NH Diocese of Manchester publishes names of 73 accused priests; questions remain

The Diocese of Manchester in NH has published a list of 73 priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor since 1950. The list includes names, ordination date, status, and assignments of accused priests, but it does not include the accusations. 

When asked why the list does not include specific accusations, diocesan spokesman Thomas Bebbington said, “The status is intended to provide enough information so the public is aware that the person is not in ministry and why.”

The list includes more names than are listed on the bishop-accountability.org website, which includes 62 names. Bishop-accountability.org does include details about accusations in most cases.  

The diocesan list includes several categories: Cases concluded canonically or criminally, cases in process, priests accused after laicization, deceased priests, and religious orders/other.

Notably, none of the priests named are affiliated with the scandal-ridden Legion of Christ, which ran a private boarding school for high school boys from 1982 to 2015 in Center Harbor, NH.

The Legion was founded by the late Marcial Maciel, a pedophile priest who allegedly raped some of his own illegitimate children, and it has been perpetually rocked with scandals and accusation of institutional sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse. As recently as January of this year, the Legion continued to extol Maciel.  

When asked for clarification as to why there were no Legion of Christ priests named on the list, Bebbington said, “The Legionaries of Christ is a religious order and its members are not incardinated in the Diocese of Manchester. The list only includes members of religious orders assigned to ministry by the bishop of the Diocese of Manchester. ”

“Incardinated” means “under the bishop or other ecclesiastical superior.” I asked Bebbington if the bishop has any control over whether unincardinated priests work in his diocese, if he has not assigned them to ministry there. He has not yet responded. 
UPDATE:  Bebbington clarified: “A bishop does not have control over priests and religious who are not incardinated in his diocese.  They report to the superiors in their own orders, rather than to the diocesan bishop.” He also said that a bishop does not have control over who is assigned to institutions such as private high schools or colleges. 

Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor and the Legion of Christ, Inc., were named in a lawsuit in Connecticut in 2017. The plaintiff said that, when he was a student at ICAS in NH, Fernando Cutanda, or “Brother Fernando,” a “supervisor, mentor, and spiritual leader” employed by the Legion-run school, repeatedly raped him in several locations on the school property. The lawsuit says that, feeling guilt and shame, the alleged victim told a Legion of Christ priest, Fr. O’Carroll, what had been happening. Fr. O’Carroll, whom the legal documents describe as “in charge of I.C.A.S. at the time,” allegedly told the boy to say five rosaries “for his sins” and told him “God will take care of things.” According to the lawsuit, “Brother Fernando” allegedly raped the boy again after Fr. O’Carroll allegedly heard of the abuse. The school was dismissed as a defendant in 2017, and the Legion settled with the victim in October of 2018. Although the school is in New Hampshire, the lawsuit was filed in Connecticut since the Legion of Christ, Inc., is headquartered there.

The list of accused sexual offenders published by the Diocese of Manchester does not include monks or religious brothers who are not priests.

The Union Leader reports that Bishop Peter Libasci said in a statement about the list:

“This is meant as an act of ownership and accountability. It is my hope that by making this information available, we are holding ourselves accountable to the evils of the past, and offering timely assistance, support and resources to those individuals and families who have been affected by the sexual abuse of a minor.”

He also said “On behalf of my predecessors and the Church in New Hampshire, I am sorry. I seek your forgiveness for the grave sins of abuse and betrayal of trust that representatives of the Church committed.”

The Diocese of Manchester is the 136th American diocese to release a list of accused priests (there are 197 dioceses in the U.S.). But in 2002, the diocese was among the first to undergo an investigation by state prosecutors of decades of sexual abuse and cover-up in and by the diocese, just after the Boston Globe exposed a similar, even more widespread scandal in the neighboring Archdiocese of Boston. 

In 2003, the Attorney General released a report on their findings, and the Diocese paid $5 million in settlements to 62 victims who were abused in the time period between the 1950’s and the 1980’s.

The Attorney General’s report was not an exhaustive list of accusations, but was meant to highlight only details of a much broader and deeper scandal. 

According to the report, John McCormack, who was bishop at the time of the investigation, had a long history of reassigning priests who were known pedophiles and of keeping secret the names and actions of known molesters. McCormack served as Bishop from 1998 until 2011. In 1984 he worked closely with Cardinal Bernard Law in managing accusations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.

According to the report, McCormack acknowledged that the diocese of Manchester paid for the legal defense of Gordon MacRae, and said he thought MacRae’s sentence was disproportionately harsh and that the priest wasn’t much of a threat. MacRae was convicted of sexually assaulting several boys, including during a pastoral counseling session inside the St. Bernard church in Keene.  

Before McCormack was bishop, Bishop Odore Gendron served from 1975-1990.  According to the Attorney General’s report, Gendron worked with police to keep secret reports of sexual abuse. According to the report, one of the abusive priests, Paul Aube, personally asked Bishop Gendron not to be assigned to work with youth after he was caught, but the diocese went on to assign him to work in youth ministry in a different parish. He then assaulted other minors, according to the report.

In today’s statement, Bishop Libasci said:

Each and every day, I pray that victim-survivors find healing. I also fervently pray that we never allow such darkness to enter our Church again. With these new efforts, I hope to continue on a path to restoring your trust. 

Bishop Libasci, who was appointed in 2011, has spoken several times on the issue of the sex abuse scandal, and has struck a notably different tone from his predecessors. In October of 2018, after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was made public, he wrote:

“These revelations have left me sickened, shaken, embarrassed, and heart-broken. I have heard from many of you, either directly or indirectly, that you are justifiably angry, discouraged, and saddened that Church leadership has breached your trust and failed to protect children, youth, seminarians, and vulnerable adults adequately.”

He acknowledged at the time that the steps the diocese is taking “are only the first steps” that the diocese needs to take.

“I will rely on my consultation with you, the People of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to identify the best path forward,” he said.

“I have committed myself to the Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart,” Libasci said. 

 

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