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Spotlight Report

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N.H. report lambastes diocese on priest abuse

By Michael Rezendes and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 3/4/2003

Rev. Leo Landry

Rev. Robert Densmore

Rev. Raymond Laferriere

Rev. Gordon MacRae

Read excerpts from the New Hampshire attorney general's investigation of the Diocese of Manchester:
Rev. Paul Aube case
Police caught Aube molesting a boy in 1975. No charges were brought and Aube continued in his ministry.
Rev. Gerald R. Chalifour case
After molesting a boy at St. Kathryn's parish in Hudson, Chalifour was transferred to other churches.
Rev. Gordon MacRae case
MacRae repeatedly molested three brothers while he was stationed at St. Bernard's in Keene in the 1980s.

CONCORD, N.H. -- The state attorney general issued a scathing critique of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester yesterday, saying that for decades its officials had demonstrated ''flagrant indifference'' to dangers posed to children by abusive priests and violated criminal law by assigning known offenders to parish ministries.

The 154-page report was the product of a 10-month investigation and an agreement that allowed the diocese, which includes parishes statewide, to avoid criminal indictment. The report said that 50 priests had been credibly accused of abusing minors over the last 60 years and that ''the diocese took inadequate or no action'' to stop the abuse.

Among the offenders was the Rev. Paul Aube, who knew himself to be a risk to children and asked church officials to bar him from working with minors. But the church assigned him to youth ministry at Holy Rosary Church in Rochester. (Excerpts from the attorney general's report on Aube.)

There was also the Rev. Raymond Laferriere, who was allowed to continue his ministry even after a complaint that he had brought two youths to his rectory bedroom and showed them pornographic pictures he kept on his wall.

Another priest, the Rev. Gordon MacRae, found an advocate in Bishop John B. McCormack, even after MacRae was sentenced to serve up to 67 years in prison for child abuse. McCormack told Vatican officials in 1999 that he thought the sentence imposed on MacRae was ''inappropriate given his rehabilitation.'' (Excerpts from the attorney general's report on MacRae.)

On the basis of these and other cases, ''the state was prepared to prove,'' the attorney general's report said, ''that the diocese consciously chose to protect itself and its priests from scandal, lawsuits, and criminal charges, instead of protecting the minor parishioners under its care from continued sexual abuse by priests.''

Accompanied by the release of 9,000 pages of supporting documents, including internal church records, the report paints a picture of a diocese where the lax oversight of accused priests resembled the pattern in Boston under Cardinal Bernard F. Law and the bishops who advised, him, McCormack among them.

The release of the New Hampshire church records was a condition of an unprecedented agreement reached last December between Philip T. McLaughlin, then the attorney general, and the diocese. To avoid criminal indictment, the diocese agreed to adopt new child protection measures and to permit the attorney general to monitor its efforts to prevent child sexual abuse on an annual basis for at least five years.

When he announced the agreement, McCormack acknowledged that McLaughlin had turned up ''evidence likely to sustain a conviction of a charge . . . against the diocese.'' But yesterday the diocese released a 12-page statement contesting whether the state could have proved a criminal violation.

''The diocese does not necessarily agree with all aspects of [the attorney general's] analysis, which, in many ways, contains novel theories and approaches for New Hampshire prosecutions,'' the diocesan statement said.

The diocese also insisted it ''could have mounted a vigorous defense,'' but chose not to do so, because ''even a successful defense would not diminish the significant and serious harm suffered by minors resulting from the actions of some priests.''

N. William Delker, the head of the attorney general's criminal division, agreed that it would have been hard to prevail against the diocese in a criminal trial.

''This was a difficult case, due to the age of the allegations and the interpretations of the criminal statutes we would have depended on,'' Delker said. ''But I certainly feel we would have prevailed.''

Yesterday, McCormack reiterated his sense of sorrow for ''the harm done to persons who were abused by priests and to the Catholic faithful who have been scandalized.''

But some advocates for alleged victims of abuse were unpersuaded. Ann Hagan Webb, cocoordinator of the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the diocesan response to the attorney general's report showed that old attitudes persist.

''They are still in spin control,'' Webb said. ''Their priority is still priests over victims.''

McLaughlin, who retired as attorney general in December, said he was pleased with the release of documents yesterday.

