Arsenault Tells Pastors Not to Allow Group to Distribute Materials

By J.M. Hirsch
Associated Press, carried in Foster's Daily Democrat [New Hampshire]
Downloaded April 2, 2003

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Roman Catholic priests around the state have been told not to allow a group pushing for the resignation of Bishop John McCormack to distribute materials at their churches, diocese officials said Tuesday.

"I don't think it's a constructive contribution to healing in the church," the Rev. Edward Arsenault, chancellor of the Diocese of Manchester, said of the group's request that McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian step down.

The group, New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership, said Monday they have begun a campaign to force the two bishops to leave, saying the men played significant roles in the priest sexual abuse crisis and lack the moral authority to lead.

McCormack and Christian have acknowledged making mistakes, but say they have no plans to resign. Since becoming bishop of New Hampshire in 1998, McCormack has instituted aggressive policies to protect children.

Catholics for Moral Leadership said their efforts to remove the bishops will include grass-roots organizing, including distributing information at several parishes this weekend.

In response, Arsenault sent an e-mail to the state's pastors telling them not to allow that on parish property. Catholics for Moral Leadership included a copy of the e-mail in a Tuesday news release. Arsenault verified that it was his memo.

"There is an indication that this group intends to 'distribute' their information in parishes this weekend," Arsenault wrote. "Obviously I ask that pastors refrain from allowing this group from distributing any material on your parish property."

Arsenault also said he has spoken to members of the group and said they "have not listened to much reasoned response. While I want to be as kind as possible, both their information and their goal are seriously flawed."

On Tuesday, members of the group said they were deeply troubled by the church's response.

"We are deeply dismayed that the diocese would seek to ban us from speaking to our fellow parishioners on our own parish's property," said Maggie Fogarty, a Catholics for Moral Leadership member. "The bishops must be very afraid of what we have to say if they would take this step to stop parishioners from being heard."

Another member, Anne Coughlin, said the group still plans to ask various pastors if they can distribute materials at their churches this weekend.

"All we want to do is quietly and respectfully hand people a piece of information. They can read it if they want. They can discard it if they want," she said. "We're definitely not interested in being confrontational."

Arsenault said he is willing to work with anyone trying to help the church, but those people must be willing to work with the leadership of the church.

McCormack has been accused of shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish when he served as a top adviser to former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law from 1984 to 1994.

McCormack has acknowledged making mistakes, including being too optimistic that molesters could be rehabilitated.

In documents released last month, state prosecutors said Christian misled authorities and victims about abusive priests. Christian said he never knowingly misrepresented the facts and tried to deal honestly with priests and victims.

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