormack or any other ranking Manchester cleric.

Instead, it focuses on eight New Hampshire priests whose careers "fairly portray the diocese's response over time" when learning of child molesters in parishes.

It also includes 23 other Granite State clerics, five order priests and 19 Bay State clergymen, including hundreds of pages of the Revs. Richard Coughlin, Thomas Donnelly, Robert Gale, Ronald Paquin and Robert Towner, who are accused of bringing minors to New Hampshire to molest them.

Among those are transcripts of interviews of priests and alleged victims with law enforcement authorities, including a former altar boy who said Paquin took him to Maine, New Hampshire, Florida and Canada as late as the 1990s.

In another transcript, of an extensive conversation last year between former priest Leo Landry and AG officials, Landry states he stopped abusing before his marriage 30 years ago.

But the files contain a further allegation against him as recently as the 1990s, when he was a high school teacher.

"The investigation confirmed the initial suspicions that in multiple cases the diocese knew that a particular priest was sexually assaulting minors," the report says.

Among the eight cited priests are:

** The Rev. Paul Aube, 61, who was ordained in 1970 and placed on administrative leave in 1994.

The diocese said it first learned of allegations against Aube in 1981, but the state found Aube was detained by Nashua police in 1975 after being caught having sex with a minor. No charges were filed.

A psychological evaluation by the church called Aube a risk to children, yet he was sent to minister in Rochester for six years, where he admitted molesting multiple teen boys, the report states.

** The Rev. Gordon MacRae, 49, who was suspended in 1988. He has pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and to felonious sexual assault and is serving 33 years in a Granite State prison.

The church knew of his behavior in 1983 but allowed him to remain in ministry, the report states.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.