Priest Alleges Sex Cover up

Union Leader (Manchester NH)
July 24, 2002

From Staff and Wire Reports

A priest sued Bishop John B. McCormack and other church officials yesterday, alleging they ruined his career to keep him silent about the circumstances of another priest's death and the subsequent removal of "dozens of plastic garbage bags" of pornography from the St. Pius X rectory in Manchester.

The Rev. James A. "Seamus" MacCormack accused the church of shunting him off to a rural parish and forcing him to seek psychiatric help because church leaders feared he would disclose what he knew about the 1999 death of the Rev. Richard Connors -- just as the church's child sex abuse scandal exploded into the headlines earlier this year.

The lawsuit says the case began Nov. 15, 1999, when MacCormack helped authorities identify the body of Connors, 56, who had died of a heart attack the night before at the home of two men. Connors was a much-beloved pastor at St. Pius and credited with turning the parish around.

According to the lawsuit and police records, viewed by the Associated Press, Connors was partially clothed 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.

The Rev. Edward Arsenault, chancellor of the Manchester Diocese, said he was dismayed that MacCormack would malign another priest in order to pressure the church for money. He wouldn't go into detail about MacCormack's alleged demands, but he said, "We have never exchanged money for silence."

MacCormack's attorney, Robert E. McDaniel, reacted angrily to suggestions that his client was trying to "shake down" the church for money.

"I can't think of a more desperate act of a desperate organization," he said of the money-for-silence charge. "There is no way to buy Seamus's silence. He went public a long time ago. He reported this to law enforcement. He was never going to be silent." He said MacCormack's aim was to "clean up the sordid and reprehensible pattern of lies and deceptions" by church leaders. "That's what he's motivated by."

McDaniel said MacCormack told the Attorney General's Office about pornography depicting "men engaged in sexual activity with each other, and men engaged in sexual activity with boys."

Attorney General Philip McLaughlin refused to say whether he was investigating the matter.

McDaniel said MacCormack lost his calling and wanted a "relatively small amount of money to get him re-training and send him down the road." He stressed, "At no time did we ever suggest that his silence could be bought for money."

The lawsuit, filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court, was full of "falsehoods," Arsenault said, but during a news conference he would not refute the reported circumstances of Connors' death. The diocese faxed out a list of 26 facts to counter assertions in the lawsuit.

MacCormack alleges a church cleanup crew scoured the St. Pius rectory after the death of Connors, filling bags with videotapes, images, sex toys and other embarassing items, and destroyed them.

Arsenault said no child pornography was among the materials and none of the videos were homemade, although he acknowledged he hadn't seen them.

Later, the diocese said the priests who removed the items said all of the pornographic material was clearly marked as commercial adult pornography, and printed material consisted of pictures of adult males.

"The priests who saw the material did not view any of the tapes, but did inspect the covers and no covers depicted child pornography," the church said.

McDaniel said his investigation showed pornographic images of boys were among the materials destroyed. "We'll try that issue," he said.

According to the diocese, the cache consisted of 50 to 100 videotapes, along with magazines and pictures.

The lawsuit says MacCormack was called to identify Connors' body because police found MacCormack's card in the dead priest's pocket. 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. The two priests are also named in the lawsuit.

Quinn allegedly told the priests to help him scour Connors' residence for anything embarrassing. MacCormack said Quinn tried to comfort him by saying, "Don't worry. We've done this lots of times." 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." The homosexual pornography was 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.

According to the lawsuit, "The state medical examiner concluded that the deceased priest had died from heart problems which were likely exacerbated by the use of Viagra, and, that at the time of his death he was wearing a leather sexual device on his genitals."

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.

"Our theory is that when the scandal broke in February, the church looked to where the weak links were." They concluded, McDaniel said, that "Seamus had to be brought to heel and cast in such a light that he would not be believed."

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

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.

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 that he was quoted in a weekly newspaper criticizing the church's handling of the sex abuse crisis.


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