Religion, Law Clash at Bishop Guertin

By Kate Munro
The Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
November 17, 1997

NASHUA The disclosure that a convicted sex offender was knowingly hired by a Catholic school has resulted in a collision between faith and state laws meant to protect children.

Students, parents, and staff at Bishop Guertin High School rallied behind Brother Shawn McEnany, who had pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault in 1988 in Lewiston, Maine.

While the school community, including the administrators who hired him, defended McEnany, the Nashua police arrested him on two criminal charges. He faces a felony charge for working with children of the past seven years while being a sexual offender and a misdemeanor for not registering with the police department as a sex offender.

Matt McSorly, the communications director for the Manchester Diocese, which gives Bishop Guertin the mandate to operate, said it was an unfortunate situation.

"We have a clash between two things that we as Catholics and as Americans believe in one is the need for redemption and forgiveness and the other is protection of our children," he said. "It's a very sad thing that these two ideas clash around one individual."

Those who vouch for him say McEnany, who has taken a vow of celibacy and poverty, is a good teacher whom students feel comfortable talking to.

"He's always been a wonderful instructor and friend to both of my children. I know him to be a very good and kind person," said parent Dorothy Doran of Hollis.

David Burtman, 20, who graduated in 1995, said, "He's proven himself as an excellent teacherI think bygones should be bygones."

And Brother Leo Labbe, the school's headmaster, spoke highly of McEnany in a written statement last Thursday, and of his "significant contributions he has made to the lives of the students and their families."

Labbe, however, did not return phone calls last week.

And yet, Lt. William Barlow, the head of the Nashua Police Department's Youth Services Division, questioned why a private school would knowingly hire someone with McEnany's background. There have been no such cases in local public schools that Barlow could remember.

"Why would a school take a chance in hiring someone" with that background? he asked. "Putting children in that type of possible harm is opening yourself up to a civil liability that's tremendous."

While many at Bishop Guertin feel McEnany should be forgiven, Barlow defended the state law. People can change, he said, but the law was passed with the idea that society doesn't want to take a chance with putting children in danger.

"The chances of something else occurring (with) children far outweigh him losing an occupation," he said.

Marcia Sink, the executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, which works with sexually-abused children, said there's no way to be sure a person has reformed.

"I don't think there's ever a guarantee. That's really difficult to say. We all want to believe that people can change and some probably do," she said, "but there's enough data that shows, given the opportunity to reoffend, many pedophiles will."

And former Bishop Guertin student Alfred Thompson, who is now attending Rivier College, said "as a Christian," he must forgive. But he said he questions the school administration's decision to keep McEnany after the school became co-educational.

McEnany was convicted of a sex offense against a 15-year old girl. The school began admitting girls in 1992.

"As an institution, Bishop Guertin should have considered the possibility, even the outside possibility, that the incident could have been repeated," Thompson wrote in a statement. "I would not be surprised if this incident leads many parents to question the school's administration.

"I still trust and respect Br. Shawnfor what he has done in Nashua, not Lewiston. People have to forgive and move on," he said.


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