Diocese to Discuss Record Handling

By J.M. Hirsch
The Associated Press, carried in New Hampshire Sunday News
Downloaded January 12, 2003

Manchester NH - As criticism mounts about how the Roman Catholic Church has maintained and destroyed documents, the Diocese of Manchester is preparing to talk about how it handles record keeping.

Tomorrow, church officials will respond to recent questions about the destruction of church documents, Patrick McGee, spokesman for the diocese, said yesterday.

He also said that though the diocese has no formal policy governing records now, officials are working on one, and they hope to have it completed this year. He said tomorrow's discussion will detail some of that work.

The response comes less than a week after groups of church critics and alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests asked Bishop John B. McCormack to ensure that no church personnel records are destroyed.

The groups became concerned following reports that former Bishop Odore Gendron destroyed church records during the 1980s that detailed sexual abuse of children by two priests.

McGee has acknowledged that Gendron destroyed records, but said they were private medical documents, and it was not an attempt to cover up allegations of abuse. He also said no documents have been destroyed since November 2000.

Senior Assistant Attorney General William Delker, who sorted through thousands of pages of church records as part of a state investigation of the church, has said it is clear that documents are missing, but wouldn’t speculate further.

And McCormack has said sloppy record keeping kept him from knowing the full extent of sexual abuse allegations against some priests while he was a top aide to Boston Cardinal Bernard Law.

Concern also arose because of a settlement the diocese reached with the state to avoid unprecedented criminal charges over its failure to protect children from abusive priests.

The agreement allows the church to destroy the records of deceased priests.

Last week McGee said the diocese has no plans to destroy any records.

But Peter Flood, spokesman for the New Hampshire chapter of Voice of the Faithful, wants to hear it from McCormack. He sent the bishop a letter last week urging him to safeguard all church records.

" We urge you to publicly pledge that the diocese will not destroy any more records associated with sexual abuse allegations against any priests, whether living or deceased," Flood wrote.

And earlier in the week, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said in a letter to McCormack that church records are essential to "healing, justice and truth."

Similar calls also are coming from within the church.

Donna Sytek, who heads up a task force the bishop appointed to evaluate the diocese's sexual misconduct policy, also feels record retention is vital.

On Friday she said two of her group's chief recommendations to McCormack will be to create a centralized database for church records, and that they never be destroyed. Those recommendations are expected to be delivered this week.


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