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Names of NH Priests Accused of Past Sexual Misconduct Released

By Harry R. Weber, Associated Press, 02/15/02

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Roman Catholic leaders on Friday gave prosecutors the names of 14 priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors in New Hampshire during the quarter century that ended in 1987.

Bishop John B. McCormack also acknowledged that some of the 14 were returned to duty after doctors deemed them fit, a practice he acknowledged Friday was wrong.

A similar policy in the Boston archdiocese, also recently rescinded, has caused an uproar in Massachusetts that has included demands for Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation.

McCormack was a top church official in Boston before becoming bishop in Manchester in 1998. He and Law are among those named in dozens of civil lawsuits accusing the Boston archdiocese of turning a blind eye toward pedophile priests.

"What I report is sad in one way because it is about sin, sickness and crime," McCormack said at a news conference Friday. "And yet in another way it is hopeful news in that our church and community will know that no priest is now serving in ministry who has to our knowledge engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor."

Attorney General Philip McLaughlin said later Friday the 14 priests will be investigated thoroughly after summaries of the allegations are released to his office by the diocese next week. But, he said, it will be up to individual county attorneys to prosecute. Statute of limitations guidelines are key to the decision, he said.

"We're not at the end of the road here. We are at the beginning of the road," McLaughlin said.

"It's the duty of the state to make these decisions, not just the decision of the church."

Church officials declined to say whether any of the accused priests, who were returned to duty, subsequently were accused of other abuse.

"The majority of the priests had one accusation," said Pat McGee, a diocese spokesman. "I can't characterize it any more than that."

McLaughlin said there could be more New Hampshire priests not on the list who may have abused children. He said he will prepare his office for the possibility that other people with accusations may come forward after Friday's developments.

Of the 14 priests on the list, one -- the Rev. John R. Poirier of Holy Family Parish in Gorham -- was actively working. He was barred from working as a priest, effective Friday. Seven other priests, all retired or previously suspended, received the same discipline in the past.

The remaining six were retired or on sick leave. Effective Friday, they were barred from celebrating Mass.

After meeting with officials from the diocese and consulting county prosecutors, McLaughlin said this week he knew of no priests under investigation for sexually abusing children.

On Friday, McLaughlin said he believes the church has been upfront with his office in their conversations.

People should "confine their anger" to the people who might have offended instead of the church, he said.

Recognizing that it often takes victims years to come forward, New Hampshire law allows prosecutors to file child sexual assault charges until the victim turns 40.

The Rev. Edward Arsenault, the diocese chancellor, said earlier Friday there have been monetary settlements with some of the victims in New Hampshire. He declined to give details.

Three New Hampshire priests convicted in the 1990s of sexually abusing minors were not on the list. The Rev. Gordon MacRae and the Rev. Roger Fortier are serving prison terms. The Rev. Leo Shea received a three- to six-year prison term when he was convicted in 1994. He is retired and living in Danbury, according to the 2001 diocesan directory.

Also not on the list is the Rev. Frederick Guthrie, 65, of Newbury, Mass. He was arrested in November in Nashua and charged with using a computer to solicit a minor.

In Massachusetts, Law has apologized for transferring former priest John Geoghan to other churches after learning of accusations against him.

Geoghan is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy. At least 130 people have accused him of abuse; he faces two more criminal trials and 80 civil lawsuits.

Church officials in Massachusetts have scoured records for accusations against other priests. Eighty Massachusetts priests have been identified in recent weeks as having abused children during the past 40 years.

Arsenault said a review of New Hampshire records began last week. At meetings with the accused priests Thursday, all reacted with "a deep sense of sadness," he said.

McCormack will tell New Hampshire Catholics about the allegations in a letter to be discussed at churches around the state this weekend.

"Today is a difficult day, but I hope that you will see this painful disclosure in the context of hundreds of years of faithful service by priests to the people of New Hampshire," McCormack said. "I firmly believe with faith in the Lord of Life that our future is full of hope."

The 14 priests are: John R. Poirier, Gorham; Albert L. Boulanger, retired, of Manchester; Gerard F. Chalifour, retired, of Manchester; Robert J. Densmore, retired, of Manchester; Raymond H. Laferriere, retired, of Manchester; Conrad V. LaForest, sick leave, of Winnisquam (a neighborhood of Tilton and Belmont); Romeo J. Valliere, retired, of Berlin; Paul L. Aube, suspended, of Manchester; Eugene Pelletier, retired, of Manchester; Albion F. Bulger, retired, of Nashua; Joseph A. Cote, retired, of Berlin; Joseph T. Maguire, retired, of Hyannis, Mass.; Stephen Scruton, suspended, of Dover; and Francis J. Talbot, suspended, of Manchester.

Thirteen of the 14 have unlisted telephone numbers or disconnected home telephones.

Valliere, 68, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview he was first accused of sexual misconduct in 1989 by three females in his congregation.

He said he received counseling and was never reassigned to a parish. He then went on sick leave.

Asked whether he did what he is accused of, Valliere said: "I certainly hope that I didn't. I know that I didn't. Who can I convince now? If I was guilty of this I would tell you."

Valliere, a priest for 39 years in Manchester, Plaistow and Claremont, said the allegations have damaged his health. He recently had heart surgery.

"I have no way of defending myself," he said.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests