Bishop Drew Distinction on Sex Abuse

By J.M. Hirsch
Nashua (NH) Telegraph
December 24, 2002

Concord, N.H. -- Questioned under oath about the church abuse scandal, New Hampshire's bishop suggested that it is less serious for a priest to have sex with someone from outside the parish than with a parishioner.

"You know, one is an activity where you have a trusted relationship with a parishioner. The other is an activity where you're away from the parish and you're off on your own," Bishop John B. McCormack said in depositions obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.

McCormack was discussing the Rev. Roland Cote's relationship with a youth while he was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Newport during the 1980s.

"I'm very concerned about that; he was a young person. But it's quite different from being with a parishioner," McCormack said.

Asked to comment, McCormack spokesman Patrick McGee said Monday that a priest having sex with a parishioner involves exploitation.

"Even if it's consensual, with a parishioner, there's probably an exploitation of the office there," McGee said.

Lawyers Roderick MacLeish Jr. and Robert Sherman questioned McCormack for five days between June and last month. The depositions, part of civil lawsuits in Massachusetts, have not been made public.

In the deposition, McCormack also acknowledged that Cote paid for the sex during the five- to six-year relationship. The two met when the teen was hitchhiking and Cote offered him a ride, McCormack said.

In an Oct. 1 deposition, McCormack said he learned only recently the boy had been paid.

Sherman gave no details of the payment or payments and did not say how he learned about it. McGee also knew no details and did not know how to reach Cote. Cote did not return a telephone message left at his last church.

In June, McCormack assigned Cote to a different St. Patrick's Church, in Jaffrey, without informing parishioners about Cote's history. He said kept quiet because he did not consider Cote a threat.

Before being transferred to Jaffrey, Cote served at St. Louis de Gonzague Parish in Nashua.

After the AP reported details of the allegations, Cote acknowledged the affair and resigned last month.

Cote has said the boy was 18 when the relationship began. But prosecutors believed he was either 15 or 16 and conducted a criminal investigation this spring, sources familiar with the case have told the AP. The investigation ended when prosecutors determined the boy was at least 16, New Hampshire's age of consent, one source said Monday.

McGee said the man, now about 35, told church officials this spring he was 18 when the relationship began. In his deposition, McCormack declined to talk about the conversation, saying it was confidential.

The youth's age is significant partly because the Diocese of Manchester considers anyone under 18 a minor. McCormack has pledged that a single credible allegation of sex with a minor will bar a priest from active service in New Hampshire.

In the deposition, McCormack initially said the youth was 17, 18 or 19. "I really don't know the actual age that it was finally concluded he was because that was where the discussion was," McCormack said.

But when asked an hour later whether that meant the relationship might have violated the diocese's policy, McCormack said he was certain the youth was at least 18.

"I'm sorry, I thought I heard your testimony earlier to be that he could have been as young as 17?" MacLeish asked.

"I don't know all the specifics of the age of minority," McCormack responded. "You said it was age 16. I'm saying no, I think it's higher than that. So then I said it must be 17 or 18, and I checked to see. It's age 18."

McCormack, who became bishop of New Hampshire in 1998, has been dogged for nearly a year by criticism of how he handled allegations of abuse while he was a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston. Law's resignation on Dec. 13 intensified calls for McCormack to step down.

Earlier this month, McCormack averted unprecedented criminal charges against the New Hampshire diocese in a settlement with the state. As part of the agreement, he acknowledged the church's handing of abuse allegations had harmed children.

Cote's case apparently prompted a change in diocesan policy. McCormack said all cases of alleged sexual misconduct by priests, including those involving adults, now will be presented to the diocese's review board. The church's written policy only requires cases with minors to go before the board.

McCormack said one and possibly two cases of alleged misconduct with adults were before the board. He did not elaborate.


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