Vatican Rejects Initial Pleas to Keep N.H. Churches Open
3 Catholic Parishes Slated for Merger

Associated Press, carried in Concord Monitor [New Hampshire]
February 10, 2007

The Vatican has rejected a state lawmaker's appeal of the merger of three Roman Catholic parishes.

In July 2006, Bishop John McCormack announced that St. Agnes Church in Ashland, St. Timothy in Bristol and St. Matthew in Plymouth would be merged to form Holy Trinity Parish. The Diocese of Manchester said the churches in Ashland and Bristol would close and all congregations would meet in Plymouth. A month later, Rep. Fran Wendelboe sent a letter of appeal to the Vatican linking the merger to a loss of respect for the state's Roman Catholic leaders because of the priest sex abuse scandal.

Wendelboe, a parishioner at St. Agnes, argues that McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian "are widely held in contempt" because of the scandal, and that their staying in office has led to a dramatic drop in donations, hurting parishes, the Diocese of Manchester and New Hampshire Catholic Charities.

The Vatican recently rejected that appeal, but Wendelboe, a Republican from New Hampton, said she isn't giving up. She hopes to raise $10,000 to take the matter to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Roman Catholic Church's highest court.

Patrick McGee, a spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester, has said the decision to merge the churches is part of a statewide attempt to deal with the movement of New Hampshire Catholics from urban to suburban parishes and the serious shortage of priests. He denies Wendelboe's claim that the sex abuse scandal led to the decision.

McCormack was a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston from 1984 to 1994, and Law's point man for child sexual abuse cases for a time. He has been accused of going easy on accused priests by helping to shuffle them from parish to parish and denying or minimizing their misconduct. He became bishop of New Hampshire in 1998.

Law was forced to resign as archbishop of Boston because of the scandal and some of McCormack's critics continue to urge him to do the same. McCormack has admitted making mistakes, and has instituted tougher policies to prevent sex abuse in New Hampshire.


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