Report Details Auxiliary Bishop's Role

By Albert McKeon
The Telegraph [New Hampshire]
Downloaded March 4, 2003

Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian had kept a relatively low profile since the clergy abuse crisis captured the public's attention last year.

Christian emerged Monday when a state report faulted him for mischaracterizing the abuse history of a convicted priest.

The report also details Christian instructing a priest how to respond to abuse allegations so the diocese could prevent accusers from pursuing court action.

Christian expressed regret Monday about his 1998 statement on the history of the Rev. Roger Fortier, in which he said Fortier's "sexual problems with youth were unknown to the diocese."

Christian said he made the remark because he thought Strafford County Superior Court officials already knew about a Derry police investigation of Fortier years earlier.

"Along with Bishop (John) McCormack and the entire Catholic community in (New Hampshire), I have learned many painful lessons this last year," Christian wrote in a statement.

Christian's role in the handling of Fortier and several other priests charged with sexual abuse unfolds in the state attorney general's report on the diocese's handling of abuse allegations. The report based its conclusions on thousands of pages of church documents, and investigative interviews.

After receiving legal advice, Christian told Strafford County Probation Officer Stephen Carlisle that Fortier's "sexual problems with youth were unknown to the diocese," according to the state report and Christian's statement.

"When I stated Roger Fortier's 'sexual problems with youth were unknown to the diocese,' I was referring to the serious nature of sexual assault for which he had just been tried and convicted. As I look back now, it is clear to me that his previous behavior in Derry was sexual misconduct, and I wish that I had not made the statement to Mr. Carlisle in the manner that I did," the bishop wrote.

Assistant Attorney General Jim Rosenberg said Christian's remarks were one of many examples of diocesan officials making misstatements on abuse. Christian had direct knowledge of Derry police's 1984 investigation of Fortier's behavior with minors, Rosenberg said.

Derry police learned that Fortier assaulted one minor, and watched pornography with other minors, while providing them alcohol, in his Manchester rectory room, the attorney general said. Fortier was convicted in 1998 on 16 counts of sexual assault.

Christian worked as the diocese's chancellor from 1977-1996, when he was installed as auxiliary bishop.

Documents also show Christian telling the Rev. Paul Aube that when complainants ask about the priest's behavior, "it is better to be honest from the very beginning (sic) about the knowledge of the diocese and the treatment we had assisted the priest to obtain. Hopefully, this prevents the people in question from pursuing civil or criminal action."

Christian's statements show "a good effort to avoid scandal," Rosenberg said.

The state said it could have obtained numerous indictments against the diocese based on its mishandling of Aube. The priest was long a sexual threat to minors but the diocese kept him in active ministry, the state said.

"The victims were usually in great pain," Christian wrote. "I tried, with the assistance of others, to attend to their needs as fully as possible. I believe some would say I helped. I am also sure that for some I was not as sensitive or responsive as they would have wished. I apologize to any victim who did not receive from me the care and compassion of Christ."

Albert McKeon can be reached at 249-3339.

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