Lawsuit Says Roman Catholic Church Leaders Destroyed Child Porn at Dead Priest's Home

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 23, 2002

A Roman Catholic priest filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing Bishop John B. McCormack of waging a campaign to keep him silent about the discovery of a dead priest's pornography collection.

The Rev. James A. MacCormack sued the Diocese of Manchester, McCormack and other church officials seeking undisclosed damages, saying they derailed his career to avoid a scandal.

The diocesan chancellor, the Rev. Edward Arsenault, denied the allegations and accused MacCormack of digging for money.

"We are deeply saddened that a priest has chosen to attempt to capitalize on the death of a fellow priest for personal gain," Arsenault said.

MacCormack and his lawyer, Robert McDaniel, have pressured the church for money through "a series of threats to expose the difficult circumstances of the death of a priest in exchange for financial consideration," he said.

McDaniel denied his client was motivated by money, saying he wants to "clean up the sordid and reprehensible pattern of lies and deceptions. That's what he's motivated by. At no point ever was there the slightest suggestion by anyone that our client's silence could be purchased."

McDaniel also said he informed the state attorney general's office and federal investigators about the case because his client alleges church officials destroyed the child pornography, which could have been evidence of a crime. Attorney General Philip McLaughlin would not comment on whether his office was investigating.

McDaniel conceded diocesan officials never specifically ordered MacCormack to stay quiet about the priest's pornography. But he said the bishop led an effort to ensure MacCormack's silence, including accusing the priest of mental instability.

His client's lawsuit, filed in state court, accuses the defendants of fraud, defamation, wrongful discharge and intentional infliction of mental distress.

Bishop McCormack has come under heavy criticism this year for his handling of sex abuse claims in his former post as an aide to Boston Cardinal Bernard Law.

The lawsuit says the case began Nov. 15, 1999, when MacCormack helped authorities identify the body of the Rev. Richard Connors, who had died of a heart attack the night before at the home of two men.

According to the lawsuit and police records, Connors was clothed partially at the time of death and had a black leather device tied around his genitals. The two men told authorities Connors had come to the house to buy a dog.

Connors, 56, had been a mentor to MacCormack and was carrying his friend's business card when he died, so MacCormack was summoned to identify the corpse.

After initially saying MacCormack's account of the death was incorrect, Arsenault said during a news conference he would not refute the reported circumstances of Connors' death.

After assisting authorities, the lawsuit says, MacCormack went to Connors' rectory. There, the suit says, he was joined by the Rev. Donald Clinton, a friend of the dead priest, and the Rev. John Quinn, head of financial affairs for the diocese.

Quinn allegedly told the priests to help him scour Connors' residence for anything embarrassing. The lawsuit says the clergymen found hundreds of pornographic videotapes, as well as many pornographic images depicting "men engaged in sexual activity with boys."

The material was loaded into a car and later destroyed, according to a police report.

Arsenault said Connors was living an "immoral life" and that commercially produced homosexual pornography was found and disposed of in a parish trash bin in Concord. But none of the pornography involved boys, he said. He also said no abuse complaints had been lodged against Connors.

Arsenault acknowledged that church officials did not view any of the videotapes to determine whether they contained child pornography, and that police did not have a chance to look at them before they were disposed of.

MacCormack's lawsuit says church officials never mentioned the Connors incident to him again and that, in June 2000, he was assigned as pastor to St. Patrick parish in rural Jaffrey.

But in February, when the clerical abuse scandal began to grow, the bishop and others started viewing MacCormack as a threat, MacCormack's lawyer said.

McDaniel said his client found himself increasingly involved in confrontations with Bishop McCormack, who insisted the priest was mentally unstable and needed help.

MacCormack, 42, consented to a psychological evaluation in April. Though he was found to be mentally sound, Arsenault told the clinic conducting the examination that MacCormack lacked "any prudent sense of with whom to share confidences," according to a copy of the psychological report reviewed by The Associated Press.

Arsenault would not comment on the evaluation, nor what had prompted his concerns about MacCormack's sense of confidentiality.

MacCormack said he left his parish a month later, after the bishop became angry he was quoted in a weekly newspaper criticizing the church's handling of the sex abuse crisis.

The diocese maintains MacCormack left his church assignment of his own free will.

MacCormack entered the priesthood late in life. As a young man he worked for years as a quality control engineer in Massachusetts. But in 1987 he ended a five-year relationship with his high school sweetheart to follow his calling into the church and was ordained in 1997.

MacCormack said he has not returned to church since leaving St. Patrick. He plans to ask to be formally released from the priesthood.

"I feel violated emotionally and spiritually," he said.


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