Bishop Plans to Strengthen Church

By Albert McKeon
Downloaded February 26, 2003

CONCORD - Bishop John McCormack vowed to remain the leader of the Diocese of Manchester and unveiled a broad plan to strengthen the Catholic Church in New Hampshire.

Addressing the diocese's clergy and numerous parishioners Tuesday night, McCormack detailed a plan calling for greater spiritual and ministerial work. He asked clergy and laity to move beyond the clergy abuse crisis through charity and prayer.

"I am sorry for what has happened in our past," McCormack said.

He suggested that many may have expected him to announce his resignation at a meeting of the diocese's clergy and parish council members at St. John the Evangelist Church.

"I do have something to say . . . I am here to lead the church in New Hampshire as your shepherd . . . I intend to do so with every fiber of my being," McCormack said.

With about a dozen protesters outside the church demanding his resignation, McCormack stood at the altar inside welcoming survivors of abuse and promising support through a new ministry group.

The bishop also pledged that no one in diocesan ministry serves today with even one credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. He also vowed that he would never assign a priest in the future who faces a credible allegation.

McCormack said all future assignments of clergy will be made after approval is sought from priests, parish councils and parents. He assured the audience that all clergy assignments will take into consideration all the information in diocese files, as well as a pastoral code of conduct.

At a time when critics wonder how dioceses allocate parishioner donations - especially with the Catholic Church having made and expected to make innumerable civil settlements - McCormack announced that the Manchester diocese will publish next month an audited financial statement.

He said he and the diocese's pastors will actively engage the laity, through parish councils, on administrative and budgetary matters.

"For too long, many priests and bishops have not trusted in the competence of the laity," McCormack said.

"We have tried to protect you rather than entrust matters to you. Some of us have been fearful that we could not trust you to handle 'bad news,' and in our fear and lack of trust, you have lost your trust in us.

"Although we have always wanted what is best for those whom we serve, we must never again neglect the maturity of your faith and experience and trust in the Lord. We were wrong. Please do not imitate our mistake."

With protesters chanting, "McCormack must go," loud enough to be heard inside the church, the Rev. Richard Thompson pledged to support the bishop.

"This past year has been trying even on my spirit of hopefulness," Thompson said. "In the past eight to nine months, I've struggled even with the support from my bishop. Through prayer, conversation, I have seen a definitive sense of conversion (in McCormack)."

McCormack announced that the remainder of 2003 would be a year of reparation and hope in the church. He said that laity and clergy are not only a church that serves the poor, but a church that is poor because all Catholics need fulfillment through God to attain enrichment.

Occasionally receiving warm applause from the about 500 people in attendance, McCormack expressed sadness and regret for clergy abuse.

"During the last year, especially, I have learned so much about the abandonment, loneliness and powerlessness that exists within many adult survivors of sexual abuse.

"By experiencing this, I became more aware of the loneliness and powerlessness within myself, and my need for God's help in order that I may help them heal and move forward in their lives."

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