Bishop Tends to Flock

By Stacy Milbouer
Nashua (NH) Telegraph
March 3, 2002

Nashua -- Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian came to the Parish of the Resurrection on Saturday to celebrate Mass, "to share in the pain" of parishioners who recently learned their former pastor was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor � and to declare that priests like the Rev. Albion Bulger "are not moral monsters."

Before Mass began, Christian said both he and Bishop John McCormack felt it was important "to be here as soon as we could to share in your pain confusion . . . your anger."

Christian was referring to the fact that Bulger, who served as pastor of the Parish of the Resurrection from 1991 to 2001, was named by the Diocese of Manchester as one of 14 New Hampshire priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors during a 24-year span that ended in 1987. That announcement came, at the attorney general's request, on Feb. 15.

Ten of those priests served in Nashua-area churches at some time during their careers.

Christian filled the parish in on some details involving Bulger's case that had not previously been released.

He told the congregation that "in July 2001 an adult came forward and made an allegation concerning activities with Father Bulger that happened sometime in 1975-76.

"It was the first the diocese had an allegation against Father Bulger," he said.

According to official Catholic directories, Bulger was serving at St. Kathryn Church in Hudson from 1969 to 1975 and at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Salem from 1975 to 1990. He was ordained in 1956.

While Bulger told people he was retiring in the fall of 2001, and church directories listed him as retired, the diocese classified him as a priest who had his duties rescinded. Bulger could not be reached for comment since the list was released.

Christian told the congregation the diocese was not aware of any problems, "here at Resurrection."

He went on to say that as is true in all cases, "we did a thorough investigation. People involved were interviewed. Father Bulger was interviewed and he willingly went through a psychiatric examination. The diocese concluded that the allegation was credible. That is not an admission we made easily or lightly."

Christian went on to say that diocesan policy dictates "if there's a substantial case . . . a priest cannot remain in the ministry."

He said "the current state of understanding" about people who sexually abuse minors is that "it's a problem that can be controlled but not cured." He said like other compulsive behaviors such as alcohol or drug addiction, even if someone controls the behavior for years "there's no guarantee that tomorrow there won't be a slip. It's for that reason, to err on the side of the victim" that action was taken.

"Obviously these . . . situations are tragic for the victims who carry scars their whole lives. This is a terrible betrayal . . . "

Christian urged the congregation to pray for the victims and to pray for the people of the church. "If you can't bring your child to church and feel safe then where can you feel safe?"

The auxiliary bishop then asked for prayers for "all the priests who stand in pulpits week after week who don't have the same problem. This problem, a compulsion for sexual misconduct with children � actually with minors, because (the victims) ranged all the way up to 18 � cuts all across society, it's not just restricted to one group. Married men have had the same problem as some priests.

"The rest of us are painted under the same cloud of suspicion. I need you to pray that people don't blame all priests. The vast majority are wonderful men who lay down their lives for you."

Finally Christian asked parishioners to pray for the priests "who do have this problem. They are not moral monsters. They have a problem and that problem causes others to suffer. In our society we define people by their problems. Someone is a thief or a child abuser. Father Bulger did many wonderful things for all of you. He's a dedicated man in many ways. We need to remember not just his problem, but all the good things he did."

Christian concluded by saying the priority was children and that's why action was taken against Bulger and the others.

"We need to make the church safe, as unlikely as this would be to surface again. Finally pray for the bishops. We've been accused of many things. Never did we try to cover up these problems.

"Did we make mistakes? Yes. We didn't understand the problem fully 20 years ago."

Christian said in retrospect the advice the diocese received from professionals at the time wasn't right.

"That's different than covering something up. But we have to live with it. Pray we make the right decision for everybody," he said.

The auxiliary bishop also invited parishioners to come talk to him after Mass if they had concerns or questions and said that a new pastor would be named to the parish this summer.

In the same spirit of contrition, copies of a letter from Bishop McCormack were placed church bulletins throughout the state this weekend. McCormack sent out a similar letter right after the list of 14 priests was released.

The latest letter, dated March 2, expresses the bishop's hope "that our anguish for the Church, the victims and for the priests accused does not cloud the faith we have in God and the respect and care people have for their local parish and priest.

"Knowing the grief and embarrassment you and I can feel for all these matters, there is a danger of feeling alone and not dealing with our anxieties . . . in a constructive way. I encourage you to talk to about your sentiments and feelings with other parishioners, with your parish priests and with friends. The more we are able to talk about our concerns, the more our wound now opened can be healed, then we will begin to experience needed support.


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