attorney general angry at bishops criticism
By J.M. HIRSCH - The Associated Press
Published: Friday, May. 28, 2004
NASHUA - Attorney General Peter Heed harshly criticized the
deputy bishop of New Hampshires Roman Catholic diocese
Thursday, accusing him of denying responsibility for his role
in the church sexual abuse scandal.
Heed was responding to comments made Wednesday by the Rev.
Francis Christian, who said state prosecutors misrepresented
the facts when they announced in 2002 that church leaders
had protected sexually abusive priests.
Heed said Christians remarks made it clear some church
leaders havent changed their attitudes about the sexual
abuse of children.
Bishop Christians statements really add up to
a failure to take responsibility, Heed said at a meeting
of members of the New Hampshire chapter of the Voice of the
Calls to diocesan spokesmen for comment were not immediately
returned Thursday evening.
Earlier in the day, the Rev. Edward Arsenault, a spokesman
for the diocese, said Christians comments were made
in response to an ambush by a small group of people who attended
a church meeting in Londonderry.
The 2002 announcement was part of an agreement between the
state and the church in which Catholic leaders acknowledged
having failed to protect children from abusive priests and
agreed to reform their policies. In exchange, the state did
Christian, who handled sexual abuse complaints against priests
for the diocese for 20 years, said Wednesday the state had
unfairly based its conclusions on conversations with the accused
priests and had not given church leaders a chance to explain.
There are many, many, complicating facts here that
you do not know, Christian said.
On Thursday, Heed said Christian refused to speak with prosecutors
because he was not granted immunity. Heed then mocked an earlier
remark by Christian in which the deputy bishop said Catholics
should always act as Jesus Christ would.
Ask yourself if Jesus would have asked to be immune
from prosecution, Heed said.
The diocese said last year it did not necessarily agree
with all the states conclusions, but Bishop John McCormack
- who took over in 1998, after most of the events in the report
- apologized to victims and condemned child sex abuse.
The diocese described its toughened approach to dealing with
molesters in the clergy, saying it will now remove a priest
after one credible allegation of abuse.
Church documents released by prosecutors showed that Christian
wasnt totally up front with authorities or victims.
They included at least two incidents in which he told accusers
priests had admitted abusing them, when the opposite was true.
Earlier Thursday, the diocese asked a judge to force the
state to perform an audit of its compliance with the 2002
That audit is required by the 2002 agreement, but prosecutors
and church leaders have wrangled for months over how the audit
would be conducted and who would pay for it.
Church lawyer David Vicinanzo said in a motion the state
has been trying to renegotiate the terms of the audit. The
state is trying to get the diocese to fund an unnecessary
and exorbitant $1 million tab, Vicinanzo wrote.
Heed called the motion an effort by the church to claim that
they are the ones who want the audit and the attorney generals
office is dragging its feet, Heed said. Im
here today to tell you that for months weve been trying
to work this out.
The church has taken the position that the audit we
want is too thorough, too comprehensive. It might tell the
truth and we dont want that to happen, Heed said
Heed also said the state would respond to the motion shortly
and seek a thorough audit that would be paid for by the church.
Several audience members asked Heed and other prosecutors
at the meeting whether they would consider the churchs
actions a violation of its agreement with the state and seek
to prosecute the diocese.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker said the state
would consider all options, but that it was unlikely that
it would result in a prosecution. He called the churchs
motion regarding the audit heartbreaking.