''It's all about disclosure,'' said McLaughlin, who is now in private law practice. ''Disclosure brings the institutional changes that prevent problems like this from happening again.''

The attorney general's report described a number of legal theories that would have permitted prosecution of the diocese. For example, the report said the state could have prosecuted the diocese under New Hampshire's 1973 prohibition against endangering the welfare of a child. Massachusetts enacted a similar provision last year, after the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted.

The report said the state could also have pursued a criminal indictment based on a corporate criminal liability law, which says that a corporation is liable for certain criminal acts of its employees.

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly of Massachusetts is eyeing a similar Bay State provision as he presents evidence to a grand jury considering criminal charges against the Boston Archdiocese.

In addition, New Hampshire authorities also said they had uncovered instances in which church officials made false statements while testifying in civil lawsuits and during a presentencing investigation of a diocesan priest.

The New Hampshire report rebutted arguments that most sexual abuses by clergy occurred when society was less knowledgable about child abuse and when the laws were less stringent. To the contrary, McLaughlin's office said, child protection laws dating back to 1959 made it clear that failure to crack down on abusers was illegal and immoral.

New Hampshire prosecutors launched their investigation last February, after the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston, and initially reviewed accusations against 50 priests. Five of those priests were members of religious orders, while 19 were from the Boston Archdiocese, including the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who is facing criminal charges and civil claims in Massachusetts.

To bring criminal charges that would fall within the statute of limitations, authorities focused on allegations against eight priests: Aube, MacRae, Laferriere, the Rev. Albert Boulanger, the Rev. Gerald Chalifour, the Rev. Robert Densmore, the Rev. Roger Fortier, and the Rev. Leo Landry. (Excerpts from the attorney general's report on Chalifour.)

The report found that diocesan leaders were consistently forgiving of accused priests. In the case of MacRae, who pleaded guilty in 1994 to charges of abusing five youths, McCormack wrote to Vatican officials that the long prison sentence imposed on MacRea was inappropriate, in part because ''there are people in prison who are serving much shorter sentences for very serious crimes.''

''It is probable that at the time of [MacRae's] arrest and later conviction that he had his impulses under greater control and was no longer a serious threat to society,'' the bishop wrote. Still, McCormack said he felt it was unwise for the diocese to advocate too forcefully on MacRae's behalf ''without risking grave misunderstanding about the seriousness of its understanding with regard to sexual misconduct by clergymen.''

The Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, the chancellor of the diocese, defended McCormack's letter yesterday, saying that McCormack continues to believe that the sentence imposed on MacRae is ''long, but I don't think `inappropriate.' ''

The files released yesterday on McRae also show that a 1978 psychological evaluation, performed before he was ordained, raised questions about his fitness to serve as a priest. Yet the Manchester Diocese accepted him into the seminary without conditions.

Unlike MacRae, who consistently denied the allegations against him, Landry admitted touching a 13-year-old boy, after being confronted by a church official. Despite the admission, church officials put no restrictions on Landry's ministry and never told his parishioners in Somersworth, Berlin, or Manchester. Over the next four years, Landry allegedly abused 11 additional youths, all of them 14-year-olds and altar boys.

In an interview with state investigators last year, Landry said he realized he had a problem as long ago as the early 1970s. ''In light of the fact that the diocese was aware of his sexual problems with children and continued to assign him to new ministries, Landry felt that there was no way to control his behavior unless he left the church,'' the attorney general's report said.

Landry left the priesthood in 1972, married, and became a high school teacher in Rochester and is now retired.

In Laferriere's case, a psychological evalution conducted in 1959, a year before he was ordained, found the seminarian was suffering from ''incipient schizophrenia with homosexual overtones.''

Another report expressed concern that Laferriere's mental illness would affect his control over homosexual tendencies. Despite that warning, Laferriere was ordained in Manchester and assigned as associate pastor of St. Augustine Parish.

About two years later, the diocese received a complaint that Laferriere had invited two youths to his rectory room, where he had pornographic pictures on the wall. No action was taken, and Laferriere was able to maintain an unrestricted ministry until 1992, when he took a leave of absence.

Since January 2002, the diocese has received complaints from four individuals that Laferriere had molested them while at St. Augustine Parish and at St. Joseph Parish in Hinsdale.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/4/2003.
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