Carolyn B. Disco: a More Balanced Assessment of Bishop's Leadership

Union Leader

September 25, 2008

The 10th anniversary of Bishop John McCormack's installation in the Diocese of Manchester calls for a balanced evaluation of his tenure. The question might be posed, "Has McCormack healed the Body of Christ so damaged in these years?"

The article, "Bishop McCormack suffered and learned," by Kathryn Marchocki (Sept. 21) features laudatory opinions exclusively in the prominent front-and back-page spread. Those opinions cite McCormack as an effective administrator who rode out the storm due to his personal leadership style; claim he maintains his stature and credibility in the diocese; and that the clergy love him dearly because of his pastoral sensitivity; and finally, propose that his perseverance is a model for all Catholics.

The majority of comments on the Union Leader Web site below the article are in direct opposition to the tenor of those quotes. They cite McCormack's refusal to acknowledge his culpability in enabling the sexual abuse of minors, multiple refusals by parishioners to donate to the church as long as he is bishop, or their abandoning Catholicism altogether, and McCormack's manipulation of the truth and a loss of credibility.

What is telling is that even before McCormack's surgery (successful, thank God), there were no plans for public celebration by the diocese of the anniversary of his appointment. Perhaps anticipating controversy, he himself disavowed any remembrance. More noticeable is that no priests were quoted in the article as natural first responders about the bishop's pastoral qualities toward them; the non-Catholic head of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, an outside agency, provided that insight.

The revealing part of the coverage comes from McCormack's own reflections. What he suffered and learned were how transformative it was to stay, as a family member does not desert the family, that he is wiser and more sensitive to the pain of others, that he embraced the suffering, faced reality and learned to love more.

Sadly, McCormack is not reported as even mentioning the ongoing trauma of survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Instead, it's all about some priests who disillusioned him, about his suffering, his wounds, his sorrow, his anguish.

Here is clerical narcissism on display: I am the singular focus. McCormack considers himself exempt from having caused alienation or a "clouded" view of himself as bishop. "They" just refuse to see the goodness in the church.

It's how "it" (the scandal) affected others. The passive voice again, not how "I did not tell the truth to survivors, covered up sexual abuse and criminally endangered children." That is the reality he denies. (Search "John McCormack" at

McCormack's repeated apologies are about "mistakes," which is an affront to the truth. And it is the truth we desperately need so we can move forward.

Where is McCormack's sense of self-awareness? He told members of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership in 2004 that the scandal was the "passion of the church" and described himself as a "victim." He also emphasized that he did nothing legally or morally wrong.

There was no sign of understanding by McCormack of the real human suffering he caused. He actually disputed that any of his decisions led to a child being abused -- barring one minor incident. Such entrenched self-delusion is sad if not tragic in a bishop.

When confronted with reference to a memo in his own hand indicating detailed knowledge of John Geoghan's abuse four years before McCormack admitted knowing those facts, he turned defensive: "I'm not on trial here. The state of Massachusetts brought no criminal charges. The state of New Hampshire brought no criminal charges." Evasions and denial followed.

Regarding his assignment to ministry of a priest in New Hampshire with years of compulsive sexual encounters, McCormack said, "I didn't read the file. I didn't know about his history. I relied on others to make recommendations." He mimicked Cardinal Law's response in Boston about McCormack, trying to have it both ways. Exonerate yourself, whether you are an aide with no power to appoint priests or a bishop who depends on aides to read files. How can someone rationalize like this?

McCormack grew to adulthood in a closed clerical environment that no doubt shaped his thinking. But "the system made me do it" is no excuse. I would welcome reconciliation wholeheartedly if based on the truth, on reality. Survivors deserve that healing witness, as does the entire Body of Christ, and Lord willing, even McCormack himself.

Pending such clarity on his part, McCormack's episcopacy remains tainted.

Carolyn B. Disco is survivor support chairman of New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful and co-founder of New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership.


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