Lawyer Says Priest Records Destroyed

Union Leader (Manchester NH)
January 7, 2003

The records indicate Gendron, who was bishop of the Diocese of Manchester from 1975 to 1990, destroyed documents once at the request of an accused priest and again at the request of a facility treating another priest for abuse.

Patrick McGee, spokesman for the diocese, said Gendron did destroy the documents in question because they were private medical records and were made available to the diocese only on condition they be destroyed.

McGee said the intent never was to cover up allegations of abuse.

"If the intent were to destroy any record of that, then that letter itself would not be in there," he said.

McGee did not know how to reach Gendron, who is retired. He did not know if Gendron still was in New Hampshire.

Mark Abramson, lawyer for more than 60 people suing the diocese over alleged abuse by priests, said in a motion filed Jan. 2 in Hillsborough County Superior Court that the destruction of the records amounts to fraudulent concealment.

"In fact, the church went to devious lengths to hide its enormous, complicit responsibility" in the sexual abuse of children, Abramson wrote.

He added that Gendron "personally ordered the destruction of harmful documents while keeping those he thought might protect the diocese from civil liability."

Abramson's motion was filed in response to the diocese's request to dismiss his clients' lawsuits. The church argues the statute of limitations has expired, but Abramson said it does not apply when the diocese destroyed evidence.

A judge has yet to rule on the matter.

Evidence of the destruction is contained in letters Gendron wrote in 1986 and 1989. Copies of the letters were included with Abramson's motion.

In the first letter, Gendron assured the Rev. Philip Petit that he would "certainly destroy all documents, notes, etc., referring to your treatment" for sexual misconduct.

Gendron went on to say he would keep a 1982 letter from Petit's doctor saying the priest was making progress and that an incident in Dover was isolated.

"This letter was written after the situation in Dover requiring your transfer to Berlin," Gendron wrote. He added, "I feel I need to retain this document for legal protection should any questions ever surface about your reassignments in the diocese.

"With the exception of this particular document, everything else has been destroyed."

In the same letter, Gendron told Petit the diocese also was increasing his monthly stipend by $50.

Petit, formerly of St. Jean de Baptiste in Manchester, is named in a lawsuit filed in April by David Labrie, of Manchester, one of Abramson's clients. Labrie says Petit molested him from 1979 to 1981.

McGee has said Petit left the ministry in 1986. McGee did not know whether he was retired.

When the lawsuit was filed, McGee said Petit's name was not included on a list of priests accused of misconduct the diocese had released two months earlier because the diocese knew of no previous complaints against him.

Yesterday, McGee said he did not recall giving that explanation, but that if he did, "I made an error." He could not explain yesterday why Petit's name had not been included on the list.

Gendron's second letter, written in May 1989, responded to a request by Servants of the Paraclete, a Jemez Springs, N.M., treatment center for priests, that an evaluation of the Rev. Gordon MacRae be destroyed.

"I will, as you request, destroy the various psychological reports you included," Gendron wrote.

MacRae, a former Keene priest, was convicted in 1994 of raping a 15-year-old boy during "pastoral counseling" sessions in 1983 at St. Bernard's Church rectory. MacRae is serving a 33 1/2- to 67-year prison sentence.

MacRae later pleaded guilty to assaulting three other boys.


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