Bishop John McCormack files: Complaints didn’t dim bishop’s faith in priests Papers shed light on McCormack’s role
From Bishop Accountability.
Original story appeared in the Concord Monitor.
By Annmarie Timmins and Amy McConnell Concord (NH) Monitor June 6, 2002
Bishop John McCormack has said little about his work handling allegations of clergy sexual abuse for the Archdiocese of Boston other than that he mishandled some of the cases. Nearly 1,000 pages of internal church documents involving 10 accused priests released Tuesday provide a better understanding of his role.
McCormack dealt with dozens of difficult allegations with a mixed record, moving priests quickly out of their assignments but showing leniency for some even as the accusations mounted. The files aren’t complete, however, and it is unclear how the church ultimately resolved each case.
McCormack declined to comment for this story through his spokesman, Pat McGee, saying he had not looked at the documents in nearly a decade.
In most cases, McCormack responded to allegations by questioning the priest, asking his staff to question the alleged victims and then immediately sending the priest for treatment to one of two centers the archdiocese favored.
The exception was the case of Father Ernest Tourigney, where the alleged victims complained of McCormack’s dallying response.
It is also clear that during treatment and after, McCormack was unfailingly supportive of the accused priests, even deciding against trying to remove one because he didn’t want to upset him. In another case, he concluded one parent’s concerns were unfounded simply because McCormack knew the accused priest and believed his denials. Here is a closer look at what the files in six of the cases show about McCormack’s involvement:
Last month, McCormack said publicly that he’d mishandled cases of sexual abuse allegations during his time in the archdiocese. Among those, he said, was the case of Joseph Birmingham.
The files show that the church had been receiving complaints of sexual misconduct against Birmingham since 1964. One came from a priest. In 1987, according to the church records, Birmingham resigned for health reasons and went to therapy.
Two months later, Cardinal Bernard Law asked McCormack to respond to a parent who had heard rumors of Birmingham’s misconduct and was worried about his own son, who had been an altar boy for Birmingham.
McCormack knew Birmingham well. The two had been in a seminary together and had served together at a Salem, Mass., parish. McCormack had also heard allegations before.
In April 1987, McCormack followed up on Law’s request and asked Birmingham about the allegations. He wrote back to the parent.
“He assured me there is no factual basis to your concern regarding your son and him,” McCormack wrote. “From my knowledge of Father Birmingham and my relationship with him, I feel he would tell me the truth and I believe he is speaking the truth in this matter.”
McCormack discouraged the man from raising the issue with his son, but he offered the number of the church’s counselors if the father decided otherwise.
Birmingham died in 1989. The archdiocese, McCormack in particular, continued to receive complaints of sexual misconduct against him. Today, nearly 40 men have accused him of abuse.
A lawyer for one victim has accused McCormack of covering up the abuse and helping transfer Birmingham around as the allegations mounted. McCormack has said he had no role in assigning or moving priests while working in Boston.
In 1981, Father Ronald Paquin crashed his car on Interstate 93 in Tilton after spending a weekend with four teenage boys in a Bethlehem cabin. One boy died.
The police report concluded that Paquin had fallen asleep at the wheel. Two months ago, the parents who lost their son filed a wrongful death suit against the church claiming Paquin fell asleep because he’d been up the previous night drinking and having sex with one or more of the boys.
There is almost no mention of the accident in the church files released this week. The files do contain notes and memos on nearly 20 allegations that came to the archdiocese against Paquin between 1990 and 2000.
At least eight of those victims came forward when McCormack worked in Boston. Paquin admitted some of the abuse, acknowledged his sexual attraction to boys and showed no empathy for his victims, according to internal church records.
McCormack’s response to the allegations was to send Paquin for treatment, assign him a mentor and restrict his ministry so he wasn’t serving with children.
“I told (Paquin) that it was important for him to go to (treatment) because of the civil liabilities of the archdiocese and our moral obligations to the parishioners involved,” McCormack wrote in Paquin’s file in June 1990. Still, complaints continued to come to McCormack that Paquin was spending time alone with boys. McCormack asked Paquin about the allegations and recommended continued treatment and restricted ministry.
