December 24, 2002

CONCORD, N.H. (AP)-- Previously undisclosed testimony by New Hampshire's bishop could provide fresh ammunition to critics of his response to allegations of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston in the 1980s and 1990s.

Bishop John B. McCormack gave the testimony this fall in five closed sessions in civil lawsuits brought by alleged victims of the Rev. Paul Shanley, who is awaiting trial in Massachusetts on charges of child rape. The Associated Press obtained the hundreds of pages of transcripts from the depositions.

Highlights include:

- While he was a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law, McCormack had trouble explaining delays in telling church officials in California about abuse allegations against Shanley in Massachusetts.

- When priests admitted sexual misconduct with minors, McCormack did not ask if there were other victims and did not investigate to see if there were.

- McCormack said he believed a 1970 molestation accusation against the Rev. Joseph Birmingham, but does not recall volunteering the information when Birmingham was made pastor of a church in Gloucester, Mass.

McCormack spokesman Patrick McGee said he was disappointed the deposition had been disclosed early, and said the AP's use of it was one-sided and unfair. Among his reasons was that McCormack had not checked it and made any necessary corrections.

McCormack, who became New Hampshire's bishop in 1998, said that in 1993 he was handling about 30 cases of abuse allegations against priests. Asked whether he attempted to determine whether the priests had additional victims who had not come forward, McCormack said he could not recall doing so.

McCormack said the church was``trying to deal with this on a pastoral way, and if we started making everything public about what we did, people who were afraid of confidentiality being broken wouldn't come to us.''

Boston church files released earlier contain molestation allegations against Shanley dating from the 1960s. By 1990, he was on sick leave and living in California.

When he sought work as a priest in the Diocese of San Bernadino, a Boston church official wrote that Shanley was a priest``in good standing.''

Complaints mounted, however, and by 1994, McCormack said he knew Shanley had admitted to molesting four boys. McCormack said he neither suspected nor asked Shanley whether he had molested other boys.

``He admits to sexual activity with four adolescent males and then talks about sexual activity with men and women over the years,'' McCormack said. ``So it doesn't indicate that, you know, it doesn't indicate that there was sexual activity with other adolescents.''

McCormack also has been criticized for failing to follow up on a 1985 complaint that Shanley, in a speech, blamed children for their own sexual abuse.

McCormack has said he raised the issue with Shanley, who said he had been talking about his work with child prostitutes and quoted out of context.

Among the other cases McCormack handled in Boston was that of Birmingham, who attended seminary with McCormack and served with him during the 1960s at St. James in Salem, Mass. Birmingham died in 1989.

McCormack said he believed a man who told him in 1970 that his son had been molested by Birmingham. McCormack said he reported the allegation to Birmingham's pastor, and encouraged the father to do the same.

But McCormack said that in 1985, when he was secretary of ministerial personnel for the archdiocese, he does not recall volunteering that information when Birmingham was made pastor at St. Ann's in Gloucester.

He said he assumed that those making the assignment already knew.

In another section, McCormack suggested that it was less serious for a priest to have sex with someone from outside the parish than with a parishioner. He said he knew a priest, the Rev. Roland Cote, had had sex with a teenage boy but noted that the boy was not a parishioner.

``You know, one is an activity where you have a trusted relationship with a parishioner. The other is an activity where you're away from the parish and you're off on your own...it's quite different from being with a parishioner.''

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad