Concord, N.H., Dec. 23--Questioned under oath about the church abuse scandal, New Hampshire's bishop suggested that it is less serious for a priest to have sex with someone from outside the parish than with a parishioner.

In depositions this fall, Bishop John B. McCormack said he knew 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," McCormack said in depositions obtained by The Associated Press on Monday. "I'm very concerned about that; he was a young person. But it's quite different from being with a parishioner."

Questioned in connection with lawsuits filed in Massachusetts, McCormack also acknowledged Cote paid for the sex. Cote has acknowledged a five- or six-year affair with the boy during the 1980s. In June, McCormack assigned Cote to a parish without informing the church about Cote's history, later saying it was a private matter.

After the AP reported details of the investigation, Cote acknowledged the affair and resigned last month. "Was it brought to your attention that Father Cote had paid for sex with this adolescent?" lawyer Robert Sherman asked McCormack in a deposition Oct. 1. "It was not brought to my attention at the time. I think I learned this later, probably even last week," McCormack said.

Cote has said the boy was 18 when the relationship began.

Sherman gave no details of the payment and did not say how he learned about it. Calls to Cote were not immediately returned. McCormack, who became bishop of New Hampshire in 1998, has been dogged for nearly a year by criticism of how he handled allegations of abuse while he was a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston. Law's resignation on Dec. 13 intensified calls for McCormack to step down.

Also this month, McCormack averted unprecented criminal charges against the New Hampshire diocese in a settlement with the state. As part of the agreement, he acknowledged the church's handing of abuse allegations had harmed children.

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