|[an error occurred while processing this directive]||
N.H. bishop says he often didn't report abuse to civil authorities
By J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press, 07/08/02
CONCORD, N.H. -- Bishop John B. McCormack admitted under oath he twice dismissed mounting evidence that two priests had sexually abused children because the alleged molesters told him they'd done nothing wrong.
McCormack, who was Cardinal Bernard Law's deputy in the Boston Archdiocese at the time, also acknowledged there were several times he didn't report suspicions of abuse by priests to civil authorities but noted he was not legally bound to do so.
McCormack was questioned in Manchester on June 4 as part of a Massachusetts lawsuit by three men who say they were molested by the Rev. Paul Shanley in the 1980s. They accuse top church officials in Boston at the time, including McCormack, of failing to stop the abuse.
At least twice, McCormack said, he dismissed concerns based on priests' denials, according to a transcript of his sworn testimony provided to The Associated Press by Massachusetts sources. The transcript has not been made public.
One 1991 allegation was against the Rev. Ronald Paquin, who had been removed from active ministry the year before based on allegations that he molested two boys while assigned to St. John's church in Haverhill, Mass.
The new allegation, made by another priest, was that Paquin was "romancing" a teen-age boy he met in Haverhill before being put on leave.
In the deposition, lawyer Roderick MacLeish asked McCormack why he did not alert child welfare authorities, even though the year before he had received credible allegations that Paquin had abused the other two boys.
"I spoke with Father Paquin. He assured me there was no sexual contact, that this was a boy he had known, that he was trying to be helpful to, so I took him at his word," McCormack said. "I did, and I set limits on him."
Paquin has since admitted he "fooled around" with boys. He was arrested May 7 at his Malden, Mass., home on three charges of child rape. Authorities say he molested an altar boy who was about 12 years old roughly 50 times starting in 1990.
Paquin also faces a civil lawsuit filed by the parents of 16-year-old James Francis, who was killed when a car Paquin was driving crashed in Tilton in 1981.
Paquin had taken the boy and three other teen-agers to a camp in Bethlehem. Francis' family alleges Paquin fell asleep at the wheel after a night of sex and alcohol with their son.
McCormack, 66, held various jobs under Law from 1984 until he became bishop of Manchester in 1998. His deposition, essentially testimony before the trial, is expected to continue, though no date has been set.
McCormack also dismissed the concerns of a Gloucester, Mass., parent who asked in 1987 if the Rev. Joseph Birmingham, who until recently had been assigned to his parish, was the same priest he had heard abused children elsewhere.
Church officials for years received abuse allegations against Birmingham, who died in 1989. At least three people say they told McCormack, or that McCormack knew, that Birmingham was abusing children during the 1960s and 1970s. McCormack has denied any wrongdoing.
In the depositon, he acknowledged having reservations about Birmingham, but said he advised the man not to worry about Birmingham and said he saw no need for him to raise the issue with his son.
"I can't explain why I didn't tell the full story," McCormack said.
McCormack said he confronted Birmingham at the time, and Birmingham assured him he was "clean."
McCormack acknowledged later learning of another complaint against Birmingham. Asked whether he contacted the parent with that information, McCormack said he could not recall doing so.
McCormack also was questioned about child abuse reporting requirements in Massachusetts, where he was a licensed social worker from 1981 to 1988.
Though social workers were legally and ethically required to report suspicions of abuse to civil authorities, McCormack said he did not always do so. He said he was working as a priest and priests were legally exempt from reporting requirements.
"I was not acting as a licensed social worker," McCormack said. "They came to me as a representative of the church."
McCormack said he told people they could go to the police, but that many people wanted confidentiality. He said he would report alleged molestation to prosecutors himself, and did so once, if he believed it was continuing and involved a minor.
He said he did not report Paquin and Birmingham because both assured him they were not abusing anyone.
MacLeish also asked McCormack about apparent omissions in his notes from a 1990 meeting with two boys who claimed Paquin had molested them. One told McCormack that Paquin had grabbed his "private parts," but McCormack's notes said Paquin was "touching a boy on his abdomen near his pubic hair."
Questioned at length about the discrepancy, McCormack said he meant to include a more accurate description but must have left it out unintentionally.
McCormack also corrected a May 2 televised apology for failing to follow up on a 1985 complaint that Shanley, in a speech, said, "When adults have sex with children, the children seduced them," and the children "are the guilty ones."
McCormack said he now recalls taking up the issue with Shanley, who said he had been talking about his work with child prostitutes, and his comments had been taken out of context.
"I do recall having that conversation with him about his work with street kids and that the street kids were prostituting themselves, and I think that is how he explained what this statement is," McCormack said.
McCormack said he was inclined to believe Shanley, who is jailed awaiting trial on charges he raped a boy over a six-year period in the 1980s.
"I saw Paul as a person who was an honest guy, who was always trying to help the church reach out to the alienated, the marginalized," McCormack said. "I had no reason to think that he was, when he reported to me, that he was being dishonest. In hindsight I do, but then I didn't."
MacLeish asked McCormack about how his decisions affected others.
"It was difficult work, particularly when there were allegations about sexual abuse of small children, is that correct? Made it very difficult for you, is that correct?" MacLeish asked.
"That and plus many other dimensions of the work, working with the priests, working with victims, working with staffs," McCormack said.
"Making some mistakes?"
"Making some mistakes."
"Mistakes that hurt people, correct?"