Files on Priests Won't Be Pretty

By Sean Murphy
Foster's Sunday Citizen [New Hampshire]
Downloaded March 2, 2003

While many Catholics and church officials are hoping tomorrow's release of a 9,000-page report from the New Hampshire attorney general's office brings closure to the painful era of the state's priest abuse scandals, church officials are warning the content of the report may be hard for their faith's followers to swallow.

The attorney general's office, as part of an agreement between the Diocese of Manchester and former Attorney General Philip McLaughlin, is planning to release a massive package of case files, including internal church documents, testimony from victims of abuse and other evidence.

Church officials and prosecutors declined to give details of the abuses that will be revealed in the package, but indicated it could contain graphic, potentially disturbing materials.

Senior Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker, who helped coordinate the efforts over nearly all of last year that produced the documents, said the release will mark the end of a massive investigation on the part of the Attorney General's Office.

"It's been a long year. There's been a lot of work put into this," he said.

According to a December 2002 release, McLaughlin's task force assigned to the investigation contained at least 20 workers, including detectives from state, county, and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, legal advisers, and office staffers. In addition, a number of other experts were called in to assist.

The investigation started as a result of a snowballing scandal in January 2002 in Massachusetts, after court cases and reports by the Boston Globe alleged that as many as several dozen priests in that state had molested children in the past, and that church officials covered it up.

Tomorrow's 9,000-page package will represent the case file McLaughlin amassed over nearly a year while building a case of child endangerment against the diocese.

McLaughlin was prepared to seek an indictment, but reached a settlement with the diocese on Dec. 10 that headed it off.

In addition to other conditions, the settlement allowed McLaughlin to release the documents to the media and the public. About 17 different institutions have purchased copies of the package for $450 each, Delker said. Those institutions, most of which are media organizations, also include private law firms, a few professors and some special interest groups.

In a statement at the time of the December settlement, McLaughlin said he believed a grand jury would have indicted the diocese, and he would have gotten a conviction.

In Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and now virtually the entire country, revelations of abuse on the part of priests has led to hundreds of victims suing church authorities in their respective states in multiple class-action lawsuits. To date, those suits have cost the Catholic Church milllions of dollars and are expected to cost millions more before it is over.

Priests like John Geoghan and Paul Shanley have made headlines in Massachusetts and are facing criminal trials resulting from their abuse allegations.

This week, former Dover priest Joseph T. Maguire was arrested at his Dennis, Mass., home on charges of abuse stemming from his time as a pastor in New Hampshire.

Maguire was charged with raping two boys under age 13 in Dover between 1977 and 1981. Maguire faces three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, which includes rape; 23 counts of felonious sexual assault; and eight counts of sexual assault.

If convicted on all charges, Maguire could face a sentence of more than 200 years.

Despite the backlash against the diocese from allegations thus far, church officials are not cringing at what is expected to be one of the most detailed revelations of sexual abuse by its priests yet, Diocese Spokesman Patrick McGee said.

If anything, McGee said this week that there is a sense of relief, of sorts, that the last and most detailed facts of the diocese's past can be revealed so the church can begin to move on.

McGee said Wednesday that he believes people will have "emotional responses" to the report because "that stuff is hard to read," but the church is anxious to get everything out in the open as a first step toward healing.

"For where we've done things inadequately in the past, we've got to own up to it, but we can't live there," he said.

Lorraine Graham, chair of the steering committee for the Durham branch of Voice of the Faithful, a grass-roots organization that formed in response to the developing scandal, said the group would be purchasing a copy of McLaughlin's package.

Graham said new revelations even more than a year after the scandal first broke in the Granite State, will be good for those who still may not believe the abuses or alleged cover-ups took place.

"I think there are still a few Catholics who are in denial," she said.

Graham said revelations like those coming out on Monday are instrumental to change, as evidenced by meetings of top church officials nationwide to discuss sexual abuse policies.

"If all the revelations hadn't come forward, nothing would have changed," she said.

Graham said she hoped the revelations would result in changes in the way the church operates, but since she doubted the internal church documents would have ever come out without McLaughlin's involvement, the church still has a long way to go.

"I think most Catholics have lost a great deal of trust in the institution of the Catholic Church," she said.

Delker said he is glad to see the full truth finally coming to light, for the sake of the abuse victims.

"Closure is important on a case like this," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Sean Murphy can be reached at 742-4455 ext. 5394

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.