Bishop John McCormack files: Bishop: Church brass hid sex scandal
By Eric Convey and Tom Mashberg Boston (MA) Herald June 4, 2002
Manchester, N.H. — A bishop who served as Bernard Cardinal Law’s top personnel aide for a decade testified yesterday that Archdiocese of Boston leaders kept a wave of clergy abuse allegations secret because telling the faithful in the affected parishes might have created “a scandal.”
Bishop John B. McCormack, 67, now head of the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., gave the explanation under oath in a deposition in the Rev. Paul R. Shanley abuse case, witnesses to his questioning said.
“He said he didn’t want to create a scandal,’ ” said a visibly incensed Rodney Ford, whose son, Greg, now 24, is suing Law, McCormack, Shanley and the Catholic Church for numerous rapes alleged to have occurred in the 1980s at St. Jean’s Parish in Newton.
“Well, this is a scandal at its highest,” Ford said. “It’s a disgrace what we have had to go through.”
McCormack, emerging from 5 1/2 hours of questioning by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., declined to discuss his testimony in detail or answer questions from reporters. “I’m glad I’ve had this opportunity to begin answering the questions that people have, that lawyers have,” said the embattled bishop, who has been urged to resign by The Manchester Union-Leader and numerous others. “I tried to answer them as completely, as thoroughly, as honestly as I could. Thank you for your interest. God bless you.”
The Herald reported yesterday that one document produced as a result of subpoenas in the Shanley case indicates a high-ranking archdiocese nun urged McCormack and others in 1994 that parishes be alerted after their pastors were credibly accused of molestation. Time and again, church documents show, the nun was overruled in favor of secrecy. McCormack admitted yesterday he ignored the nun, Sister Catherine E. Mulkerrin, preferring to stifle the flow of any information to churchgoers.
At one point yesterday, according to Paula Ford, Greg’s mother, who was also at the deposition, McCormack acknowledged that he usually took the word of priests over parishioners when confronted with allegations of child abuse. “In every incident of every alleged victim, he took the word of the priest over the word of the victim,” she said. “When he found out after the fact that the victim was telling the truth, he never took the time to go back to these people and validate their claims.
“This was one of the most painful days of my life,” she said yesterday. “The truth is so painful.”
MacLeish, who is to depose Law tomorrow and Friday, said the testimony also shows that McCormack and his colleagues at the chancery in Brighton ignored Mulkerrin’s advice in violation of a 1992 directive from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stating that lay Catholics should be kept informed of sexual abuse reports. The conference is expected to issue new guidelines on the reporting of abuse by clergy today.
“Had Bishop McCormack taken the advice of Sister Mulkerrin, and gone to the parishes where Paul Shanley and some of these priests had served, and spoken to them and informed the parishioners of what was going on, I don’t think we would be here today,” he said.
MacLeish confirmed a Herald report yesterday that one of Mulkerrin’s memos read: “I know I sound like a broken record. But we need to put in church bulletins `It has come to our attention a priest stationed here between 19XX and 19XX may have molested children – please contact. . .”
MacLeish said his recent deposition of the Rev. Charles J. Higgins, the current archdiocese personnel chief, showed that Boston officials have discussed abuse at just three of the 200 parishes known to have been served by alleged abusers.
The tone of the session was cordial, said Peter Hutchins, a New Hampshire lawyer who also attended because he has cases involving the church. Written and audio-visual transcripts of the deposition could be made available as soon as this afternoon, pending a ruling by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Raymond J. Brassard.
Testimony also included discussions of priests who have not previously been implicated in abuse cases, MacLeish said.
“This is a case about a pattern,” he said. “There were many, many priests who were mentioned today.”
Some questions focused on how the archdiocese handled allegations involving the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin, who is in jail awaiting trial for abuse. Others pertained to a group of priests who attended St. John’s Seminary in Brighton with McCormack in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
They include Revs. Joseph Birmingham, John Geoghan, Bernard Lane and Shanley, all of whom have faced multiple lawsuits.
MacLeish and his law partner, Robert A. Sherman, said soon-to-be released documents include information that could strengthen cases against three or four more priests. They said they planned to make files on 10 more abusive priests public as soon as today.
MacLeish and Sherman stated in court last week that church lawyers were blocking witnesses from cooperating during depositions. There were no such problems with McCormack, MacLeish said.
The Fords said McCormack apologized to them over Shanley. Rodney Ford said he did not take the bishop seriously. Paula Ford said she expects future sessions to produce more troubling details about the church’s handling of the issue.
“I can see the writing on the wall,” she said. “It’s not pretty.”
Bishop John McCormack files: Bishop offers apology to parents of a Shanley accuser
By Matt Carroll Boston (MA) Globe June 4, 2002
Manchester, N.H. — Bishop John B. McCormack apologized yesterday to the parents of a Newton man who allegedly was abused by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, a onetime Newton pastor who was investigated by McCormack for making past statements endorsing sex between men and boys.