“I think there is a serious concern how he has expressed his care and concern for young boys,” McCormack wrote in Paquin’s file in September 1990. “It seems to be from mixed motives. It seems that he does have a true concern for them, but also he has his own needs of affection which get expressed in unhealthy ways.”
McCormack put Paquin on sick leave and sent him to Maryland for treatment. “I told him the archdiocese wants to help him in every way.”
McCormack also met with concerned parishioners from Paquin’s church. He took their concerns to Paquin and asked Paquin how he planned to change his ways. He noted Paquin’s response, including a plan to stop allowing boys to sleep in his bed.
Six months later, Paquin was nearing the end of his treatment in Maryland, and McCormack was preparing to put Paquin back to work, perhaps doing hospital or nursing home ministry.
“We agreed that he is not free to work with young people,” McCormack wrote, “even though there is very little, if any, concern about his acting out impulsively.”
McCormack assigned Paquin to live in a Massachusetts parish and found him work at a hospital. Meanwhile, allegations about Paquin’s past abuse and current behavior came to the archdiocese. A priest, among others, reported that Paquin was visiting boys from his former parish.
In March 1994, an aide asked McCormack whether the archdiocese could do more than simply offer counseling to the victims who called. Internal church documents show that officials believed it was likely there were more victims than had come forward.
“Should we be making some kind of contact with any place Ron Paquin has been stationed?” Father John Dooher wrote. There is no indication in the church documents that McCormack responded or that the archdiocese pursued that recommendation.
Three months later, in June 1994, McCormack and his review board, which helped him decide the fate of accused priests, concluded that Paquin should be banned from public ministry and suggested that Paquin ask to be removed from the priesthood. Paquin refused, and neither McCormack nor the review board insisted. In the next six years, after McCormack had left the archdiocese, the review board urged Paquin to remove himself from the priesthood three more times. He refused each request.
By 2000, the last date noted in the church records released, the archdiocese had received 20 complaints against Paquin.
The case of Father John Hanlon is unlike the others in that it is the only one that was investigated by the police. The records do not say how the police became involved, but by the time McCormack entered the picture in August 1993, Hanlon was headed to a criminal trial.
McCormack’s name appears on just one memo in the case. In August 1993, he summarized the allegations against Hanlon for the church’s personnel files and noted that he asked fellow priests to help him reach the alleged victim.
“We want to be of help to the young man as well as to take whatever steps need to be taken to address this matter,” McCormack wrote.
Hanlon was convicted in a Massachusetts court in March 1994 of two charges of rape and two charges of assault with intent to rape. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.
McCormack took five allegations of sexual misconduct to Father Paul Mahan in August 1993 and listened as Mahan said he was innocent. Still, McCormack told Mahan he’d have to be assessed and go on administrative leave.
Law asked McCormack to follow up on the suggestion of one victim’s parent that the church do more to support parents. The parent suggested a support group just for parents of victims.
“It is my hope that we can gather in church and through prayer and worship have a further opportunity to ask God to be with us in these difficult days,” Law wrote to the parent.
The file does not indicate whether McCormack followed up.
In October 1994, nearly a year after McCormack first approached Mahan, he received a report from another priest who was concerned that Mahan had his young nephew and two young friends living with him in his Massachusetts home. McCormack told Mahan that had to end. But McCormack did not initially ask the boys whether they had been harmed. McCormack, who had a master’s degree in social work by this time, thought to do so after a doctor suggested it.
An unsigned memo in the file shows that church officials contacted a state social worker to help them interview the boys and discussed the possibility of reporting any findings to the state.
When McCormack was told in June 1992 that Father Ernest Tourigney needed six months of psychiatric treatment, the priest had allegedly molested at least three boys – one of them for eight years – in several Massachusetts parishes, according to church documents.
In late June, Law and McCormack met with several alleged victims, who later told McCormack the archdiocese was operating in a “circle the wagons” mentality. At that meeting, Law and McCormack told victims that Tourigney would not return to parish work, according to their letter.
But the archdiocesan response was too slow and meager for a victim named James, who hired a lawyer.
