Victimized Twice: First by Priests, Then by Officials Who Brushed off Complaints

By J.M. Hirsch
Associated Press
April 13, 2002

Peter Pollard says he was victimized twice by the Roman Catholic Church.

The first time was sexual. In 1967, he says, a Massachusetts priest began "teaching" him to kiss, ostensibly to prepare the then-15-year-old boy for dating girls, and later asked him to masturbate in front of him.

The second blow came 20 years later, he says, when the Rev. John B. McCormack, then an official in the Boston Archdiocese and now bishop of New Hampshire, dismissed his complaints about the priest, the Rev. George Rosenkranz. "He said that it's possible in the course of working with kids and providing support to kids in the church that he may have 'expressed affection' to them that was misinterpreted in some way as sexual," Pollard said in a telephone interview this week.

Pollard and a growing number of other victims and alleged victims of pedophile priests say the failure of church officials to stop the abuse was as bad as the molestation.

"I really do see the damage here as being caused by the abuse of power more than anything sexual," said Pollard, now 50.

McCormack, Cardinal Bernard Law and other top deputies of Law in Boston "could have put a stop to this" but "instead just continued it."

"They don't get it - that they're actually the culprit," Pollard said.

People who say they sought help from McCormack tell of being rebuffed, offered a prayer or assured that the problem was being handled.

McCormack has refused repeated requests for an interview, although in a statement Friday he promised to respond soon to questions about his tenure in Massachusetts.

He has said he is sorry for the harm done by priests who "broke the trust of their office," and he has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for priests facing credible accusations of molestation and has released names of priests who faced such accusations in the past.

McCormack entered the seminary in 1952, and was a classmate of John Geoghan, Joseph Birmingham and Paul Shanley, three Massachusetts priests who over several decades collectively account for more than 150 allegations of sexual abuse.

Birmingham is dead and efforts this week to reach the other accused priests directly or through the archdiocese were unsuccessful. Geoghan was recently convicted of groping a boy in a swimming pool and has been accused of abusing more than 130 boys.

McCormack was in charge of ministerial personnel for the Boston archdiocese from 1984 to 1994, and handled sex abuse complaints against priests for Law from 1992 to 1995.

Based on those jobs, McCormack has been accused of helping to shuffle accused priests through different parishes and of covering up or ignoring their behavior.

A Connecticut man, John Morris, says McCormack brushed off accusations of sexual abuse against Birmingham even earlier.

In a telephone interview Friday, Morris, 47, said he twice went to McCormack in the mid-1960s when McCormack and Birmingham served together at St. James parish in Salem, Mass.

Morris, then 10, recalls "confessing" to McCormack that "some of the things happening around the church" were making him have "dirty thoughts" and perform "dirty actions."

Morris says McCormack responded: "John, this will be all right. God will forgive you."

He says McCormack then told him to say several prayers for penance and never spoke to him about it again.

Birmingham also is accused of molesting James Hogan, in the 1960s. Hogan says the abuse continued for four years.

Hogan, now 47 and living in Wilmington, Del., contends McCormack knew he was a frequent visitor to Birmingham's rectory bedroom and saw the priest lead him into the room and close the door.

McCormack has said he doesn't remember seeing anyone go into Birmingham's room.

As director of ministerial personnel, McCormack also dealt with Shanley.

According to church records, a woman wrote to church officials in 1985 that she heard Shanley speak approvingly about sex between men and boys. The letter was given to McCormack, who suggested to Shanley that they "get together and talk someday."

Shanley continued working as a priest, including at a parish in San Bernardino, Calif. Letters in church records include one in which McCormack consoled a depressed Shanley with words from Shakespeare: "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

In his statement Friday, McCormack said he was disturbed by Shanley's statements and actions but still treated him with respect.

Though archdiocesan records contain molestation allegations against Shanley beginning in 1967, McCormack said he did not know of them until 1993.

During interviews under oath in August for lawsuits involving Geoghan, McCormack said that in the early 1990s, the archdiocese reviewed its files on every priest accused of abuse to determine if action was needed.

But McCormack played a role in moving Geoghan around the archdiocese, and Geoghan was not defrocked until 1998.

Law also has been widely criticized for allowing accused priests to be moved from parish to parish. He has faced calls to step down, but on Friday, he issued a letter pledging to serve the archdiocese "as long as God gives me the opportunity."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.