Two Top Manchester Church Officials Sought Immunity, Prosecutor Says

By Associated Press, carried in The Portsmouth Herald [Concord NH]
Downloaded March 14, 2003

CONCORD - A former Roman Catholic bishop and the current auxiliary bishop refused to talk to state investigators about priest sexual abuse allegations because the bishops weren't granted immunity from prosecution, a prosecutor says.

"We could have subpoenaed them, but they would have just invoked the Fifth," said Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker, referring to the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.

The two are Francis J. Christian, auxiliary bishop and former chancellor of the Diocese of Manchester, and Odore J. Gendron, bishop of Manchester from 1975 to 1990.

Gendron, who is retired, did not immediately return a phone message left at his home Thursday seeking comment. A call to Christian at the diocese also was not immediately returned.

Prosecutors wanted to interview Christian and Gendron as part of a criminal investigation into how church hierarchy handled accusations of clergy sexual abuse dating back to the 1940s, Delker said.

Christian handled numerous sexual abuse complaints against clergy as chancellor from 1977 until he became auxiliary bishop in 1996. Gendron was bishop during a time when the diocese received many sexual abuse complaints against priests.

In December, the diocese admitted in a settlement that it failed to protect children from sexual abuse by priests.

Prosecutors gave limited immunity to four priests who cooperated in the investigation. While their statements to state investigators could not be used against them, county attorneys could gather evidence independently for prosecutions, Delker said.

"There was no way to separate the cases in the same way with the bishops," he said. "The immunity would have gone to their management decisions about these cases."

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