Lay Group Calls for New Hampshire Bishop to Quit

The New York Times [New Hampshire]
April 8, 2003

BOSTON, April 7 - The New Hampshire chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a national lay Roman Catholic group formed in response to the sexual abuse scandals, has called for the resignation of Bishop John B. McCormack, head of the Diocese of Manchester, and his deputy, Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian.

The group is the second to ask the bishops to step down after the New Hampshire attorney general's office released more than 9,000 pages of documents last month about the abuse of children under an agreement that grants the diocese criminal immunity in exchange for admitting that it failed to adequately protect children.

Voice of the Faithful asked Pope John Paul II in a letter Sunday to acknowledge the "need to restore holy, pastoral leadership in the Diocese of Manchester." It plans to send a similar letter to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The group's 16-member steering committee, whose members represent the nine New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful affiliates, voted almost unanimously on Sunday for resignation. One member voted against it, while another abstained, questioning the group's authority to take such action. The group says it has about 600 members statewide.

Last week, New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership, formed on March 31 with the sole purpose of calling for the bishops' resignations, asked the bishops to step down.

Jeffrey Blanchard, chairman of the steering committee, said today that the agreement with the attorney general's office, along with the group's objections to how Bishop McCormack dealt with accusations against priests while serving in the Archdiocese of Boston, led to the call for resignation.

Bishop McCormack, who has led the Manchester Diocese since 1998, was ordained in the Archdiocese of Boston and held many positions there, including one in which he handled accusations of sexual misconduct by priests from 1985 to 1994.

"It's pretty much held that the two of them are culpable together and that Catholics in the state of New Hampshire cannot move beyond this as long as these two continue to remain in their positions," Mr. Blanchard said.

Patrick F. McGee, a spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester, said the bishops did not intend to resign. He said the diocese was disappointed by the group's decision. Bishop McCormack has met with the group and gave them a diocesan liaison.

"He has a responsibility to lead the church, he was sent here to do that, and he works day and night to do that," Mr. McGee said, adding that a "majority of parishioners" thought that Bishop McCormack was doing well in his role.

The Boston chapter called for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law in December.

Also today, plaintiffs' lawyers in a civil case released depositions by a nun who said that she received misconduct accusations against more than 100 diocesan priests from 1992 to 1994 while she was an assistant to Bishop McCormack in Boston.

Sister Catherine Mulkerrin, who was the archdiocese's victim outreach coordinator during that time, said a majority of those priests had multiple complaints made against them. She said in the depositions, taken in December and February, that she had lobbied archdiocesan officials to place warnings about such priests in parish bulletins. Bishop McCormack confirmed this in depositions released in January, and said the step was not taken for fear of scandal.

Sister Mulkerrin said she had expressed concern and consternation that priests sent for treatment should be "sufficiently supervised" if they were to return to ministry. Asked if she thought Bishop McCormack was doing everything he could to protect children from predator priests, she said, "I think he was trying to do the impossible and trying to do that with priest brothers."

Bishop McCormack has apologized, Mr. McGee said, and wishes he had done some things differently.

"We can't change the past, but we can certainly address how to do things in the future," Mr. McGee said.

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