Bishop Accountability

Guest Commentary
NH Catholics, why have you forsaken us?

By Peter Pollard
Union Leader
August 1, 2003

THE NEW HAMPSHIRE Diocese’s recent dismissal of the concerns of 1,100 Catholics who have demanded the removal of New Hampshire bishops has a familiar ring to survivors of clergy sexual abuse. But the silence of the remaining 324,000 Catholics in this state gives the diocese solid footing for its rebuke. The 1,100, while impressive, still represent only a small minority of New Hampshire Catholics. The church is free to move on, with them or without them. For the last 35 years, the church has moved on without me.

As a teenager in the 1960s, I was unable to raise my voice against the priest who abused me. So I left. Fifteen years ago, when I finally found the courage to report the abuse to the Boston Archdiocese, then. Fr. John McCormack’s decision to side with the priest sealed my status as an outsider. The attorneys general in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have now cited Bishops John McCormack’s and Francis Christian’s unconscionable treatment of victims. But you, the silent majority of New Hampshire Catholics, seem not to care.

Again and again I’ve heard the refrain from Catholics that this crisis has not affected your faith, that the issue is about failed human beings. So then why are you willing to accept moral leadership from these failed men? Why are you not standing up in the aisles demanding that you be given leaders of integrity?

Bishops McCormack and Christian have issued apologies for their past mistakes. They say they didn’t understand then. They claim a new realization that the safety of children should trump the protection of the church from scandal. How is this worthy of high praise?

These declarations raise their moral integrity to that of decent human beings, not leaders. We now know that for decades some parish priests looked the other way as their fellow priests spirited young victims to an awful fate in rectory bedrooms and studies. You Catholics who remain silent now repeat that betrayal. Your children and grandchildren are watching and learning from your response to this tragedy. By your silence, you give a clear message to those girls and boys who will be abused today or tomorrow, and also to those who are still too afraid to tell you that they were abused yesterday.

Your message is this: “Priests and bishops are so important that they must not be challenged. If you complain too loudly, if you force us to choose between you and the clergy, we will move on without you.”

Catholics, allow these failed men to seek God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of confession. Your mandate is to show your children that in this world, there are severe consequences for severe crimes. We survivors need that assurance as well. Don’t just move on without us.

Peter Pollard is a social worker in Hatfield, Mass. He has reported to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office that he was abused by a Catholic priest in New Hampshire in the 1960s.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.