Silencing Its Critics Shows Manchester Diocese Is Unchanged

Concord Monitor [Concord NH]
April 4, 2003

Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian have accepted responsibility for mishandling Catholic priests who were accused of sexually abusing children. Both have offered words of contrition and assured parishioners that the policies of the Diocese of Manchester have changed. Yet the bishop has asked parish priests to ban from church property protesters seeking the prelates' ouster.

New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership wants to distribute information documenting McCormack's and Christian's roles in the scandal. The group has collected more than 200 signatures from those demanding their resignation. The group of dissenters is not alone. Many people find it impossible to restore faith in the church as long as it is led by those who looked the other way for decades while countless children were abused. We are among them.

The decision to ban the protesters shows how inflexible and autocratic the church remains. Hear the words of Father Edward Arsenault, the diocese's chancellor. "I welcome them as collaborators and healers of the church," he said of the 20 or so members of the protest group. "But they need to acknowledge that their solution is not in the tradition of the church."

How right Arsenault is. That tradition does not encourage dissent, but instead squelches it. Though the power of the church depends on parishioners, it is not shared with them.

Earlier this week, the Diocese of Los Angeles went to court to block investigators from gaining access to internal documents detailing the church's handling of priests accused of sexual abuse. Access to information, however, is ultimately what forced the church in New Hampshire to mend its ways.

Like its counterparts in Boston and New Hampshire, what the Los Angeles diocese really seeks to avoid by withholding documents is bad publicity, legal costs and damage awards. Lawsuits by victims of abusive priests have cost dioceses a fortune, cut into contributions and reduced the money available for parochial schools and charitable services.

Earlier this week, the San Bernardino diocese sued the Boston archdiocese for sending it Father Paul Shanley. The archdiocese had described Shanley as a priest in good standing despite the many accusations of sexual abuse filed against him. The case marks the first known lawsuit by one diocese against another.

Also this week, Bishop Richard Lennon, the man who replaced Cardinal Bernard Law as head of the Boston archdiocese, refused to allow church-affiliated charities to accept contributions from that city's chapter of Voice of the Faithful. That group, which has a New Hampshire chapter, has asked Catholics to withhold donations from the church itself and to donate instead to catholic charities.

Though the sex abuse scandal has halved contributions to the Boston archdiocese, power comes with control of the purse and the church would not let go. Taken together, these actions portray a church unwilling to embrace the openness that is the foundation of trust.

The deal the New Hampshire diocese cut with the state - one that was necessary if the truth was to come out - saved McCormack and Christian from criminal prosecution. But it did not save their reputations or restore faith in their ability to lead. It's time for the church to move on. But it cannot do so until they move out.

Friday, Apr 4, 2003

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