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Spotlight Report

N.H. bishop offers apology to dozens of alleged victims

By Michael Rosenwald, Globe Staff and Stefany Moore, Globe Correspondent, 1/29/2003

SALEM - Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., apologized last night to dozens of people who say they were sexually abused by a Massachusetts priest he transferred from parish to parish.

About 85 people, including 30 alleged victims, met for 21/2 hours with McCormack, who as a top aide to Cardinal Bernard F. Law in Boston allegedly ignored complaints of abuse against Rev. Joseph Birmingham, now deceased.

Several alleged victims said that McCormack seemed visibly shaken and deeply moved by the stories he heard.

McCormack spoke for about five minutes at the end of the meeting, saying that he was sorry for what he did and failed to do.

The bishop ''recognizes it takes a great deal of courage to relive their pain by the retelling of their abuse,'' said Patrick McGee, a spokesman for McCormack. ''He knows that there's a lot of anger, both at him and the church, but he also knows that he must accept their anger. He prays that this will help them in their healing, and he asked for their forgiveness.''

The meeting, similar to one Law held with victims late last year before the cardinal's resignation in December, took place at the old Salem Town Hall, but was closed to the news media. Late last night, some alleged victims gathered in Salem to discuss the meeting with reporters.

Several said the meeting was often ''brutal'' for everyone involved. McCormack essentially had ''his head torn off,'' said one. After the meeting was over, several people approached McCormack and commended him for attending the meeting and listening to numerous personal stories, including ones about victims who committed suicide.

At the meeting, the sister of one alleged victim walked up to McCormack and presented four bouquets of flowers to him - representing three alleged victims who committed suicide. The fourth, she said, was in remembrance of Father Birmingham.

Larry Sweeney, who said he and his brother were abused by Birmingham in the early 1970s, told McCormack that many people in the room had lost trust in the church.

To this, McCormack responded, ''I've lost trust, too,'' Sweeney said.

The mother of one alleged victim participated by conference call, saying that she had spoken with McCormack in 1970 about the abuse of her child and he told her, ''I'll take care of this,'' according to another alleged victim at the news conference.

Bernie McDaid reminded McCormack that people had come to him in the 1960s in the confessional to tell him that something bad was going on with Birmingham.

McDaid last night called on McCormack to resign, saying he wasn't fit to be called a bishop.

McCormack, who said he would like to meet with victims one-on-one, didn't lead anyone to believe that he intends to step down.

Tom Blanchette said he welcomed McCormack's apologies, adding, ''We are beginning to see the truth, and I have hopeful expectations that we will see more.''

Bob Morton, who wasn't abused but grew up with a lot of the alleged victims, said McCormack ''is coming to grips with the fact that he didn't do the right thing.''

This story ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 1/29/2003.
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