Wendelboe Links Church Mergers to Priest Child Abuse

The Associated Press, carried in
August 9, 2006

Ashland, N.H. --A state legislator has appealed the merger of three Roman Catholic parishes to the Vatican, linking the merger to a loss of respect for the state's two bishops because of the priest sex abuse scandal.

Fran Wendelboe, a parishioner at St. Agnes Church in Ashland, wrote that Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian of the Diocese of Manchester "are widely held in contempt" because of the scandal. Their staying in office has led to a dramatic drop in donations, hurting parishes, the Diocese of Manchester and New Hampshire Catholic Charities, she wrote.

The diocese disagrees with Wendelboe's "statement of facts regarding the ministry of Bishop McCormack and Bishop Christian," spokesman Patrick McGee told The Citizen of Laconia.

McCormack has announced that St. Agnes, St. Timothy's in Bristol and St. Matthew's in Plymouth will be combined into a new parish, Holy Trinity in Plymouth. The changes, and others around the state, were prompted largely by a statewide shortage of priests, he has said.

McCormack was a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston from 1984 to 1994, and Law's point man for child sexual abuse cases for a time. He has been accused of going easy on accused priests by helping to shuffle them from parish to parish and denying or minimizing their misconduct. He became bishop of New Hampshire in 1998.

Law was forced to resign as archbishop of Boston because of the scandal and some of McCormack's critics continue to urge him to do the same. McCormack has admitted making mistakes, and has instituted tougher policies to prevent sex abuse in New Hampshire.

McCormack, Wendelboe wrote, "handled many of the worst cases of abuse by priests, had intimate knowledge of the molestation and rape of children by priests, and almost never acted to protect children, often colluded with other bishops and with abusive priests themselves to hide their activities from parents, parishes, and civil authorities, and even lied to victims of abuse, and to concerned parents, to protect the priests he knew to be a danger to children."

Likewise, Christian, first as chancellor and later as auxiliary bishop in Manchester, "had knowledge of the molestation of children by priests he worked to keep in ministry," Wendelboe said. As a 2003 report by the New Hampshire Attorney General's office revealed, Christian "did not tell the truth to public officials, to families of abuse survivors, and to the faithful of the diocese," Wendelboe wrote.

"Had our bishops been true to their calling and acted in a manner worthy of their offices, it is virtually certain that the need to merge parishes would be greatly reduced if not eliminated entirely," wrote Wendelboe, a Republican representative from New Hampton.

McCormack plans to keep the three parishes open until a parish council is convened at Holy Trinity and decides their individual fates.

Wendelboe expects her appeal will fail, but says if that happens, she will appeal further to the church's highest court.

She said the mergers are the beginning of a three-step restructuring in the diocese.

"This is going to expand and there are going to be more areas and more churches affected, and if no one challenges them, they just steam on and get bolder," she predicted.

If her appeal "makes them listen, if it makes them think twice, I've accomplished a good thing," she said.


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