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NH church files highlight alcohol’s role in many sex abuse cases

Sunday, March 09, 2003
By ALBERT McKEON, NH Telegraph Staff, [email protected]

Alcohol played a role in many of the sexual assaults committed by New Hampshire clergy.

In the 9,000 pages of documents released by the state attorney general’s office last week detailing the Diocese of Manchester’s supervision of clergy facing abuse allegations over the past 40 years, stories emerged of priests dependent upon alcohol for a variety of reasons.

Numerous priests used alcohol, and sometimes drugs, to make adolescents comfortable, easing their inhibitions before sexually abusing them.

Other priests claimed alcohol had clouded their judgment, and, in some cases, prevented them from recalling alleged abuse.

“There’s no excuse for an adult harming a child, even though someone’s abusing alcohol contributes (to the abuse),” said the Rev. Edward Arsenault, the diocesan chancellor. “In unweaving the fabric you can ask, ‘Did the alcohol cause the abuse or did the abuse contribute to a problem with alcohol?’ I don’t know.”

The documents, released as part of an agreement between the diocese and the attorney general’s office, paint pictures of priests overcome with pedophilic urges and the demons of alcohol. Some drank to excess; others used it mainly as a weapon, supplying it to unsuspecting victims.

The Rev. Gordon MacRae, now serving a lengthy prison sentence for repeatedly molesting three brothers, used alcohol not as a social device but as a harmful tool.

At the rectory of St. Bernard in Keene, MacRae gave alcohol to a victim who would start to feel “fuzzy, blurry and strange” – as drinking became a regular part of their activities, documents said. The victim told prosecutors how MacRae brought him to a Hudson rectory, got him drunk and then allowed another man to rape him.

The Rev. Roland Cote, now on sick leave, had a relationship with a teenage boy in the 1980s enlivened by alcohol. Prosecutors did not press charges against Cote because they could not prove the sex acts had occurred before the boy reached 16, the age of legal consent. Cote maintains he thought the boy was at least 18.

Cote told police he gave the boy alcohol, but not marijuana. The boy contends the priest gave him rum-and-Coke drinks, and that they smoked marijuana together after consensual sex.

In 1992, Cote told Bishop Francis Christian – then the diocesan chancellor – that he had drank to excess but not regularly, and that a counselor had not diagnosed a problem. Bishop John McCormack transferred Cote, a former pastor of St. Louis de Gonzague in Nashua, to a Jaffrey parish in 2002, but the move backfired when parishioners discovered the diocese had concealed the affair.

Bruce Goss, a Nashua-based psychologist, finds that alcohol can induce a wide range of behavior.

Some abusers fault alcohol for their actions, while others commit acts under the influence that had previously been only a notion, he said.

“It impairs judgment,” Goss said. “What might have been previously a thought or a fantasy moves into the realm of behavior because alcohol no longer inhibits. When there’s a drug involved, such as alcohol, there’s a greater likelihood it becomes a mode of behavior.”

Perhaps one of the most tragic episodes involving alcohol and clergy came at the hands of the Rev. Ronald Paquin, a priest ordained in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Sentenced to prison last year for raping a boy, Paquin had taken 16-year-old James Francis and three other teenagers to a camp in Bethlehem in 1981. Francis’ family alleges Paquin fell asleep at the wheel after a night of sex and alcohol with their son.

Paquin lost control of his car on Interstate 93, near Tilton. Francis was ejected, and the car rolled over him and killed him. The Francis family sued Paquin, one of at least 28 suits filed against him.

A victim of Paquin’s, according to documents, told prosecutors: “It was a regular thing . . . giving me alcohol. Ron didn’t want me to run off to drink . . . when I got older he wanted me to stick around. He wanted me to drink responsibly.”

The Rev. Albion Bulger, pastor of Parish of the Resurrection in Nashua until the diocese removed him in 2001 for a credible abuse allegation, denied serving alcoholic drinks to minors who accused him of abuse. They claimed Bulger gave them alcohol at his cottage in Barnstead and at the rectory of St. Kathryn Church in Hudson when he was pastor there in the early 1970s.

Bulger has never admitted to abusing minors. According to the files released last week, he told Arsenault he could not recall the events of an alleged assault because he was too intoxicated at the time.

The Rev. Roger Fortier – convicted on 16 counts of sexual assault in 1998 – provided beer to minors and watched pornography with them in the 1980s while serving St. John the Baptist Church in Manchester. He brought one 17-year-old boy to a Derry cottage, gave him beer, watched pornography and assaulted him, according to documents.

An admitted heavy drinker for years, the Rev. Albert Boulanger received extensive treatment not only for alcoholism, but also for the sexual abuse of minors, to which he admitted.

The diocese, for instance, placed him back into ministry after receiving treatment for the abuse of at least three boys while at St. Joseph Church in Nashua during the 1970s, documents said. He took sick leave in 1987 and 1989, and during the latter absence, had to undergo Alcoholics Anonymous treatment before the diocese allowed him to resume ministry at a nursing home.

Boulanger died in 2002. He once told Christian he would drink as much as a half-gallon of whiskey in a two-day period, but claimed it never affected his celebration of Mass or other pastoral duties. Parishioners, though, claimed he paid little attention to pastoral council matters or marriage preparations.

Abuse can also occur without alcohol, Goss said. Indeed, many of the priests whose files became public show no sign of substance abuse.

“Men who abuse often have been abused themselves,” Goss said. “Some of the men becoming priests, some of them have been abused. Because of all the feelings that abuse engenders, one way to cope with it is to have an addiction.”

Of course, priests can grow dependent on alcohol without ever abusing a minor, and not every priest drinks. The Catholic Church has not done a study of clergy and alcohol, but it should examine the issue, Arsenault said.

“They do live alone in a rectory,” Arsenault said. “We should look at that and ask, ‘Is that healthy?’ Many priests might tend to be lonely.”

But Arsenault adds: “I would observe in general, and not just with priests, if people are lonely, they turn to alcohol more often than not. They can be lonely and married, or lonely and single. It’s a form of self medication. The worst possible thing is that alcohol is a depressant. It makes you feel numb instead of better.”

The documents also give accounts of sexual abuse victims struggling with the aftermath, and relying greatly upon alcohol. Over the past year, many victims have blamed abuse for leading them to drug and alcohol dependencies.

“It’s such an expensive disease,” Goss said. “It affects the person even more than what is put in the body.”

Content © 2003 Telegraph of Nashua

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