Collection for Abusers Angers Victim Advocates
Money Is for Priests Removed from Ministry
By Annmarie Timmins
Concord Monitor [New Hampshire]
October 11, 2006
Lawyers and others who work with victims of clergy sexual abuse said they are upset that a small group of Catholic priests has started a collection for clergy members who've been removed from ministry for sexually abusing minors. Accusations against priests no longer make the news like they used to, they said, but survivors are still coming forward and need encouragement.
"I have no problem with them reaching out to brother priests, provided they reach out to survivors as well," said Carolyn Disco of Merrimack, who advocates on behalf of people abused by clergy members. "I've talked about this (collection effort) with survivors, and I'm hearing negative feedback across the board."
The collection would also benefit financially strapped sick and retired priests who, like accused priests, receive a $1,300 monthly stipend and health care from the diocese each month. Only defrocked priests, of which there are two in New Hampshire, do not receive financial help from the diocese. Imprisoned priests have been receiving regular stipends.
Ann Hagan Webb, New England coordinator of SNAP (Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests), echoed Disco's concerns in a letter sent yesterday to the priest leading the fundraising.
"To some victims, your efforts will no doubt feel very hurtful," Webb wrote to the Rev. Michael Griffin, chaplain of St. Ann's Healthcare Center in Dover. "The impression some will have is that those who are raped get token verbal support, while those who raped get actual, tangible support."
The collection is the work of a non profit group, The Organization of Concerned Priests, which was started in July by several New Hampshire Catholic priests. The founding members include Griffin and several other Seacoast priests: the Rev. Robert Cole of two Dover parishes; the Rev. Paul Gregoire, who is retired and lives in Manchester; the Rev. Richard Kelley of Nashua; and the Rev. Aaron Pfaff, who oversees parishes in Somersworth and Rollinsford.
Before he retired, Gregoire was accused of sexual misconduct by a woman and removed from ministry. He was cleared of the accusation and reinstated through aggressive efforts by his parishioners.
The priests have listed a street address of a Dover parish on registration papers filed with the secretary of state's office. They listed their purpose as giving "financial and social" assistance to priests in need.
But many of the details of their efforts are unclear because the group's members declined comment or could not be reached. Kelley referred calls to Griffin, who did not return several messages. Pfaff was out of the office, and the others also did not return several phone calls.
In published reports, Griffin said the group wanted to be "merciful" to priests in financial need. In letters mailed last week, they asked each of the diocese's priests to contribute $1,000 to a "Mercy Fund" that will be dispensed to needy priests by a board of directors. The letter did not explain why the group added sick and retired priests to its cause or how it will award donations, according to those who read the letter.
Bishop John McCormack has not taken a position on the fundraising effort, according to diocesan spokesman Pat McGee, but he was told of it ahead of time. But the diocese did warn the state's priests in an e-mail last week that someone had "leaked" the fundraising letter to the media and that the Union Leader was preparing a story on it. McGee said yesterday that is the diocese's usual practice when it expects a story concerning the diocese.
Concord lawyer Chuck Douglas, who has settled several claims against the diocese for abuse victims, wasn't impressed when he read about the "Mercy Fund." He is still negotiating settlements for survivors and said yesterday, "Certainly there is nothing wrong with being compassionate, but that is not a cause I intend to attach any dollar amount to."
Webb wrote and faxed her letter to Griffin yesterday, immediately after learning of the "Mercy Fund." She said she would feel better about the donations to accused priests if she knew the money was paying for counseling services or other treatment for their abusive behavior. In her letter, she also asked Griffin to encourage priests to use their voices to encourage victims and witnesses of clergy abuse to come forward and get help or contact the police with their information.
"While some have heard and taken to heart these messages, many have not and still need to be prodded to break their silence, trust others, and start recovering from their horrific victimization," she said.
She also complained that too many dioceses are no longer prominently displaying information on their websites for abuse victims who want to report their abuse. That information is not obvious on the Diocese of Manchester's website (catholicchurchnh.org), but it can be found under a "child safety" tab. McGee said yesterday the diocese would look into making the information more prominent on the site.
But even that is not enough help for victims, according to Disco. She said many victims of clergy abuse are uncomfortable pursuing counseling or prosecution through the church and said the diocese and its priests need to be willing to promote other options, including Webb's group at snapnetwork.org and an anonymous abuse reporting site at victimpower.org.
"Why not take the opportunity to also help survivors?" Disco said.
There are still those who need the help, said Manchester lawyer Peter Hutchins, who has settled nearly 50 cases of clergy abuse against the diocese since the 60 claims he settled immediately after the state's clergy abuse scandal broke in 2002. He said the statute of limitations allowing claims against the diocese runs until at least 2008 (and possibly longer), and he's still hearing from new victims every two months.
"It's not at all over," Hutchins said yesterday. "This (Mercy Fund) sends the wrong message. A lot of these guys they are raising money for belong in jail. A lot of my clients were offended that they were never punished and were protected. And now they are being provided for."
It was unknown yesterday how local priests will respond to the collection request. The Rev. Paul Gousse of Immaculate Heart of Mary on Concord Heights, who's also the leader of parishes in the greater Concord area, did not return phone calls yesterday. Nor did other local priests. (The Rev. Anthony Kuzia of Sacred Heart and St. Peter's was not in the office yesterday, and the Rev. Raymond Potvin of Immaculate Conception in Penacook said he had not read the letter closely enough to respond in detail.)
A priest who declined to be named said he had to resolve a significant question before he could donate to the "Mercy Fund." Priests are taught that once they are ordained, they are always a priest because the sacrament makes an indelible mark on a man's soul. But he hasn't decided if a priest's behavior can jeopardize that standing.
"A person who is ordained is supposed to be a good priest," the priest said. "This is a question I have to resolve inside myself."
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 224-5301, ext. 323 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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