Paula and Rodney Ford, the parents of Gregory Ford, said at a news conference that McCormack spoke to them directly at his deposition here, delivering an apology they described as “awkward” and unconvincing. “He apologized and said he was sorry for what happened,” said Paula Ford.
McCormack, who was a top deputy to Cardinal Bernard F. Law before being named bishop of the Manchester Diocese three years ago, made a brief statement after nearly six hours of sworn pretrial testimony in a lawsuit filed by the Fords.
“I tried to answer as thoroughly, as completely, and as honestly as I could,” said McCormack, who declined to take questions from reporters.
Shanley was arrested last month, accused of raping Paul Busa during the 1980s, when Busa was a child attending religion classes at the now-closed St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton. Shanley has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., the attorney for the Fords in their civil suit against Shanley and Law, is today expected to release copies of approximately 1,000 pages of church documents concerning alleged sexual abuse by 11 priests. MacLeish gained access to the documents through the lawsuit in an attempt to show a pattern of negligent supervision of priests accused of sexual misconduct.
MacLeish is also scheduled to take pretrial testimony from Law in the Ford case tomorrow and again on Friday.
Meanwhile, Bishop Robert J. Banks, another former Law deputy who is now bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisc., will be deposed today by attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who is representing 86 alleged victims of convicted pedophile and former priest John J. Geoghan.
Yesterday, Rodney Ford said he found it difficult to sit through McCormack’s deposition.
“It was one of the most painful days of my life,” said Ford, adding that it was particularly difficult to hear McCormack say that in some cases he never informed alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse that he had discovered they were telling the truth.
McCormack wrote to Shanley about a letter from a New York woman who said Shanley had advocated man-boy love, and asked the priest for an explanation. The Fords also said that during his deposition McCormack said he did not have access to documents in what the bishop called a “secret archive” at the archdiocese.
A transcript of McCormack’s deposition will be made public after a Middlesex Superior Court judge holds a hearing to determine when the transcript should be filed.
At the news conference with the Fords, MacLeish, who has repeatedly condemned the archdiocese this year for hiding the extent of sexual abuse among priests, also criticized a Globe report yesterday that said he and other lawyers secretly settled claims against many priests during the 1990s, all of them individual settlements that had the cumulative effect of masking the extent of the problem. “The last thing we were doing was keeping anything quiet,” said MacLeish.
In an interview last night, MacLeish said he brought the extent of the problem to the attention of Boston news organizations almost a decade ago, but insisted that reporters were uninterested in pursuing the issue.
In December 1993, the Boston Herald and then the Globe quoted MacLeish saying he had brought sexual abuse claims involving 20 priests and 28 alleged victims to the Boston Archdiocese.
In the articles, MacLeish praised the archdiocese for removing the unnamed priests from service, saying the church had done a “commendable job” of handling the issue.
In a letter to the archdiocese’s lawyer less than three months earlier, MacLeish raised complaints against 17 priests, and said that just two of them may have had “potentially hundreds of other” victims.
“It is clear that these cases together reflect a systemic pattern of abuse within the archdiocese and an alarming pattern of institutional negligence on a disturbingly large scale,” MacLeish wrote in the Sept. 27, 1993, letter to Wilson Rogers Jr., the church’s attorney.
The 24-page letter contains extensive details about the specifics of the sexual abuse by the priests. Many of their names, and the allegations, did not become public until this year. MacLeish made the letter public yesterday, he said, because it shows that he and his clients, in addition to seeking monetary settlements, also wanted the archdiocese to ensure that the priests would no longer have access to children. In the letter, MacLeish told Rogers he wanted to have the claims mediated, which was done in private.
Asked last night why he did not make the letter public in 1993, or file lawsuits to get the matter before the public, MacLeish said he did not take those steps because of a need to protect the victims, and because caps on liability for charities like the church made lawsuits less attractive than negotiated settlements.
When the Globe reported on Jan. 31 this year that the Boston Archdiocese had secretly settled claims involving more than 70 priests in the last decade, MacLeish disclosed that his law firm accounted for more than 50 priests.
Philip Saviano, a victim of clergy sexual abuse who hired MacLeish to represent him in the early 1990s, said the lawyer did not go far enough a decade ago to expose the problem.
“What I’m saying is, whether [MacLeish] sees it this way or not, he was part of the big web of secrecy,” said Saviano, who is director of the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Maybe he thinks he took steps to protect kids, but ultimately I’d say he didn’t go nearly as far as he should have.”
MacLeish, who represented more than 100 victims of former priest James R. Porter in the Fall River Diocese 1992, said the attention to that case and the subsequent private claims he filed against the Boston Archdiocese forced the church to create new policies and remove priests.