“However, even though Fr. Tourigney was allowed to remain a Priest,his behavior was not addressed and my client was totally ignored,” wrote the lawyer. “He was not comforted or offered counseling. He was neglected and made to believe that the Church had no compassion or desire to confront Fr. Tourigney and remove him from contact with Parishioners.”
Two months later – and eight months after their initial meeting with Law and McCormack – Tourigney’s victims still weren’t satisfied by the archdiocese’s actions. McCormack, they said, had promised the matter would be resolved in a meeting with Tourigney just after the holidays.
“We are into February, and while he vacations on the Cape, the Archdiocese is rife with indecision,” said their letter of February 1993. “On a recent trip to Boston, I and (name blocked out) phoned your office. I left an urgent message of my itinerary, stated when I would be leaving, and asked to hear from you. It is now February 20, 1993 and neither I nor (name blocked out) have heard a word from you.”
More than a month later, McCormack tried to set up a meeting between Law and one of the victims. The victim, McCormack said, wanted to voice his concerns about how the archdiocese handled priests who had admitted to sexual abuse.
“You may recall that after (Tourigney) was assessed at Southdown for these matters he was returned to parish ministry,” McCormack wrote in March 1993. “Mr. (name blocked out) cannot get over this and wants to make sure that you and I and anyone who was responsible realizes that this should not happen again. I think it might be helpful in his healing process to meet with you for a half hour some time with me.”
By May 1993, Tourigney had been placed on administrative leave. But that’s not all his victims wanted of the archdiocese. The archdiocese needed to begin handling sexual abuse by priests as a criminal matter and creating investigative teams to find other abused children, they wrote to McCormack in August 1993. The church’s reluctance to do so appeared to be based on “potential negative political ramifications,” they stated.
By the next spring, archdiocesan officials had become skeptical that their containment and supervision of Tourigney had reformed his urges. Tourigney, one official advised McCormack, should be asked to leave the priesthood for private life – even though he might pose a risk to the public.
“Then he would be free to accept such offers as he sees fit,” the official wrote in May 1994. “It is not a happy solution, because it leaves him as a potential danger to young men, but perhaps the seriousness of the invitation might get him to think of more effective ways to deal with his problem.”
No records indicate whether Tourigney left the priesthood or where he lives today.
In 1992, McCormack summarized three allegations of sexual misconduct against Father Richard Matte – one of which came from a concerned priest – and admitted he was unsure how to proceed.
Matte denied the accusations but volunteered that he’d been falsely accused years before. The case had never been resolved, but Matte said he had gone for treatment.
“I am not sure what side to support in the understanding of Father Matte’s behavior,” McCormack wrote in Matte’s personnel file. “Part of me sees him as being very indiscreet. He also speaks about not remembering things. Then I wonder whether he is denying.”
McCormack sent Matte to a Maryland treatment center for an assessment. The file does not include the center’s response, but by the time an additional allegation came to McCormack’s office in April 1993, Matte was at a Canadian treatment center the church used often.
In a letter to Matte, McCormack relayed the new allegations and offered support. “I am sure this report will be upsetting to you, Dick,” he wrote. “If there is something I can do to help, Dick, let me know. You are in my prayers.”
McCormack continued to offer support, even deciding against asking Matte to remove himself from the priesthood for fear he was already too emotionally unstable. At the time, McCormack knew Matte had told doctors the accusations weren’t entirely untrue, according to the records.
McCormack and his review board decided in November 1993 that Matte should find a counselor and work outside of public ministry. They would not put him in a parish or in a role where he’d be near adolescent males.
In May 1994, McCormack took two more allegations to Matte and noted in the file that Matte was devastated. Again he was supportive.
Matte didn’t like the place McCormack had found for him, so McCormack offered to keep looking. “He has to park his car on the street,” McCormack wrote. “He is fearful it could be stolen or damaged.”
Matte’s file ends with an April 1998 memo detailing another complaint from a man who said Matte’s abuse had made it impossible to have a close relationship with his son and wife. “He is . . . afraid that maybe he can never change, even though he wants to,” wrote the nun who spoke with him.