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Excerpts of Bishop McCormack deposition


The following are excerpts from five days of depositions of Bishop John B. McCormack of the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., taken between June and November 2002. The questioning, by Boston lawyers Roderick MacLeish Jr. and Robert A. Sherman, is in connection with civil lawsuits filed against Cardinal Bernard F. Law by three men who allege they were sexually abused by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley. Most of the questioning focused on decisions McCormack made as a top aide to Law, from 1984 to 1994.

On whether he was urged in the early 1990s by Sister Catherine Mulkerrin, an assistant who helped him on abuse cases, to alert parishioners if a priest in their parish had been accused:

Q: Sister Catherine ... wanted to let the parishioners know, the parishioners who had been in these parishes that had been served by these priests with credible allegations against them, she wanted to let the parishioners know?

A: Correct.

Q: And you would agree with me that one of the reasons it would be important to let the parishioners know was because they might be able to get help for their children, is that correct?

A: Correct.

Q: That's what Sister Catherine told you, is that not correct?

A: Right, correct.

Q: And you decided that that was not an appropriate policy, is that correct?

A: Not myself; it was a matter of discussion among some of us. ... At that time our practice was to handle matters [such] as this confidentially and not to raise it to the point where it would become so public that - at that time we saw this as a scandal and that it would raise it to the level of a scandal ...

Discusses three priests accused of molesting children who were in his class at St. John's Seminary in 1960: The Revs. Paul R. Shanley, Joseph E. Birmingham, and Bernard J. Lane.

Q: ... You knew Paul Shanley from seminary, is that correct?

A: Right.

Q: Did you know him - was he a friend during seminary - at seminary with you?

A: No, as a classmate.

Q: Right. Have you stayed in touch with him after 1960?

A: We'd get together with classmates once in a while. When classmates would get together, Paul would be part of the group.

Q: Would Father Birmingham be part of the group?

A: Sure.

Q: Father Lane?

A: They're all classmates; when you get together once in a while.

On whether Law ever told h im that his top priority in abuse cases was the protection of children. Law in his own depositions said that was his primary goal:

A: I would not understand that to be his first priority because it would have to be an occasion when a child was being harmed that he would raise that as an issue to be addressed, but that it was his first priority, I cannot say that I understood that....

Q: Did the cardinal at any time enunciate to [his] cabinet a policy regarding the protection of children? ...

A: I don't recall his enunciating a policy regarding the protection of children. ...

Q: Do you recall the subject of protection of children coming up at all in those cabinet meetings, by the cardinal ...?

A: I don't recall.

Addresses his role in the case of the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, who has been accused by many of molestation. He is asked if he told anyone in 1985, when Birmingham was named a pastor, that years earlier he had spoken with the father of one of Birmingham's victims.

Q: ... You yourself didn't take any affirmative steps prior to Father Birmingham being named pastor ... or to put in the records the fact that you were aware there were at least ... two complaints of sexual abuse back in the 1970s that had been made directly to you?

A: I took - the only step I remember taking is saying to Father Birmingham one time ... that, you know, I know about your - about some complaints about you in Salem, and, I said, ''I'm wondering, you know, how you're handling that.'' And he said that ''I'm clean.''

McCormack has also handled sexual abuse cases as bishop of Manchester. Here he is asked what he thought the parishioners of St. Patrick's Church in Jaffrey, N.H., should know about the allegation of sexual abuse of a teenager byt he Rev. Roland Cote, whom he had transferred to the parish.

A: I thought it was important that the parishioners know that there was an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, that he was investigated, and that the investigations ended up that he had not had that. And so any parishioner who heard that knew that he was investigated for it and that the finding was that there was not sexual misconduct with a minor. ...

Q: Did you ever instruct Father Cote or anyone else to disclose to the parishioners in Jaffrey that Father Cote had engaged in ... sex with a young person?

A: ... We did not instruct him to reveal specifically but told him that if, ever asked, he should be very upfront about what the - what actually did happen.

McCormack says he sees a difference between abuse by a priest of a parishioner and other abuse:

Q: ... Why does that make a difference?

A: It makes a big difference, I think, that a - you know, that a person uses his office to take advantage of a parishioner is very different from a person who, on his day off, [was] involved in sexual misconduct with a person that he picked up in an automobile ...

Q: You think there's a big difference?

A: There's a big difference in the type of activity. ... You know, one is an activity where you have a trusted relationship with a parishioner; the other is an activity where you're away from the parish and you're off on your own and whatever was going on that day he picked up this person and engaged in a sexual activity, and I'm very concerned about that, he was a young person and that he did it in that instance, but it's quite different from being with a parishioner. ...

Discusses his visit w ith Shanley and the Rev. John J. White, a friend of Shanley's, in California in 1991:

Q: Didn't you then have concerns, when you went out to visit Father Shanley and Father White, that they might also have been involved in the past with the sexual molestation of children?

A: Never. ... Because that wasn't what drew me to go out there or to even suggest I go out. What drew me to go out there was their emotional state and their physical health and their whole attitude toward the Archdiocese of Boston. ...

McCormack on Shanley, whom he had described in a church memorandum as a ''sick person'':

A: ... You know, he feels alienated from the diocese, he feels distanced, he feels unsupported. He has all his neuroses and psychiatric problems plus all his medical problems ... I thought that the more isolated he was on his own, the worse he was going to get and the more distanced he would be. So that, you know, the effort is to engage him and to really try to keep in contact with him, and so the more we could do that, the better off I thought he would be as well as the diocese would be ...

Q: You didn't view Paul Shanley's statements regarding relationships between men and boys as falling within the area of sexual misconduct?

A: No, my understanding was ... that he wasn't endorsing man/boy relationships but that he, at the time, was explaining that some boys seduce men and that they - by prostituting themselves and that some people - and some of these people think that, you know, that they're always the ones. And he was saying that sometimes these boys need help; they're the ones who really have a problem.

Q: Do you consider yourself friends [with Shanley?]?

A: I wouldn't say friends; we were friendly. ...

Q: ... The last paragraph on that page states, ''It is wonderful how you maintain your sense of humor in the midst of your difficulties, Paul.'' ... You're expressing your support for his sense of humor as opposed to addressing the seriousness of the allegations against him ...

A: I was trying to be supportive to him as a person who was - had just gone through an assessment, had just been - if you read the letter, you know all the complaints that he had and yet he maintained a sense of humor, and I guess my sense is, is that I was trying to be supportive of that so that he didn't get any more, for want of a word, depressed. I didn't - because I also try to recognize that he had many difficulties and he had to deal with them, but I was trying to lift up that. At the same time, you know, it's good not to lose your sense of humor. I suppose I see humor as the opposite of tears and it would be good if he had both.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 1/9/2003.
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