Church says it learned its lesson
By David Tirrell-Wysocki
Manchester (NH) Union Leader
March 4, 2003
[Back to main
article of this feature, with links to other articles and documents.]
Concord -- The Diocese of Manchester says it has learned a big lesson
about how to handle predator priests: supervision or monitoring is not
The revelation, along with other lessons learned, is in a church report
released yesterday to accompany a comprehensive state report on how the
church responded to sexual abuse allegations over six decades.
"Essentially, the diocese learned that a person who has sexually
abused a minor cannot be adequately supervised or monitored," said
the 12-page church report, entitled "Restoring Trust: A report to
the people of New Hampshire by the Diocese of Manchester."
The lesson, Bishop John B. McCormack wrote, is why the church now acts
swiftly when it receives allegations.
"If there is even one credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor
by a priest, the diocese will remove the priest from ministry, and if
the accusation is determined to be true, that priest will not be allowed
to serve in ministry again."
In the past, the report said, the church generally responded by placing
a priest on leave or removing him from a parish, referring him for psychiatric
evaluation and treatment, or meeting with him to "urge him to acknowledge
his harmful behavior and exhort him to change his ways."
"These actions, especially simply exhorting a priest to 'change his
ways,' are inadequate and ineffective ways to deal with abusive individuals,"
the report said.
McCormack again apologized for the abuse and the inadequate church response.
"The forthright acknowledgment of failures of the past empowers us
to move forward toward a hopeful and brighter future," he wrote in
a personal message accompanying the church document. "While no one
can change the past, together we can all shape the future."
The church, he said, learned of some abuse allegations outlined in the
state report only after the attorney general began investigating last
"In many instances, the priests in these interviews provided (the
attorney general) information that the priests had not provided directly
to the diocese before the investigation," the report said.
The investigation prompted an agreement late last year in which the church
acknowledged it probably would have been convicted of violating state
child protection laws. The agreement included the release of the state
investigative files and analysis of the legal case against the church.
"The diocese does not necessarily agree with all aspects of this
analysis, which, in many ways, contains novel theories and approaches
for New Hampshire prosecutions," the church report said.
The church said it could have challenged some of the theories and "inferences
drawn from certain alleged facts," but concluded that even winning
the challenges "would not diminish the significant and serious harm
suffered by minors resulting from the actions of some priests."
The church report outlines six lessons learned from the scandal. Essentially
they involve giving accusers more attention, calling the police after
getting complaints, keeping better records and helping build awareness
to prevent future abuse.
The Diocese made no excuses for its failures, but said the investigative
file shows it was not alone in misunderstanding the lasting effects of
abuse or how to best address allegations.
"Law enforcement agencies, mental health and psychological experts,
as well as legislators today have a vastly improved understanding of the
problem and how to address it than they did even 20 years ago," the
McCormack said he and the church are concerned the release of details
of abuse and the church response will be painful for victims, the faithful
and the state.
Catholics who need to talk about their reactions can contact the church,
and anyone who suspects a child has been abused or neglected should contact
authorities, he said.