In New Hampshire, Abuse Cases Undermine a
By SAM DILLON
October 18, 2002
MANCHESTER, N.H. A priest was dead in circumstances
that suggested a tawdry sexual liaison, and an ecclesiastical
cleanup crew was dispatched to his rectory here to scour for
anything that might further embarrass the church.
Searching through clothing, furniture and closets, priests
found artificial genitalia, leather thongs, sex-enhancing
drugs and scores of pornographic videos, which the monsignor
leading the operation ordered removed and destroyed.
The church kept these 1999 events secret until a priest made
them public earlier this year in an unusual lawsuit he is
pursuing against the bishop of Manchester, John B. McCormack.
Those events and other revelations have led New Hampshire
newspapers and many Roman Catholics to demand Bishop McCormack's
resignation. On Oct. 6, parishioners in one church where the
bishop said Mass urged him noisily to step down and accused
him of lying about a pastor he assigned to their parish without
disclosing the priest's affair with a teenage boy.
"I'm not lying!" Bishop McCormack shouted back,
according to people at the Mass in Jaffrey, N.H.
During the sexual abuse scandal that has reached into nearly
every Catholic diocese, scores of American bishops have felt
the sting of public wrath. But scholars who study the church
say the crisis has undermined Bishop McCormack more thoroughly,
perhaps, than any other sitting bishop besides Cardinal Bernard
F. Law of Boston.
"Few if any bishops have reached such a level of bad
feeling among Catholics that their support has been so seriously
undercut," said Paul F. Lakeland, a professor of religious
studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
As a senior aide to Cardinal Law before 1998, and since then
in Manchester, Bishop McCormack has been one of a number of
American bishops who have been unfailingly respectful of the
rights of priests accused of sexual misconduct so respectful
that many Catholics have accused him in lawsuits of brushing
aside clerical abuse, enabling sexual predators to victimize
His career illustrates the dilemma posed by the Vatican's
refusal last week to endorse elements of the American bishops'
zero-tolerance abuse policy, adopted to satisfy Catholics
demanding that the safety of children be respected as much
as priests' canonical rights.
Church documents released by court order this year have shown
that as an aide to Cardinal Law during the 1980's and 1990's,
Bishop McCormack repeatedly dismissed reports of clerical
Under mounting criticism, Bishop McCormack stepped down in
April as the chairman of the Bishops Conference's Committee
on Sexual Abuse. In May, he went on New Hampshire television
to say, "I beg your forgiveness," but six days later
The Manchester Union Leader replied with a front-page editorial
headlined: "For the Good of the Church, Bishop Should
Step Aside." In a published reply, Bishop McCormack urged
New Hampshire's people to be willing "to place their
trust in me." In July, The Union Leader again editorialized
that he should resign, saying, "We're sorry, but there
is no more room for trust." Other New Hampshire newspapers
have also called for his resignation.
Bishop McCormack declined a request for an interview, as
he has done for all such requests since May.
The diocesan chancellor, the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, said
that despite some public anger, many Catholics with whom the
bishop has met personally support his leadership.
"There is a genuineness about him, and people who have
met him can contextualize what he did and didn't do in Boston,"
Father Arsenault said.
Bishop McCormack graduated in 1960 from St. John's seminary
in Boston, where his schoolmates included at least six men
later accused as serial pedophiles, among them the Rev. Paul
R. Shanley. Bishop McCormack is a defendant in multiple lawsuits
lodged this year that say Father Shanley and other priests
molested them, and church documents released by court order
show that Bishop McCormack, who was ordained a bishop in 1995,
repeatedly disputed complaints of abuse from parents and victims.
In 1987, Peter Pollard, then 36, met with the future bishop
who was then secretary for ministerial personnel in the Boston
Archdiocese, to report that he had been abused as a 16-year-old
altar boy by Rev. George Rosenkranz. In Father Rosenkranz's
church file at the time of the 1987 meeting was a 1981 police
report documenting his arrest that year on charges, later
dropped, of having sex with a man in a Sears Roebuck washroom.
Yet Father McCormack told Mr. Pollard that his account lacked
credibility, that "there is no sign that Father Rosenkranz
is a sexually deviant personality," and that the priest
had every right to remain in his parish, Mr. Pollard, who
is today a Massachusetts child protective social worker, said
in an interview.
This and similar incidents in Bishop McCormack's Boston career
have aroused considerable public anger as Bishop McCormack
faces challenges in the Manchester diocese. His church's charitable
donations have fallen and 140 people have sued the diocese
this year, charging victimization by New Hampshire priests,
most before the bishop arrived. William Delker, chief of the
state attorney general's criminal division, said prosecutors
would decide soon whether to bring criminal charges against
the diocese for endangering children by failing to remove
abusive priests from public ministry in the years before Bishop
Bishop McCormack faced his first local controversy in April
when a conflict developed between the bishop and the priest
who filed the lawsuit, the Rev. James A. MacCormack, a popular
pastor at St. Patrick's parish in Jaffrey, 32 miles southwest
After the priest dismissed a church secretary, the bishop
sent him to Canada for psychological evaluation and in May
provoked protests in the parish by removing him from his ministry.
In July, Father MacCormack sued the Manchester Diocese, accusing
the bishop of using the psychological examination to undermine
his credibility and saying that when he joined the priesthood
the church failed to disclose "that deviant sexual practices
were tolerated and countenanced within the diocese."
In court papers and in an interview here, Father MacCormack
described how after a Manchester priest was found dead in
1999 with a leather device on his genitals, he participated
in the cleanup of the priest's rectory. The diocese acknowledged
the incident, but in a statement said that "deviant sexual
behavior is not countenanced" in the church.
Indignation at St Patrick's parish boiled over after the
bishop, in June, replaced Father MacCormack with the Rev.
Roland Cote, whose six-year affair became public in judicial
proceedings last month.
Informed by prosecutors that they had investigated but would
not prosecute Father Cote, the bishop said he determined that
Father Cote's lover was 18 when the relationship began in
the 1980's. Law enforcement officials said the boy might have
been under 17. The bishop concluded that the affair did not
constitute misconduct with a minor and that Father Cote was
therefore entitled to continue in ministry, Father Arsenault
The diocese paid Father Cote's lover an undisclosed sum of
money, and he signed a legal agreement obligating both him
and the diocese to keep the affair secret. Some Jaffrey parishioners
were infuriated that the bishop did not disclose Father Cote's
past to them, partly because St. Patrick's parish runs a parochial
school traditionally administered by the pastor, they said
"To send us this pastor without revealing his flawed
past was like a slap in the face," said William Driscoll,
a retired executive who attends St. Patrick's.