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New Hampshire attorney general angry at bishop’s 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 Hampshire’s 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 Christian’s remarks made it clear some church leaders haven’t changed their attitudes about the sexual abuse of children.

“Bishop Christian’s 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 Faithful.

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 Christian’s 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 not prosecute.

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 state’s 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 wasn’t 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 agreement.

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 general’s office is dragging its feet,” Heed said. “I’m here today to tell you that for months we’ve 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 don’t want that to happen,” Heed said sarcastically.

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 church’s 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 church’s motion regarding the audit “heartbreaking.”

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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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