'Tearful' Bishop Meets Victims

By Tom Dalton
January 21, 2003

SALEM, Mass. -- New Hampshire Bishop John B. McCormack "had tears in his eyes" as he apologized to two alleged victims of sexual abuse by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham during a private meeting yesterday, according to one of the men involved in the meeting.

"He had tears in his eyes -- he apologized," said Bernie McDaid, a former student at St. James Grammar School who will help run a private meeting next week in Salem, Mass., between McCormack and a large group of alleged victims and family members.

McCormack, New Hampshire's highest-ranking Catholic official, is scheduled to be deposed tomorrow and Friday in Boston in a lawsuit involving Birmingham. Birmingham was McCormack's classmate at St. John's Seminary and the two served together in Salem, Mass., in the 1960s.

In both the deposition and the meeting next Tuesday, McCormack will be asked what he knew about Birmingham, and lawyers are expected to use the opportunity to also ask McCormack about his role in dozens of other priest abuse cases in the Boston Archdiocese. Victims say McCormack knew Birmingham well and should have known that he was abusing boys in St. James Parish, some in his bedroom at the rectory.

McCormack was secretary of ministerial personnel for the Boston Archdiocese from 1984-94 and handled many of the priest abuse cases for Cardinal Bernard Law. In the thousands of pages of documents released by the church, McCormack's name and hand-written notes appear on many letters and memos.

More than 50 alleged victims, including about a dozen from Salem, Mass., named Birmingham as their abuser in a lawsuit filed last year. James Hogan, the former St. James altar boy who initiated the suit, said he was abused for several years by Birmingham. He claims McCormack, who also lived in the rectory, should have known what was happening.

McCormack, a defendant in the legal action along with Law, has denied he as aware of any alleged abuse by Birmingham while they served together in Salem. The bishop said a Salem mother told him of her concerns around 1970, when he headed Catholic Charities in Salem. McCormack, through a spokesman, said he passed those allegations on to the pastor at St. James.

Several alleged victims, including Hogan and McDaid, will sit in during the sessions tomorrow and Friday at the Boston law firm of Greenberg Traurig.

"We want to hear the truth, the absolute truth," Hogan said yesterday in a telephone interview from his home in Delaware. "As we know it, McCormack knew an awful lot more than he's admitting."

In Hogan's case, McCormack was not only a parish priest but a friend of his father's, the late James Hogan. McCormack con-celebrated his father's funeral in 1981, Hogan said.

"This man had ample opportunity to say something to my father to stop this madman," Hogan said. "He could have saved so many ruined lives."

Lawyers are expected to ask McCormack what role he played, as a cabinet secretary in charge of personnel, in Birmingham's promotion to pastor of a Gloucester church in the mid-1980s. A spokesman for the bishop denied he had any role in the promotion.

This report was prepared by Salem News reporter Tom Dalton. If you have questions, comments or material to add on this subject, please feel free to contact him by phone at 922-1234, by mail at 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915, or by e-mail at


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